Throughout the course of each ACC basketball season, fans of the conference become accustomed to the highest quality of college hoops in the country. This year has been no different with the No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels grabbing yet another regular season title. Led by ACC Player of the Year Ty Lawson and last year's POY Tyler Hansbrough, the boys from Chapel Hill were an offensive juggernaut, averaging 91 points a game. Other teams showed flashes of greatness with Clemson getting off to a 16-0 start and Wake Forest temporarily claiming the country's top spot after ending the Tigers' unbeaten streak. Duke, while not as strong this year as in some of their more glorious championship seasons, still has enough talent to carry them far in the postseason and they will be looking to right the ship in the ACC Tourney. Florida State had their best season in over a decade and Boston College, Virginia Tech, Maryland, and Miami still have something to prove as we look to Atlanta to break down each game for you in the 2009 ACC Tournament, held for the very first time at the Georgia Dome.
Why Miami should win:
Jack McClinton was second in conference play in scoring, averaging 21.8 per game and leads the 'Canes into what is an absolute must-win for both teams. In a precarious position on the bubble with a 7-9 conference record, Miami's RPI of 53 can be improved with a run in the tournament and hopes dashed with a loss to the Hokies. Inside presence Dwayne Collins is the second option for the Canes but McClinton is the best player on the floor in this contest - he could will Miami to another win as he has done before on their way to claiming a spot in the dance.
Why Virginia Tech should win:
One month ago, the Hokies had all the makings of a tournament team and then went on to lose 6 of their last 7 contests, dropping them to a pedestrian 17-13, 7-9 in ACC play. Their RPI of 62 even with a strong schedule will not be enough for entry without a win or two in Atlanta. The Hokies are an active, well-balanced team as evidenced by fellow 19-point scorers and 3rd team All-ACC teammates A.D. Vassallo and Malcolm Delaney. It seems they are always in this position as they were left on the outside looking in after a 9-7 ACC record just last year when a tight loss to UNC in the ACC tourney last year sealed their fate.
In a virtual bubble elimination game, this will be a blood,sweat, and tears which should be one of the most entertaining games of the tourney. I like VT coach Seth Greenberg's experience to guide the Hokies past Miami who they beat at home earlier this season.
Virginia Tech 68, Miami 64
Why Georgia Tech Should win:
It has been a loooong season for Georgia Tech, going 2-14 in ACC play and losing 13 of their last 15. Only a miraculous run - stressing the word miraculous - could put them into any tournament. Their upset of Wake Forest earlier this season provided a bright spot along with 3rd team ALL-ACC sophomore forward Gani Lawal. And, home games never hurt anyone...
Why Clemson should win:
While Clemson has cooled off some by losing 5 of their last 9 after starting off 16-0, they are still powered by dominant inside force Trevor Booker who led the league in rebounds and was second in FG percentage. Add to that their league leading 8.6 threes per contest and 9.3 steals and you realize that the Tigers' guard combo of K.C. Rivers and Terrence Oglesby is what you want heading into postseason play.
I don't often expect blowouts in the ACC tourney and the Jackets have shown some heart as recently as last week when they were beat by one at Boston College. But, Clemson should take care of business fairly easily here.
Clemson 79, Georgia Tech 59
Why NC State Should Win:
Desperation time for the Wolfpack, another team in need of winning the entire tourney to advance to the Big Dance. While NC State played tough at home this season, they captured only two wins away from Raleigh and dropped three of their last four overall to put themselves at 6-10 in ACC play. They have recently gone to a bigger lineup with success that allows Ben McCauley, Brandon Costner, and Tracy Smith to eat up space and open up shots on the wing for 3-point specialist Courtney Fells who is coming back after sitting out their last contest with an injury.
Why Maryland Should Win:
They are becoming a perenially frustrating team to watch as they drop unthinkable games like the one they lost to UVA last weekend. Their 67 RPI will not do them any favors come Sunday and will need at least two here to improve their chances at an at-large bid. The enigmatic Terps are led by 2nd-team All-ACC junior Greivis Vasquez who averages over 17 points a game and will need to put the team on his back this weekend for there to be any joy in College Park.
I like Vasquez to work some magic this weekend and have them starting off with a win over the Pack.
Maryland 71, NC State 66
Why Boston College Should Win:
While BC has really done enough to earn a bid, coach Al Skinner knows all too well that you can not rely on the selection committee. The Eagles were left out in the cold in 2003 after earning a 10-6 conference record while still a member of the Big East. Their RPI of 57 does not give them 'lock' status so a loss to the Cavs is not something they can afford. BC is led by senior guard Tyrese Rice who is wrapping up a stellar career in Chestnut Hill and is still managing to lead the team in scoring and assists, getting the likes of Joe Trapani, Reggie Jackson, and Rakim Sanders involved.
Why Virginia Should Win:
Virginia will not be dancing anywhere this postseason without a clean sweep in the Georgia Dome. That's a tall task even for super freshman and ACC Rookie of the Year Sylven Landesberg who leads the team with 16.8 points per game. He and sophomore forward Mike Scott lead the team and will try to avenge a 10 point defeat at the hands of the Eagles in Charlottesville in early February.
BC 79, UVA 74
Check out Friday morning's column as we beak down the Round 2 matchups and see how many predictions I actually managed to get right.