ACC men's basketball is so competitive this year that the conference could send 11 teams to the NCAA tournament.
On Monday, Joe Lunardi of ESPN predicted that nine will make March Madness, with Georgia Tech and Wake Forest sitting just outside the field. However, Wake Forest defeated No. 8 Louisville, 88-81 on Wednesday, so the Demon Deacons' chances just received a huge boost.
Therefore, the ACC tournament should be a highly competitive affair, as usual.
The tournament begins on Tuesday, March 7, but only two of the seeds have been decided at this point. North Carolina has clinched the regular season title and will be the No. 1 seed in the tournament regardless of how it does against Duke on Saturday. Boston College, which finished last this season, will be the No. 15 seed.
The rest of the field will be set on Saturday, when the final seven regular-season games will take place.
Below you'll find the ACC tournament schedule, predictions for the final seeds and some tournament picks.
ACC Tournament Schedule
|Tuesday, March 7||1||First||No. 13 seed vs. No. 12 seed||Noon||ESPN2/ACC Network|
|Tuesday, March 7||2||First||BC vs. No. 10 seed||2 p.m.||ESPN2/ACC Network|
|Tuesday, March 7||3||First||No. 14 seed vs. No. 11 seed||7 p.m.||ESPNU/ACC Network|
|Wednesday, March 8||4||Second||No. 9 seed vs. No. 8 seed||Noon||ESPN/ACC Network|
|Wednesday, March 8||5||Second||Game 1 winner vs. No. 5 seed||2 p.m.||ESPN/ACC Network|
|Wednesday, March 8||6||Second||Game 2 winner vs. No. 7 seed||7 p.m.||ESPN2/ACC Network|
|Wednesday, March 8||7||Second||Game 3 winner vs. No. 6 seed||9 p.m.||ESPN2/ACC Network|
|Thursday, March 9||8||Quarterfinals||Game 4 winner vs. UNC||Noon||ESPN/ACC Network|
|Thursday, March 9||9||Quarterfinals||Game 5 winner vs. No. 4 seed||2 p.m.||ESPN/ACC Network|
|Thursday, March 9||10||Quarterfinals||Game 6 winner vs. No. 2 seed||7 p.m.||ESPN/ACC Network|
|Thursday, March 9||11||Quarterfinals||Game 7 winner vs. No. 3 seed||9 p.m.||ESPN/ACC Network|
|Friday, March 10||12||Semifinals||Game 8 winner vs. Game 9 winner||7 p.m.||ESPN or ESPN2/ACC Network|
|Friday, March 10||13||Semifinals||Game 10 winner vs. Game 11 winner||9 p.m.||ESPN or ESPN2/ACC Network|
|Saturday, March 11||14||Finals||Game 12 winner vs. Game 13 winner||9 p.m.||ESPN/ACC Network|
A quick rundown of the tournament structure: The top four teams will receive double byes into the quarterfinal round. The No. 5 through No. 9 seeds will receive a bye into the second round. The No. 10 through No. 15 seeds will play off in the first round to decide the last three second-round participants.
|Seed||Team||Projected ACC W-L|
The "Dark Horse"
If the above predictions hold true, then Virginia will be the No. 7 seed in the ACC tournament. While UNC is the No. 1 team in the ACC, UVA can make a claim to being the second-best, even if the conference standings don't say so.
The Cavaliers are ranked first in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to the Ken Pomeroy rankings, and they are also ranked ninth overall in the Sagarin ratings. Virginia is also the only team to beat North Carolina and Louisville this year.
UVA started well but suffered through a brutal 2-6 stretch in February. Look closer at the six losses, however:
- A 61-59, buzzer-beating loss to defending champion (and No. 2 team in the country) Villanova on the road. The Cavaliers were up 12 midway through the second half.
- A 66-62 loss to Syracuse at the Carrier Dome in which UVA was up 12 at halftime.
- A 80-78 double overtime loss at Virginia Tech in which UVA was up 14 at halftime.
- A 65-55 loss to Duke in which UVA was, you guessed it, up at halftime (by four points).
- A 54-48 loss to Miami in overtime.
- A bad 65-41 loss to UNC that was avenged on Monday, February 27 when the Cavaliers beat the Tar Heels, 53-43.
It's hard to spin a 2-6 stretch, but, if a couple bounces had gone Virginia's way, it could be 6-2 instead, which would have buoyed UVA into challenging UNC for first place in the ACC.
While UVA's Pack Line defense (check here for a good breakdown of it) is elite, UVA is clearly struggling to close games due to its offense. Only one player (senior guard London Perrantes) averages over nine points per game. Although this is partially due to Virginia's slow pace (the Cavaliers play at the slowest tempo out of all 351 Division I teams, per Ken Pomeroy), UVA just doesn't have the scorers and elite talent like other top-25 teams.
However, UVA makes up for it with its experience (five of its top six scorers are upperclassmen) and depth (10 players average at least 10 minutes per game). In March, that could be enough to get the Cavaliers deep in the ACC (and NCAA) tournaments, but it comes down to whether UVA can get the timely late buckets to vault itself into the Final Four.
As for the conference tournament, the pick is that UVA beats a scrappy Wake Forest team before "upsetting" Florida State and Notre Dame, which will set up a title date with the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Speaking of which, UNC has rolled through its home schedule this year, going undefeated in Chapel Hill. All six losses have been on the road, save for the best college basketball game of the year, a neutral-site 103-100 loss against Kentucky in which Wildcats guard Malik Monk dropped 47 points.
As mentioned before, UNC just lost an ugly game against UVA, but the Tar Heels are still primed to make a deep NCAA tournament run. UNC is a well-rounded scoring team (four players average over 11 points per game), and it has a lot of experience (those same four players are all upperclassmen).
Junior forward Justin Jackson is the leader of the Tar Heels this season, averaging 18.4 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. The key to his increased success this year (aside from increased usage) has been improved three-point shooting. Last year, Jackson shot 29.2 percent from beyond the arc. This year, that number jumped to 39.3 percent.
Alongside senior forward Kennedy Meeks, senior forward Isaiah Hicks and junior guard Joel Berry II, the Tar Heels are out to avenge last year's devastating buzzer-beating loss to Villanova in the National Championship Game
Although intangibles sometimes have a tendency to be overrated, the fact that UNC has fared so well this year after coming so close last year reveals a lot about its character. Other runner-up championship teams in other sports simply wilt away the following season, but UNC came out with a vengeance this year.
Expect it to beat Syracuse handily, hold off Louisville and then exact revenge on UVA en route to the ACC title.