The Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament is set to commence on Thursday afternoon, pitting eight of the best schools in the country against each other in a winner-take-all bracket prior to the NCAA tournament.
Lead dogs Miami and Duke have grabbed most of the attention in the ACC this year, but scorers like Virginia Tech's Erick Green, sharpshooters like Virginia's Joe Harris and playmakers like Florida State's clutch-master Michael Snaer have the ability to take this tournament over in Greensboro over the next few days.
That being said, the first-round matchups are widely disappointing if you look at how these teams fared when facing each other during the regular season. Conference basement-dwellers Clemson and Virginia Tech put up a good fight against big teams, but largely came away empty for most of the season.
That could all change tomorrow.
Basketball games often come down to individual matchups and which players make the necessary adjustments to force opponents into doing something they aren't comfortable with. With respect to the four games on Thursday's opening day, here are four matchups that could decide who moves on and who goes home for good this season.
When: Thursday, March 14
What: First Round of the ACC Tournament
No. 8 Boston College vs. No. 9 Georgia Tech, 12 p.m. ET
Matchup To Watch: F Ryan Anderson (BC) vs. F Robert Carter (GT)
These two youngsters (Anderson is a sophomore and Carter is a freshman) will likely be matched up against each other for most of this game, and as a result could end up deciding each team's fate in moving on to the next round to face top-seeded Miami.
Anderson, who averages over 15 points and eight rebounds per game this year for the Golden Eagles, is becoming one of the more polished players in the ACC and will be a true X-factor for Boston College making any type of run.
That statement applies even more so to Carter.
He's no slouch, either, averaging 10 points and a little over six rebounds per game for the Yellow Jackets this season.
Quietly, the Yellow Jackets have fared about as well as Carter has taken them. Georgia Tech has six conference wins this year, and Carter has scored in double figures in all but one of those games—highlighted by a 20-point outburst against Wake Forest and a 19-point game against Maryland.
Georgia Tech fans may be the only ones that notice, but Carter is a real key to the success they've had in the conference this season. Anderson has been a key cog for BC, too, and there's a good chance we will watch roughly 30 minutes of these two guys going at it tomorrow in one-on-one situations.
Strap in, because the matchups are just beginning to get heated.
No. 5 NC State vs. No. 12 Virginia Tech, 2 p.m. ET
Matchup to Watch: G Lorenzo Brown (NCST) vs. G Erick Green (VT)
As the lowest seed in the ACC tournament, Virginia Tech has nothing to lose. Having the nation's leading scorer (Green) hasn't helped the school win games this year, but at this point that doesn't matter—winning the tournament does.
That being said, the Hokies will rely heavily on their go-to guy.
As reported by TV3 Sports on Twitter, Green is gunning for big things on Thursday:
On the other side, North Carolina State has had an up-and-down go of things in what was slated to be Mark Gottfried's rise to the top of the NCAA ladder. Brown, Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie lead a talented team into battle each night, but the results have been mixed, and a five seed in this tournament should tell you all you need to know about the Wolfpack this year.
Either way, these two guards are going to go at it on Thursday afternoon. Green got loose for 29 points and eight assists in his team's overtime loss to North Carolina State earlier in the season and added seven free-throw attempts in reminding us what could be Brown's (and NC State's) biggest challenge—keeping him off the foul line.
Brown runs the Wolfpack offense, but his contributions to this game will likely be more heralded at the defensive end if he can keep one of the nation's best scorers at bay during a pivotal game for North Carolina State's NCAA tournament seeding.
No. 7 Maryland vs. No. 10 Wake Forest, 7 p.m. ET
Matchup to Watch: F James Padgett (UM) vs. F Travis McKie (WF)
Wake Forest gets to the free-throw line 23.4 times per game in conference play, second behind only North Carolina State in that category. At the forefront at that effort is McKie, a man who has made 111 free-throw shots this season (good for sixth in the ACC).
If you'll remember, Maryland embarrassed Wake Forest in the two teams' first meeting earlier in the year, beating the Demon Deacons by 26 points and limiting the opponent to just 13 free throws in the lopsided victory.
Of those 13 free throws, McKie had just three.
McKie was limited again in Wake Forest's home game against Maryland, scoring just seven points, getting to the line just three times and missing a three-pointer late in the game that would have cut the deficit to just one. Wake Forest ended up losing by 10.
While Padgett will likely draw the majority of the assignment, Jake Layman could see some work on McKie, too. There's a very good argument that Maryland's biggest problem in this game would be beating itself via turnovers and boneheaded mistakes, but don't discount the impact that McKie would have if he played well for the first time this season against the Terps.
No. 6 Florida State vs. No. 11 Clemson, 9 p.m. ET
Matchup to Watch: C Kiel Turpin (FSU) vs. F/C Devin Booker (CLEM)
Each time these two teams have squared off this season, Clemson has had chances to win the game outright. Michael Snaer's late-game heroics stopped the game from going to overtime in the second meeting, while the Tigers wasted Booker's 19-point, 11-rebound game at home during the first showdown.
As it goes with players like Booker, though, the Clemson star is going to have to rise to the occasion if he and the Tigers want to move on and beat Florida State for the first time this season.
To do that, Booker will go head-to-head against Kiel Turpin.
Turpin will likely draw the first assignment on the All-ACC third-teamer, and it's vitally important that he get off to a fast start in slowing Booker down on the block. If not, the Tigers could jump out to an early lead a la the last meeting between these two, and Snaer's heroics won't always be around to pull them out of a tough situation forever.
Expect Clemson to pound it inside early and often, meaning Turpin is going to have to both stay out of foul trouble and present Booker a problem on the defensive end of the floor. This should be an exciting matchup between two upperclassmen.
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