ACC Tournament 2014: Biggest Storylines to Watch from Greensboro

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistMarch 12, 2014

Virginia guard London Perrantes (23) talks with  head coach Tony Bennett during the second half of an NCAA College basketball game in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, March 1, 2014. Virginia won the game 75-56. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Steve Helber/Associated Press

If there is one way to describe the ACC in 2014, it would be that the conference has been surprisingly unpredictable. This trait could carry over to the tournament, which kicks off in Greensboro on Tuesday. 

Not everything has been unpredictable. Duke, Syracuse and North Carolina are still serious contenders to win the conference tournament, but who would have thought Virginia would be the No. 1 seed?

Aside from those top four seeds, the ACC is lacking in depth. Pittsburgh is a borderline NCAA tournament team, making a potential for just five teams to make it into the big dance. That means we are either going to see major upsets, or chalk holding. Either way, something big will happen. 

These are the storylines to watch from Greensboro, North Carolina. 

Will Virginia's surprising run continue?

Steve Helber/Associated Press

The Cavaliers have been the biggest surprise in the new ACC. When Syracuse and Pittsburgh joined the conference, it was naturally assumed the battle for No. 1 would be waged between the former Big East foes along with Duke and North Carolina. 

Those four teams did take care of their own business, but Virginia put together a sterling 16-2 record in conference play (25-6 overall). The two losses came by four points at Duke and in overtime at Maryland. 

No one expected the Cavaliers to have this much success in 2014. CBS Sports predicted Virginia to have its best season under head coach Tony Bennett, though it didnt have the team higher than fifth in the conference. 

The team doesn't have many good shooters, ranking 130th overall in field-goal percentage, with just two players averaging double-figures in points scored. 

Defense is Virginia's calling card, ranking fourth in defensive efficiency and scoring defense, according to TeamRankings.com

The Cavaliers have to dictate the style in which games are played in order to win the ACC. Duke and North Carolina are going to give them the most fits because of their fast-paced style and ability to score points in droves. 

Fortunately, they don't have to worry about that until the quarterfinal round, with a matchup against the winner of the Maryland-Florida State game on Thursday on the horizon. 

How does Syracuse stop the bleeding?

KEVIN RIVOLI/Associated Press

Remember all the way back on February 18 when Syracuse was 25-0 and looked like a lock for the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament? That seems so long ago, now that the Orange have lost four of their last six games and will be lucky to get a No. 2 seed. 

Never an offensive juggernaut, Syracuse's offense has fallen asleep at the wheel over the last three weeks, averaging just 61.3 points per game, seven fewer than its season average. 

Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone defense hasn't been as potent recently, as the Orange are also giving up 66.7 points per game in their final three games of the regular season. 

If you believe that scoring margin is an indicator of future success, Chris Carlson of Syracuse.com points out that the Orange are just 33rd in that category this year and have been a massive disappointment this season. 

Among the past 16 national champions, Syracuse's point margin is better than just one, the Connecticut team in 2011 that was led by Kemba Walker and is widely considered the biggest fluke in recent history. The Orange is better than just four of the 32 recent national finalists.

The difference between that 2011 Connecticut team and this year's Syracuse club is Kemba Walker. He was a player the Huskies could turn to for a big basket at any moment in a game. 

No one on Syracuse has that kind of scoring ability. C.J. Fair is an inside-only player with limited range. Trevor Cooney has shot just 25 percent from the floor since February 22. 

The only thing that gives the Orange any hope is that their defense will return to its peak level from earlier in the year, when 16 of 25 opponents scored under 60 points. On the plus side, Duke is the only team on Syracuse's side of the ACC bracket that finished in the top 150 scoring offenses in the country. 

Is there a surprise team in the field?

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

If we accept that Virginia, Syracuse, Duke and North Carolina are the overwhelming favorites to win the ACC tournament, finding a surprise team becomes easier, because we can just look at the fifth-seeded Pittsburgh Panthers to knock everything down. 

Of course, in order for Pitt to make a deep run, it will have to beat at least one of those teams, because North Carolina awaits in the third round if the Panthers can get past the Wake Forest-Notre Dame winner. 

Pittsburgh went a combined 0-5 against the top four teams in the ACC. The Panthers haven't fared much better against the mid-tier teams in the conference, losing to Florida State and North Carolina State. 

Clemson does have a win over Duke on its resume but has otherwise beaten up on the mid-tier bottom-feeding teams in the conference. The Tigers also rank 328th in scoring offense and 299th in shooting percentage. 

Looking up and down the ACC, it's hard to see any team that is going to have enough consistent scoring to keep up with Duke and North Carolina or penetrate the vicious defenses in Virginia and Syracuse. 

Predicting chalk is never fun, but the ACC is so top heavy that it's hard to see anyone breaking through that wall. 

Note: Stats courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise noted. 

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