The ACC Conference has long been regarded as college basketball’s best, largely due to the presence of national powerhouses like Duke, North Carolina, and Louisville. Add in a typically deep field that includes the likes of Syracuse, Florida State, and Notre Dame, among others. This year, however, that was far from the case. The conference had a down year unlike any that had been seen in quite some time and, in all likelihood, will be sending no more than five teams to the NCAA tournament. What this also means, though, is that the conference tournament is as wide open as it has been in years.
Florida State, after being picked to finish fifth in the preseason, locked up the top seed in the ACC Conference after knocking off Boston College on Saturday. It’s their first regular-season championship since becoming a part of the ACC in 1990. The reigning national champion Virginia Cavaliers are riding an eight-game win streak entering the tournament and earned the second seed with a tiebreaker over Duke and Louisville. Georgia Tech, who finished the regular season in sole possession of fifth-place in the conference with an 11-9 record, is ineligible for the tournament due to NCAA violations. UNC, meanwhile, is dead last in the standings after being picked second in the preseason poll.
It’s officially #ACCTourney Time!
Here's the bracket ?? pic.twitter.com/JNRl6siTQx
— ACC Men's Basketball (@accmbb) March 8, 2020
While UNC is the tournament’s bottom seed, I think it’s safe to say that nobody would be thrilled to have to play against the Tar Heels. Roy Williams’ squad was a top-10 team at the beginning of the year and endured an extraordinarily disappointing season derailed by injuries and underwhelming play. However, they are currently fully healthy and are likely one of the tournament’s five most talented teams. I think most are expecting to see Cole Anthony, a future top NBA Draft pick, in the quarterfinals against Louisville. However, I think that will be where their run ends, as the Cardinals simply have more talent and will have had ample time to rest in comparison to the Tar Heels. Expect a Louisville-Virginia matchup in the bottom semifinals.
The top is where things could get interesting. Clemson and NC State should advance to the quarterfinals, where they will meet Florida State and Duke respectively. The Tigers upset the Seminoles just over a week ago and, as a matter of fact, they hold wins over every top-six team in the conference outside of Virginia. NC State and Duke split their season series, with each team blowing out the other in their respective arenas. This means that on a neutral court, things could end up being close.
Still, talent – and time off – prevails, and despite the perceived wide-openness of the tournament, I do think that the semifinals will ultimately consist of the conference’s top four seeds. While this isn’t always the case, the top four teams in the standings really are the best four teams in the conference, and it would be a surprise to see any major upsets occur.
Virginia is one of the hottest teams in the country and, after knocking off Louisville on Saturday, Mamadi Diakite and co. should be able to do so again in the conference semifinals. It’s truly remarkable what Tony Bennett has been able to do with a team that has very little consistent offensive production, but they’ve proven enough to expect them to reach the championship game. As for their opponent, I think that Duke will win a close battle over Florida State. The Seminoles have a terrific balanced attack, but their absence of a true number one option may come back to bite them against a team like the Blue Devils, which has two of them.
In a Duke versus Virginia championship game, expect the former to assert their dominance as the best team in the ACC Conference heading into the NCAA tournament. Coach K’s squad has struggled a bit down the stretch, but a win over archrival UNC to end the season will give them a much-needed confidence boost. By most metrics, they’re a top-five team in the country, and despite being the fourth-seed in the ACC Conference, they should leave Greensboro as the alpha dogs.
Tournament MVP Prediction
While freshman big man Vernon Carey Jr. has been putting up the gaudy statistics all season, I think most would agree that sophomore point guard Tre Jones has been the Blue Devils’ most important player this year. After averaging less than 10 points per game as a freshman, the brother of former Duke star Tyus Jones has really come into his own as a scorer this season, and he’s been the guy that they go to in crunch time down the stretch this year. I don’t expect that to change in the ACC tournament, and I expect Jones – as one of the best players in the country – to deliver when called upon and come away with the MVP trophy and make his decision to return to school worth it.