Duke and Miami dominated the ACC in regular-season play, but don’t be surprised to see a couple sleepers claw their way to the later rounds of the conference tournament. As this college basketball season has taught us, anything can happen between the first whistle and the last.
ACC Tournament action will tip off Thursday at noon ET with a matchup between (8) Boston College and (9) Georgia Tech. The top four seeds in the tournament have a bye in the first round, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some good basketball to watch on Day 1.
(6) Florida State took down their first-ever ACC title last season, but a 9-9 conference mark this year will pit the Seminoles against (11) Clemson in the first round of play. North Carolina awaits the winner of that contest in the second round.
(7) Maryland and (10) Wake Forest will provide an entertaining game, but the marquee matchup of the first round will pair (5) North Carolina State with (12) Virginia Tech. NC State was the preseason favorite to win the ACC this year, and while an 11-7 mark in the ACC didn’t help its cause, the Wolfpack has a chance to make a splash in the tournament this season.
Let’s take a look at all four first-round matchups and predict which teams will earn a trip to the second round of the ACC Tournament.
(8) Boston College vs. (9) Georgia Tech – Noon ET
The Boston College Eagles couldn’t gain much traction in the second half of the season, dropping seven of eight contests between January 12 and January 29. They did manage to finish the regular season with three-straight wins, though, and none was bigger than their finale with Georgia Tech.
Now the two teams will square off again in a rematch just five days removed from a thrilling 74-72 Boston College win. If that contest was any indication, this will be a terrific game to tip off tournament play.
In their March 9 matchup, both teams shot better than 50 percent from the floor. With the help of a late 12-0 run, Boston College managed to pull away in the final minutes of play, erasing a 10-point second-half lead en route to a big win on its home floor.
If the Eagles and Yellow Jackets can catch fire as they did in their previous matchup, the winner will be a dangerous team to face in the conference tournament.
Unfortunately for Georgia Tech, finding the hot hand hasn’t been easy this year. The Yellow Jackets shot 52.6 percent from the floor on March 9, but only two players (Daniel Miller and Kammeon Holsey) shot better than 45 percent from the field throughout the season.
Prediction: Boston College 67, Georgia Tech 60
(5) NC State vs. (12) Virginia Tech – 2 p.m. ET
North Carolina State tore through its non-conference schedule, punctuating a run of 10-straight victories with an 84-76 win over Duke on January 12. There aren’t many true sleepers in this tournament, but don’t be surprised if the Wolfpack makes a deep run this weekend.
With a 4-14 mark in the ACC, Virginia Tech’s odds of advancing in the tournament aren’t stellar. Betonline.com pegs the Hokies as an 11.5-point underdog in their first-round matchup, and it might not be that close.
NC State forward Richard Howell has been fantastic at both ends of the floor this year (12.7 points, 10.6 rebounds per contest) and when he shows up, forward C.J. Leslie can do some special things with the basketball. The duo accounted for 27.6 points and 18.1 rebounds per game in the regular season.
Virginia Tech senior guard Erick Green has been one of the only bright spots for the Hokies this year, but he can’t be asked to carry the entire offense facing a dynamic NC State squad. With a 25.4 points-per-game mark this season, Green will have to continue to shine in the ACC Tournament if the Hokies hope to upend the Wolfpack Thursday afternoon.
Prediction: NC State 82, VT 70
(7) Maryland vs. (10) Wake Forest – 7 p.m. ET
The second half of the season wasn’t kind to Maryland. The Terps went 13-1 in their first 14 contests, but went on to lose 10 of their next 17 regular-season games.
The Demon Deacons weren’t as fortunate in the first half, and dropping 11 of their last 15 games didn’t help to build much momentum heading into the ACC Tournament.
No first-round matchup would have been favorable for Wake Forest, but it certainly can’t feel confident about another go-around with Maryland. The Terps dispatched the Demon Deacons in both regular-season matchups, including an 86-60 drubbing on February 2.
Despite those wins, Betonline.com lists Maryland as just a 5.5-point favorite in this contest.
If the Demon Deacons have any hope of upsetting the Terps, senior guard C.J. Harris will have to be on top of his game. The North Carolina native is Wake Forest’s leading scorer this season, finishing the year strong with a 29-point performance against Virginia Tech on March 10.
In the end, balanced production will likely carry Maryland into a second-round matchup with Duke—a team they beat less than a month ago.
Prediction: Maryland 82, Wake Forest 69
(6) Florida State vs. (11) Clemson – 9 p.m. ET
After winning the ACC last season for the first time in its history, Florida State entered the 2012-13 season with high expectations. The Seminoles couldn’t get past the top teams in the ACC, though, and they enter the tournament as the No. 6 seed.
Luckily for the Seminoles, they face a Clemson team that is reeling from 11 losses in their last 14 games. The Tigers dropped their last six contests of the regular season, setting up Florida State with a favorable matchup in the first round.
The Seminoles hold a 2-0 advantage in regular-season play, and this game will likely be another strong showing in favor of Florida State.
Senior guard Michale Snaer will be a player to watch throughout the tournament. Arguably one of the best defenders in the ACC, Snaer is also the Seminoles’ leading scorer. He hasn’t played as well at the offensive end as he did last year, but he should have an easy time leading his squad past the Tigers on Thursday.
Florida State is just a two-point favorite over Clemson according to Betonline.com, but don’t expect the final score to be quite that close.
Prediction: Florida State 68, Clemson 62