It has been a sporadic season in the ACC for nearly every team, but it's all coming to a head in Greensboro when every team from the conference faces off before March Madness officially begins.
With the final game coming on Selection Sunday, a surprise team could emerge and steal away a bid from an at-large team. But in a division that is extremely top-heavy with the likes of Syracuse, Duke and Virginia all vying for a No. 1 or 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, that looks unlikely.
Both Syracuse and Duke have wilted down the stretch with both teams losing to teams in the doldrums of the conference like Boston College, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest.
As for the likes of teams like Virginia and North Carolina, they are surging as they head into the tournament. The Hoos have dropped just one game in the conference while the Tar Heels are on a 12-game winning streak.
With the tournament less than a week away and the seeds nearly set, here is a prediction for the final along with the overall tournament winner.
Finals Matchup: UNC vs. Virginia
In a year where several new teams in Notre Dame, Syracuse and Pittsburgh all joined the conference, the final has an old-school feel to it.
And with both teams coming into the tournament as two of the hottest teams in the entire country, they have as good a shot as any to match up in the final. But it's still dependent on the scenarios ultimately working out and North Carolina clinching either the No. 2 or 3 seed in the tournament.
Patrick Stevens of Syracuse.com points out all of the scenarios, but the Tar Heels basically need one more win to take either one of the seeds.
North Carolina hasn't been winning games with ease, but they have been one of the most consistent teams in the country since a loss back in January to Virginia. That loss dropped the Heels to 1-4 in the conference, but they've bounced back to go 13-4 heading into their final game.
Coach Roy Williams spoke about the turnaround season, but says he's been tempering his team's excitement, per Andrew Carter of the News & Observer:
"I keep telling them, we haven't accomplished anything," Roy says. "We've got some big-time dreams and big-time goals."— Andrew Carter (@_andrewcarter) March 4, 2014
With an elite scorer in Marcus Paige (16.9 ppg, 4.5 apg) and a dominant presence inside with James Michael-McAdoo (14.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg), the Heels have both athleticism and scoring on their side. But can they match up with the Cavaliers' defense?
The Hoos have not only been undefeated for nearly two months now, but they've done so by not allowing more than 67 points in a game over the stretch and holding teams to less than 50 points a total of five times in the 13 games.
Luke Winn of Sports Illustrated took a look at Virginia's defensive prowess thus far and what makes Tony Bennett's approach so special:
Evidence (to me) that Virginia has the best transition-limiting defense in the country: The Cavs and Clemson are the only teams to rank in the top 10 on Synergy in "lowest percentage of defensive possessions allowed in transition" and in the top 10 on hoop-math.com in "lowest percentage of initial field-goal attempts allowed in transition." And in both situations, Virginia is stingier than Clemson, giving Tony Bennett's team a slight edge.
Then there's the fact that the Hoos have found a star in sophomore Malcolm Brogdon. The 6'5" guard has put it all together this season with an average of 12.6 points per game to lead the team, but his defense against the other team's best guard on many nights makes him an even more valuable asset.
ACC Champion: Virginia
It has been nearly four decades since Virginia has won the ACC tournament, but this year's team is not only good enough to erase the drought of regular season championships, but also prevail in the tournament.
Much like Williams told his team, Bennett has made sure Virginia stays grounded heading into the final games of the season, per Scott Gleeson of USA Today:
Our mindset can't change. "We can't say, 'Hey we won the ACC' and then take our foot off the gas. There's too much more to accomplish. The ability for these guys to stay hungry has been incredible. They're faithful to the process and how we're built.
We don't take anything for granted. We're a team that understands who we are, and we're unaffected by the magnitude of the game.
Both UNC and UVA deserve the spot with the amazing play they've shown on the court over the last few months, but the Hoos pressing defense sets them apart from the Heels.
Not only will Virginia stake their claim as the unquestionable best team in the conference, but could wind up with a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament if one of the top teams falls in their tournament.
It would be a perfect way to cap off a dream regular season for the Hoos, but it also puts them in prime position to make a historic run in the NCAA Tournament.
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