ACC Tournament 2014 Bracket: Predicting Pivotal Games in Path to Championship

Richard Langford@@noontide34Correspondent IMarch 13, 2014

Duke's Rodney Hood (5) is pressured by North Carolina's J.P. Tokoto (13) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Durham, N.C., Saturday, March 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Gerry Broome/Associated Press

In the first game of the 2014 ACC tournament, Notre Dame lost its inaugural tournament game as a part of the ACC. Wake Forest easily handled the conference newcomer, 81-69, and the new tournament era was underway. 

This concluded a rough first season in the ACC for Notre Dame. The Irish finished at 15-17 and will not be a participant in the postseason. As reported by Chris Hine of the Chicago Tribune, Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said his team, which has a trip to Italy in August, would decline a postseason invitation if it got one. 

"If we didn't have a foreign tour, we would think about," Brey was quoted by Hine as saying. "Our foreign tour will be the next time to get our guys together."

The other conference newcomers figure to have more success. Pitt and Syracuse will also be making their first ACC tournament appearances this year. 

Pitt, the fifth seed, is actually taking on Wake Forest on Thursday. Second-seeded Syracuse won't be in action until Friday. 

Both will be pressing to usurp No. 1 seed Virginia while also besting traditional ACC powers North Carolina (No. 4 seed) and Duke (No. 3). 

This all sets up for what should be an entertaining and competitive tournament. Below, I'll make a few predictions about how it will all play out. 

First, have a look at how the bracket set up for the start of this tournament in a tweet from WSOC TV:

No. 8 Maryland vs. No. 9 Florida State (Second Round)

Nick Wass/Associated Press

Maryland begins its final ACC tournament as the No. 8 seed after going 17-14 on the season and 9-9 in conference play. 

The No. 9 Seminoles also went .500 in the conference, but posted a slightly better record in the regular season at 18-12.

The two split the regular-season series with both teams winning comfortably on their home court. Maryland's win on Feb. 8 is the more recent of the two, and they will make that two wins in a row. 

Since that Feb. 8 win over Florida State, the Terrapins have gone just 3-4. They have, however, been playing better than that record suggests.

That stretch includes two-point losses to both Syracuse and Duke. There was also a solid eight-point loss at Virginia.

The victories came in double-digit triumphs over Wake Forest and Virginia Tech. There was also an overtime win over Virginia.

Meanwhile, Florida State did not face as tough of competition to finish out the season, and didn't fare well against top competition when it did. The Seminoles lost by 16 to the Orange on March 9 and by six to North Carolina on Feb. 17. Both losses came at home.

Prediction: Maryland 69, Florida State 60

No. 8 Maryland vs. No. 1 Virginia (Projected Third Round)

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

Maryland's victory over Florida State wouldn't be all that pivotal to the overall picture of the tournament if Maryland was trounced in the very next round. 

Well, Maryland is going to capture a little magic in their final ACC tournament. 

The Terps just beat the Cavaliers on March 9. It was an overtime game hosted by Maryland and the Terps shot almost 10 percent better from the floor than their opponent. So it's not like basing a prediction of a Maryland victory solely on that game is a sound foundation. 

For further evidence of how closely these two are matched, however, we can look at Virginia winning by just eight on their home court. 

Still, all things being equal, I'd be siding with Virginia. The Cavaliers defense gives them a strong foundation for consistent success. 

However, all things are not equal. 

This matchup would be Virginia's first game since Maryland beat them on March 9 and it will be just their third game of March. This will create some rust. 

Meanwhile, Maryland will be entering this game in rhythm and ready to make a statement and push for the NCAA tournament. 

Virginia doesn't have all that much to play for in this tournament. They are a long shot for a No. 1 seed even if they should win this tournament. 

I'm not alone on Maryland, either. As founder RJ. Bell tells us, the Terps are getting action on taking this tournament: 

Prediction: Maryland 63, Virginia 57

No. 3 Duke vs. No. 4 North Carolina (Projected Championship Game) 

DURHAM, NC - MARCH 08:  Rodney Hood #5 of the Duke Blue Devils drives to the basket against the North Carolina Tar Heels during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on March 8, 2014 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

In a transition tournament, it will be a traditional final. With Virginia out of the way, North Carolina will cruise into the championship game. Duke will beat a Syracuse team that looked less than dominant down the stretch to advance to the championship game.

Duke and North Carolina split their two matchups this season, with both teams winning on their home court. 

North Carolina won on Feb. 20, as the Tar Heels surprisingly relied on a 1-3-1 zone and prevailed, 74-66. 

Duke beat the Tar Heels 93-81 in the regular-season finale for both schools. In that game, freshman phenom Jabari Parker scored a season-high 30 points and added 11 rebounds to destroy all defensive strategies thrown at him. 

The Blue Devils won despite North Carolina shooting 59.6 percent from the floor and 41.7 percent from beyond the arc. 

If the two meet in the championship game, Duke will put out a better defensive effort than the one it offered in the regular-season finale. Meanwhile, the Blue Devils would be able to ride Parker's offensive playmaking to another big night. 

DURHAM, NC - MARCH 08:  James Michael McAdoo #43 of the North Carolina Tar Heels wtaches as Jabari Parker #1 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts after making a basket during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on March 8, 2014 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Pho
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Prediction: Duke 79, North Carolina 69


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