Due to the overall unpredictability of conference tournaments, I'm not entirely displeased with my 2-2 showing yesterday. Just to recap...
Florida State's hot shooting downed rusty Wake Forest, while Miami's defensive pressure and NC State's offensive ineptness propelled the Canes into the quarterfinals.
Georgia Tech stepped it up in the second half and pulled away late to defeat Sean Singletary and Virginia, and the poise and presence of Tyrese Rice down the stretch led Boston College to an upset victory over Maryland.
Now the big boys hit the hardwood, and each game brings an enormous amount of importance to the table; bids and seeds hang in the balance. With that in mind, here is how it's all going down...
No. 9 Florida State (20-13, 8-9) vs. No. 1 North Carolina (29-2, 14-2) 12:00 ET
Florida State used defensive intensity and red-hot outside shooting to knock off Wake Forest in its opener. The Seminoles will need an even better performance against the Tar Heels this afternoon.
Jason Rich was big from three-point range against the Demon Deacons, but he is the only consistent outside threat. Toney Douglas will have to step up against Ty Lawson for there to be any hope in this one. Also, FSU's bigs have to control the glass; Tyler Hansbrough will get his points and rebounds, but the rest of the front line of the Tar Heels is suspect.
Still, this team is completely different with Lawson at the point. Now that he is healthy, this team can beat anybody, both with speed and power, in the full-court and in the half-court. Hansbrough should have a huge game inside against an undermanned Seminoles squad that has been decimated by injuries.
Look for FSU to come out emotionally charged in the first half, but Carolina has too many weapons—Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, Marcus Ginyard, etc.--and too much depth for Leonard Hamilton's team to handle.
PREDICTION: UNC 89-75
No. 5 Miami (23-9, 9-8) vs. No. 4 Virginia Tech (18-12, 9-7) 2:30 ET
Miami played an uninspired, confused NC State team yesterday and had some trouble putting the Wolfpack away. Virginia Tech's team isn't loaded with star power, but they play together and execute well on the defensive end of the floor.
Miami was led yesterday by Jack McClinton—it wasn't his best game shooting the basketball, but he made several key plays down the stretch. Also, the frontcourt duo of Dwayne Collins and Anthony King was impressive against a deep NC State front line. But the Hurricanes can't afford to make mistakes over and over again against an opportunistic Hokie team.
A.D. Vassallo has quietly put together a phenomenal year for Seth Greenberg—he ranks sixth in the ACC in scoring at 16.6 points per contest. Freshman Jeff King will be tested inside by Collins and King, but he has shown a resilience on the glass that is difficult to match. Deron Washington's production will be key; if he can force turnovers and finish at the rim, it could lead to success for VA Tech.
Miami will certainly need to play better than it did yesterday, but I think they will. Seth Greenberg didn't win ACC Coach of the Year for no reason—his team will come to play. Expect a slugfest, as these are the top two scoring defenses in the league. In the end, the free throw shooting of Miami will propel them to the semis.
PREDICTION: MIAMI 61-54
No. 7 Georgia Tech (16-16, 8-9) vs. No. 2 Duke (26-4, 13-3) 7:00 ET
Georgia Tech rode an uncharacteristically strong defensive performance down the stretch to a win over Virginia on Thursday night. Now the Yellow Jackets face a stiffer challenge in Duke's wide-open offense.
Anthony Morrow led Tech in the first round of the tournament, with six three-pointers. Gani Lawal and Jeremis Smith were able to control the boards, and previously-struggling Alade Aminu played well inside for a stretch. The defense is a concern against Duke, who likes to spread the floor and attack the rim—both huge problems for Tech this season.
Duke runs a Phoenix Suns-style offense that makes every team sweat, especially if the threes are falling. Greg Paulus, Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer, and company will make Tech pay if they fail to cover the perimeter. But the problem for Duke will be handling Tech's inside presence.
Duke should win because of Tech's inability to defend well both in the paint and at the three-point line. But if Duke isn't hitting shots, it could go the other way.
PREDICTION: DUKE 86-80
No. 11 Boston College (15-16, 4-12) vs. No. 3 Clemson (22-8, 10-6) 9:30 ET
This Boston College team showed a tremendous amount of poise in that first-round victory over Maryland. After pulling off the upset of the day, Tyrese Rice will need another impressive performance to beat a suddenly-clutch Clemson team.
Rice's leadership, ability to create led the comeback, and his importance to this team can't possibly be understated. The young supporting cast is starting to come through for Al Skinner—last night, Rakim Sanders and Corey Raji made especially big shots. Still, it will be almost impossible for this team to make a run without more production from the regulars.
Clemson's recent close wins are a reversal from recent years, in which the Tigers found ways to lose those nail biters. Cliff Hammonds is an extremely underrated player, especially defensively, that has shut down Rice and Singletary this season already. In the only meeting between these two teams this season, Rice was just 3-8 from the floor.
The tandem of James Mays and Trevor Booker inside should have its way against an inexperienced front. Also, Clemson's bench must continue to contribute key minutes.
Clemson just has too much depth and scoring power for BC in this one. Oliver Purnell's full-court style wears down teams that do not boast much depth; expect that to happen and Clemson to pull away late.
PREDICTION: CLEM 80-62
Stay tuned for Part Three, where we'll take a look at the semis and an advance look at the title game.