With Syracuse and possibly Notre Dame arriving beginning in the 2013-14 season, the 2013 ACC tournament may be one of the last opportunities for the old garb to shine.
The Dukes and North Carolinas of the world will certainly continue to be among the nation's best. It's been that way for decades. But with the Orange and Irish undoubtedly pushing the level of competition even higher next year—the ACC ranks a very middling fourth in overall conference RPI—squads ascending from relative obscurity may become a rarity.
Specifically, the new world order of the ACC may make it more difficult for teams like the Miami Hurricanes to come from "nowhere." The sixth-ranked Canes clinched at least a share of the ACC championship this season after coming in nowhere near most pundits' radar. Led by guard Shane Larkin and forward Kenny Kadji, Miami broke the mold and comes into next week's festivities among the favorites.
As always is the case, though, competition will be fierce in Greensboro. The conference has a few teams languishing on the bubble; teams that would like nothing more than to take down a top-ranked foe.
With that in mind, here is a complete breakdown of the 2013 ACC tournament, including a few teams worth keeping an eye on.
Tournament Schedule & TV Information
Thursday, March 14 (First Round)
Game 1: No. 8 Boston College vs. No. 9 Georgia Tech, 12 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Game 2: No. 5 NC State vs. No. 12 Virginia Tech, 2 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Game 3: No. 7 Maryland vs. No. 10 Wake Forest, 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Game 4: No. 6 Florida State vs. No. 11 Clemson, 9 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
Friday, March 15 (Second Round)
Game 5: No. 1 Miami vs. Game 1 Winner, 12 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Game 6: No. 4 Virginia vs. Game 2 Winner, 2 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Game 7: No. 2 Duke vs. Game 3 Winner, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Game 8: No. 3 North Carolina vs. Game 4 Winner, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Saturday, March 16 (Semifinals)
Game 9: Game 5 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN/ACC Network)
Game 10: Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner, 3 p.m. ET (ESPN/ACC Network)
Sunday, March 17 (Finals)
Game 11: Game 9 Winner vs. Game 10 Winner, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN/ACC Network)
Teams to Watch
Miami Hurricanes (23-6, RPI: 3)
Three losses in four games and the ACC's most pleasant surprise is reeling. Once expected to skate to a regular season title, Miami came into Saturday's regular-season finale versus Clemson needing a win to finally lock up the outright conference championship.
As for what’s wrong with the Hurricanes, it’s not all that hard to pinpoint—their defense has fallen off a cliff. Ken Pomeroy’s advanced metrics measure Miami as the 19th most efficient defense over the course of the season. Opposing teams have an effective field goal percentage of 44.8 versus the Canes, 40th in the nation, and they play crisp, sound defense while avoiding costly fouls.
Over their recent swoon, you can pretty much throw all that out the window. In each of their three losses (Wake Forest, Duke, Georgia Tech), the opposing team shot better than 50 percent from the field and 52.6 percent overall. Wake Forest and Duke also camped at the line, combining to shoot 57 free throws in their victory over the Hurricanes.
Both of those stats are wildly out of the norm. The field goal percentage is nearly eight percent higher than the team’s full-season mark, and the Blue Devils and Demon Deacons more than doubled an opponent’s average free throws. Therefore, it’s wholly possible that the numbers will regress to the mean and Miami will return to its former dominance. Three games is, after all, a pretty minuscule sample size.
While return to the mean remains the most likely possibility, it still doesn’t erase those three losses from Miami’s record. The Hurricanes have gone from No. 1 seed contention all the way to a No. 3 distinction on Joe Lunardi’s latest projections. As we know, there is a very important chasm between the talent of No. 16 seeds and No. 14 seeds; Mercer and Stephen F. Austin are two completely different animals.
A top seed is likely unrecoverable at this point. Three losses against teams with RPIs higher than 100 loom too large. But a No. 2 seed remains fully within the realm of possibilities. Jim Larranaga will need to fix his team and do it fast for that to happen, though.
North Carolina Tar Heels (22-8, RPI: 18)
We’ll be finding out where this new and improved Tar Heels team ranks among the nation’s best on Saturday. They take on heated rival Duke in Chapel Hill, and could give the Blue Devils their first loss of the season with Ryan Kelly in the lineup.
Even if Roy Williams’ squad loses, however, there is no mid-tier seed potential Cinderellas want to play less than North Carolina at this point. Spurred in part by the decision to run with a four-guard lineup, the Tar Heels have ripped off six straight wins heading into their regular season finale—all of which came by nine or more points.
Since that switch, Reggie Bullock has been nothing short of marvelous. The junior guard-forward is averaging 18.3 points, 11.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists over North Carolina’s past four contests, embracing his newfound role on both ends of the floor in the process. It’s been Bullock’s ability to grab boards while still stretching opposing forwards away from the basket that’s allowed Williams’ new lineup to really take shape.
Will Bullock and the Tar Heels be able to keep it up? That remains to be seen. But they provide an interesting contrast to the overall college basketball landscape at the moment—especially offensively.
In an era where teams have a paltry adjusted pace of 66.0, per Pomeroy, North Carolina remains the exception. The Heels’ adjusted pace of 71.7 ranks seventh in the country, is higher than every other major-conference team save for DePaul and has only risen with the guard-heavy rotation.
Part of the Heels’ pacing is philosophical. Williams has always emphasized the pick-and-roll and motion offenses, and as a result his teams have beared a slight resemblance to the NBA style. But that’s only been exemplified due to the roster’s lack of size this year.
Sustaining that pace effectively will be the difficult portion. The Heels have done it quite nicely thus far, but as they continue acclimating, it’s something that needs to be monitored in the ACC Tournament. If consistently effective in Greensboro, North Carolina may just shock the entire conference.
Virginia Cavaliers (20-10, RPI: 72)
Speaking of teams that run a high tempo, boy these Cavaliers sure are one of the NCAA’s most exciting teams. Constantly running up and down the court, it’s a wonder these young men don’t need oxygen tanks on the sidelines to keep their energy high.
Of course, I’m being facetious. Tony Bennett would probably fine one of his players if he even saw them briskly jogging. When you watch Virginia play, you get eye crud on top of your eye crud. A protege of his father Dick Bennett and Wisconsin head man Bo Ryan, Tony Bennett has taken the two men’s slowed down offensive philosophy to new extremes. His Cavaliers rank 338th among the 347 Division I teams in adjusted pace, at a paltry 60.0 clip.
That being said, it’s hard to knock Bennett’s (lack of) hustle because Virginia is among the nation’s most efficient teams. Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings have the Cavaliers as the nation’s 39th best offensive team and 21st in overall defense. They play an exceedingly conservative brand of basketball, avoiding turnovers, finding wide-open three-point attempts and hardly ever making overly aggressive mistakes.
The result has been a place firmly on the bubble. Lunardi has them as one of the last four teams in the Big Dance, a distinction only given to them because of two straight one-possession losses against unranked foes.
Consequently, their regular-season finale on Sunday against Maryland means a ton before the teams even get into the ACC tournament. A win over the Terrapins and Virginia probably once again at near-lock status for one of the last at-large berths. Maryland wins, however, and the two teams’ conference tournament journeys may ultimately decide which will be the ACC’s fifth representative.
Prediction: Duke Wins
We didn’t mention the Blue Devils under the “must watch” teams because we essentially know who they are. They’re a squad fully reliant on a six or seven-man rotation—all depends on how frisky Coach K is feeling—and each of their five starters must stay healthy going forward.
Luckily, Ryan Kelly is back in the lineup and looking fantastic since returning against Miami on March 2. The senior forward has scored 54 points in the two games since returning from injury, and more importantly, he re-stabilized Duke’s rotations.
They’re still vulnerable if a starter goes down to injury; but we’re not in the business of predicting that. Duke is the most talented team in the conference, so look for Mike Krzyzewski’s squad to pull out another ACC tournament championship for the legendary coach.
Tournament MVP: Mason Plumlee