Wednesday marks the start of the new-look ACC’s first tournament since adding the likes of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. The 15-team bracket may look strange to fans of the conference, but one thing will feel very familiar.
Duke is one of the favorites.
The Blue Devils have more talent than almost any team in the country on paper, and the postseason is where that will ultimately shine through.
There is more than an ACC tournament title on the line for Jabari Parker and company in Greensboro, North Carolina, though. With the attrition that has hit the top of the polls all season (outside of Gainesville and Wichita, that is), Duke is still very much alive for a No. 1 seed come Selection Sunday.
The Blue Devils should receive plenty of fan support close to home and will not have to play until Friday as the No. 3 seed with a double-bye. They will face the winner of the Clemson versus Georgia Tech/Boston College game at 9 p.m. ET.
Here is the look at the entire bracket, courtesy of WSOC-TV:
Now that we know what the bracket looks like, let’s dig into a few Duke-oriented predictions.
Jabari Parker Wins Tournament MVP
T.J. Warren was named the ACC Player of the Year for the regular season, but it will be Parker who claims the honors at the conference tournament.
The superstar is peaking at the right time, finishing the year with a career-high 30 points and also 11 rebounds against archrival North Carolina. He commented to Associated Press reporters that he is ready to grow up and assume the postseason leadership role that Mike Krzyzewski is looking for, via ESPN.com:
No more freshman. I don't like getting in that category anymore because my team needs me more than just an 18-year-old. They need somebody with experience through the whole game. ... It's time to grow up.
Parker posted nightly averages of 19.2 points, nine rebounds, 1.4 blocks and one steal a game and completely overcame his midseason struggles that hampered him at the start of ACC play. He is relying less on outside jumpers, instead focusing on establishing the drive and a post game down low.
If there is any motivation in play because Warren was named the ACC’s MVP instead, Parker will take it out on the court in Greensboro.
Duke Cuts Down the Nets
Fueled by Parker’s excellence, as well as critical contributions from Rodney Hood, Amile Jefferson and Rasheed Sulaimon, the Blue Devils will win the ACC tournament.
They will cruise past the quarterfinal matchup before facing off with No. 2 seed Syracuse in something of a tiebreaker game in the semifinals.
Duke and the Orange played in two of the most memorable games of the ACC season, with the home team winning each respective contest. There will be plenty of fan support for both in Greensboro, but the Blue Devils will likely have more supporters so close to home.
On the court, Parker and Hood will penetrate the 2-3 zone early, forcing it to collapse in the second half. That is when Andre Dawkins and Sulaimon will hit timely three-pointers late in the game, as Duke prevails 81-75.
In the finals, the Blue Devils will face off with No. 1 seed Virginia.
Duke is the only team the Cavaliers played and did not beat at least once in the ACC this year. Talent-wise, Virginia simply can’t match up with the Blue Devils.
Look for Krzyzewski’s squad to jump out to an early lead and never look back in the finals.
Duke Ultimately Earns a No. 2 Seed on Selection Sunday
Florida, Wichita State, Arizona and Villanova will seize the four No. 1 seeds after winning their respective conference tournaments (Wichita State already won the Missouri Valley) come Selection Sunday.
Ultimately, the disappointing and surprising losses to Clemson, Notre Dame and Wake Forest will be Duke’s undoing in terms of seeding, even with an ACC tournament crown.
However, with the momentum that comes from that ACC tournament title and an incredibly talented roster, the Blue Devils will be on the short list of Final Four contenders at the Big Dance.
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