The ACC tournament begins on Mar. 12 with action from the lower seeds, but the real contenders to emerge from the bracket won't play until a few days later.
Realistically, there are four teams with a legitimate chance to win it all: Virginia, Syracuse, North Carolina and Duke. Each of these teams has a player whose play has a major impact on his team's bottom line.
Let's take a look at the player from each team who must step up if his team is going to reach the final and win.
Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia Cavaliers
The No. 5-ranked Cavaliers aren't a high-scoring bunch. So when their top scorer struggles, it's a big deal. Brogdon leads the team in scoring at 12.6 points per game, and you can clearly see how it impacts the team when he's not at his best.
In Virginia's five losses, Brogdon is averaging just 9.8 points per game. In those games, he has shot 32 percent from the field and 20 percent from beyond the arc.
That's a far cry from the type of efficiency he's known for. Per Brian Hamilton of Sports Illustrated, the Pittsburgh Panthers' head coach Jaime Dixon said this about Brogdon after the sophomore beat his Panthers with a buzzer-beater three:
"He’s really efficient. His numbers are exceptional. He’s a really good shooter with deep range, he’s got good size, and he’s a good defender at the same time. You don’t often see a guy who’s a good shooter and a good defender."
Normally, Dixon is right. Over the entire regular season, Brogdon shoots 43 percent from the field, 39 percent from three and 90 percent from the line.
When the ACC tournament rolls around, the Cavs will need to see numbers closer to that if they hope to win.
Trevor Cooney, Syracuse Orange
The Orange looked like the team to beat most of the season, but they have struggled mightily over the last two weeks. Losers of four of their last five, the Orange have to find a remedy for what ails them fast.
The biggest problem is a lack of consistent outside shooting. Cooney is normally the team's long-range bomber, but in the four losses, he has struggled to find the range.
During Syracuse's skid, Cooney has made 10-of-37 attempts from the field and just 5-of-27 from three-point range. That's just over 18 percent accuracy from deep.
Cooney has worked tirelessly to regulate his form since last season when he shot just under 27 percent from behind the arc. This season, he has made 39 percent of his long-range attempts.
He told Donna Ditota of Syracuse.com this in January before the struggles began:
"Repetition, repetition. Keep doing that the whole summer, keep working hard every day and it will pay off. Your form will get better."
He may have to revisit that mindset to break out of his current slump.
If the Orange are going to snap out of this funk and make some noise in the ACC tournament, Cooney has to start knocking down some shots.
J.P. Tokoto, North Carolina Tar Heels
As pure athletes go, there aren't many in college basketball who are on Tokoto's level. He has unreal bounce and finishing ability near the basket. Because of this skill set, Tokoto excels at taking the ball to the rack.
With that comes the high probability of being fouled and sent to the free-throw line. That's where the problems come in for Tokoto and many of his teammates. As a team, the Tar Heels make just 62 percent of their free throws.
Tokoto is the worst of the players who play at least seven minutes per game. He's a woeful 51-percent free-throw shooter.
Because of his talent and ability to score, he's potentially a game changer. However, his inability to make free throws puts a pause on any late game plan that puts the ball in his hands.
In the Heels' seven losses, Tokoto has made just 33 percent of his free throws (8-of-24). To his credit, as Stephen Schramm of The Fayeteville Observer notes, Tokoto is working to strengthen this weakness in his game:
Tokoto and North Carolina's inability to make teams pay from the charity stripe makes them a dicey pick to win the conference tournament.
Rodney Hood, Duke Blue Devils
To be fair, Hood has been mostly spectacular this season. But like freshman sensation Jabari Parker, Hood is being asked to do things that are out of the ordinary because of the team's lack of size.
In each of Duke's losses, the team has been out-rebounded. If and when Duke exits the ACC or NCAA tournament, it will be because of its inability to compete on the inside.
To make up for the lack of natural rebounders, Hood needs to raise his game and make a more concerted effort to go to the glass—especially on defense. For the season, he has pulled down 4.1 boards per game.
That's acceptable from the small forward position on most teams. But with the Blue Devils, the team needs a little more from Hood. The team doesn't have the type of glass eater that will allow teammates to slack in this area.
It's going to take a group effort to minimize Duke's rebounding deficiency and Hood is the primary player who must step up.
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