ACC Tournament 2011 Preview: Duke or UNC? Does Anyone Else Have a Chance?

Bryan ManningFeatured ColumnistMarch 9, 2011

Will Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler repeat as ACC Champions?
Will Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler repeat as ACC Champions?Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

One of the more exciting times of the year in sports for me is ACC Tournament weekend. I distinctly remember being in the fourth grade, plotting a fake illness so my dad would have to come to school to pick me up. Although my dad quickly realized I wasn’t sick, he let it slide and I haven’t missed an ACC Tournament since.

That weekend is upon us, and as usual, it appears as if Duke and North Carolina will be fighting it out for the league title. Even though this has been a down year for the ACC, the tournament is still exciting. Outside of Duke, North Carolina and perhaps Florida State, several teams need a good showing this weekend to impress voters enough to nab one of those precious at-large bids.

Duke controlled the ACC for much of the season and the defending national champions were ranked number one for a good portion of the season. But when Duke lost star freshman Kyrie Irving, they had to readjust. Senior Nolan Smith, Duke’s top scorer, was forced to play point guard and did well. Players such as Brian Kelly, Seth Curry and the Plumlee brothers were forced to step up beside Smith and fellow all-ACC teammate Kyle Singler. For the most part, Duke didn't miss a beat.

North Carolina started off slowly. Ranked inside the top 10 when the season began, freshman Harrison Barnes faced near impossible expectations as a preseason All-American. Barnes started the season slowly and the team lost some close games. But as the season wore on, Barnes became more comfortable and established himself as a solid player at the college level. Barnes hit several clutch shots down the stretch and has become the Tar Heels' go-to-guy. Fellow freshman Kendall Marshall is going to be an outstanding college player by the time his career is finished. This Roy Williams team lacks the depth he is used to having, so that is something to keep an eye on.

So it is easy to see why these two teams will be favored again. But neither of these schools is unbeatable. Duke lost a few games down the stretch and UNC allowed several teams to stay in games.

So who has the best shot of taking the crown outside of Duke and North Carolina?

Florida State – Led by do-everything forward Chris Singleton, FSU is perhaps the most athletic team in the ACC and they play outstanding defense. FSU isn’t a very good offensive team and have question marks at the point guard position, weakening their chances of winning three in a row.

Clemson – This isn’t a bad team. They have solid talent, led by guard Demontez Stitt  and forward Jerai Grant and have a good coach in Brad Brownell. But seriously, does anyone think Clemson will ever win an ACC tournament championship?

Boston College – Led by guard Reggie Jackson, first team All-ACC, BC is a veteran team that always plays smart. They are an excellent three-point shooting team and play solid defense. Don’t close your eyes on these guys.

Virginia Tech – Going into the season, the Hokies were the team poised to break through and end the dominance of Duke and UNC. But after injuries robbed them of four of the top nine players in their rotation, Tech struggled to remain consistent. They are led by two-time All-ACC guard Malcolm Delaney and versatile forward Jeff Allen, but not much else. Erick Green is an up-and-coming point guard but this team seems to have lost their legs and lack the depth to win three in a row.

Maryland – This wasn’t one of Gary Williams’ better teams but he does have some young talent, namely sophomore big man Jordan Williams and freshman Terrell Stoglin. While Maryland may win a game or two, that’ll probably be about it.

Virginia – Believe it or not, Coach Tony Bennett has UVA playing as well as anyone in the ACC. This team plays tough defense but they just cannot score consistently. They live and die by the three-point shot–well mostly die. You have to give props to Coach Bennett; he is turning this program around and look for them to be serious contenders within the next two-three years.

Ok, I know there are four other teams, but they really aren’t worth mentioning. While everyone has a fighting chance and anyone besides Duke or UNC would make great television, don’t look for it to happen. Expect Duke vs. North Carolina yet again.

Duke and UNC should be a great matchup. UNC dominated both games but stalled late in the first contest and allowed Duke to come back. So it would be easy to predict a UNC win, but here is saying Duke wins. UNC may have won the regular season championship; but Duke is the best team in the ACC.