ACC Tournament 2018: Preview and Predictions for Every Team

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterMarch 5, 2018

ACC Tournament 2018: Preview and Predictions for Every Team

0 of 15

    Marvin Bagley
    Marvin BagleyStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

    It's not exactly a shocker, but the ACC is once again the class of college basketball.

    Virginia is a holy terror, having ruled the rankings and opposing offenses throughout the season. Duke is loaded as always. Despite his up-and-down season, superfrosh Marvin Bagley III is the conference's best player. Reigning national champion North Carolina has an experienced and balanced group that can hang with anyone.

    The draw for the ACC tournament is out. The top teams are jockeying for optimal seeds, but several others are playing for a spot in the Big Dance.

    It all kicks off Tuesday at that historical epicenter of ACC action, the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Here are previews and predictions for all 15 teams, which appear in the order they are seeded in the official tournament draw.

           

    Stats are current as of March 4 and provided by ESPN.com unless otherwise noted. All games slated to air on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and/or the ACC Network.

15. Pittsburgh Panthers

1 of 15

    Ryan Luther
    Ryan LutherJustin K. Aller/Getty Images

    First-round matchup: No. 10 Notre Dame (Tuesday, 2 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Loses in their first game

    The Pittsburgh Panthers (8-23, 0-18) are pretty clearly in the basement. No ACC wins this season. 

    According to the KenPom.com efficiency ratings, Pittsburgh is 293rd (out of 351 schools) in offense and 167th in defense. According to SCACCHoops.com, it's last in the ACC with a mere 62 points per game on average.

    Barring some true inspiration, it's hard to see a path to victory for Pittsburgh—or think of a reason why it might try to find one outside of sheer pride.

14. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

2 of 15

    Doral Moore
    Doral MooreRich Barnes/Getty Images

    First-round matchup: No. 11 Syracuse (Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Loses in their first game

    The Deacs (11-19, 4-14) struggled to get anything going this season. I mean, they lost to Drake. They lost to Liberty! They dropped seven in a row at one point. 

    It's not all bad. In conference play, they finished fifth in the ACC with 656 total rebounds, according to Basketball Reference. Impressive junior center Doral Moore led them with 9.6 boards per contest, on top of 11.2 points per contest. 

    Still, shooting only 44.2 percent per contest as a team isn't enough to get it done. The true dagger, though? A terrible luck quotient, which KenPom uses to measure the effect of close games. They rank 350th nationally in that area. An astounding 14 of their losses came by 10 points or fewer, with five coming by five points or fewer.

    That might suggest an upset, but first Wake would probably need to prove it can consistently win those kinds of games.

13. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

3 of 15

    Josh Okogie
    Josh OkogieRyan M. Kelly/Getty Images

    First-round matchup: No. 12 Boston College (Tuesday, noon ET)

    Prediction: Loses in their first game

    In the ACC, the Yellow Jackets (13-18, 6-12) rank above only Pittsburgh in points per game (65.3, also good for 332nd nationally) and offensive efficiency (133rd, per KenPom).

    The Yellow Jackets also have a short turnaround here, competing on Tuesday after a highly charged senior-day victory over Wake Forest on Saturday.

    Finally, while their best player, Josh Okogie, will be as dangerous as he always is, they will miss the presence of point guard Jose Alvarado (the team's second-leading scorer with 12.1 per game and top assist man with 3.1 per game) and forward Curtis Haywood, both injured and lost for the season.

    Even a slight upset may be too big of an ask for this depleted Georgia Tech squad.

12. Boston College Eagles

4 of 15

    Jerome Robinson
    Jerome RobinsonMichael Dwyer/Associated Press

    First-round matchup: No. 13 Georgia Tech (Tuesday, noon ET)

    Prediction: Wins first game, loses to No. 5 NC State

    The Eagles (17-14, 7-11) didn't finish the season the way they wanted, dropping four of their last five that included the finale at Florida State. 

    Injuries are to blame, with top player Jerome Robinson, leading rebounder Steffon Mitchell and bench freshman Luka Kraljevic all battling injuries. Mitchell and his hamstring appear to be the most serious case at this point.

    Turnovers are an issue, as they are 12th in the ACC with 12.6 giveaways per contest, per SCACC Hoops. 

    They are good shooters, hitting at 37.5 percent from three-point range, which ranks fifth in conference play. But because it got beaten by 16 at NC State on February 20, the smart money says BC won't advance past the tournament's second round.

11. Syracuse Orange

5 of 15

    Tyus Battle
    Tyus BattleRich Barnes/Getty Images

    First-round matchup: No. 14 Wake Forest (Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Wins first game, loses to No. 6 North Carolina

    Can you believe Syracuse (19-12, 8-10) has never won an ACC tournament game? I realize it's played in only four conference tourneys so far, but still.

    The Orange split their series with the Deacs this season but also have good wins over Miami and Louisville. They're 38th in RPI—a full 110 spots over Wake Forest's 148. Jim Boeheim's vaunted zone defense remains their primary weapon, and it's 11th in KenPom's defensive efficiency rankings.

    Syracuse would need a deep run to reach bubble status, and sadly for Orange fans, that should end against a deeper, more battle-tested Tar Heel squad that outshoot and outrun the Syracuse zone.

10. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

6 of 15

    Bonzie Colson
    Bonzie ColsonRobert Franklin/Associated Press

    First-round matchup: No. 15 Pittsburgh (Tuesday, 2 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Wins first two games, loses to No. 2 Duke (projected)

    Here's where it starts to get interesting.

    ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has Notre Dame as one of his "next four out." Notre Dame is in the conversation, but the Fighting Irish need to play their way over the hump to punch a dance card.

    Notre Dame is a good team at 18-13 but finished only 8-10 in the conference. Sense a trend here? The top teams in the ACC are really good and spent much of the season beating up on everyone else. The Irish did rack up some wins, but their biggest belt notch was probably then-No. 6 Wichita State in November.

    That puts their RPI at 65th nationally—good for 11th in the ACC. 

    But this is a good team. Guard Matt Farrell and forward Bonzie Colson feel like they've been around since the Bronze Age, and this is their last ride in these uniforms. Colson has looked great since returning after missing 15 games with a foot injury. 

    They're 19th in KenPom's rankings and pour in a highly respectable 75.6 points per contest, thanks in large part to high-percentage shots from Colson and less-heralded fellow senior Martinas Geben.

    If they beat Virginia Tech, are they in?

    The selection committee plays its thinking close to the vest, but committee chairman Bruce Rasmussen recently told CBS Sports (via Atlanta Journal-Constitution) that it would be "an interesting discussion." Here's guessing a motivated Irish team knocks off a Virginia Tech squad, the No. 7 seed, that's already locked in for the tourney. 

9. Louisville Cardinals

7 of 15

    Anas Mahmoud (right)
    Anas Mahmoud (right)Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Second-round matchup: No. 8 Florida State (Wednesday, noon ET)

    Prediction: Wins first game, loses to No. 1 Virginia

    Because of its season-long dominance as a conference, the ACC doesn't have lot of bubble teams. Notre Dame is one example and Syracuse could potentially catch lightning in a bottle, but perhaps the most "bubblicious" of the bunch is Louisville.

    The Cardinals (19-12, 9-9) lack a signature win of any kind. Unless you feel like counting the moral win they had March 1 against Virginia, which the Cavs stole on the last possession.

    It speaks to the kind of season they've had in Louisville: lots of inconsistent play, with brilliant stretches done in by turnovers and other avoidable mistakes.

    But they always have their defense. They ranked 18th in KenPom and lead the conference with six blocks per game, led by three per contest from seven-footer Anas Mahmoud. 

    The Cardinals will take care of business Wednesday against another inconsistent squad in Florida State and put their best foot forward for Selection Sunday.

8. Florida State Seminoles

8 of 15

    Terance Mann
    Terance MannLauren Rakes/Getty Images

    Second-round matchup: No. 9 Louisville (Wednesday, noon ET)

    Prediction: Loses in their first game

    Lunardi has Florida State (20-10, 9-9) as a 10th seed in the Dance, but the Seminoles are not trending in the right direction.

    A win over Boston College prevented them from closing the regular season with three straight losses and receiving a lower seed in this tournament. 

    Whereas previous FSU teams' successes were predicated on defense, this one knows how to score, landing third in the ACC in scoring average with 82 points per game. That should benefit them in the NCAAs. But they'll fall to a Louisville team fighting for its postseason life.

7. Virginia Tech Hokies

9 of 15

    Justin Robinson
    Justin RobinsonLauren Rakes/Getty Images

    Second-round matchup: Notre Dame (projected) (Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Loses in their first game

    It's been a terrific season for the Virginia Tech Hokies (21-10, 10-8). The Feb. 26 win over Duke turned everyone's heads, but this is a team that also topped Virginia, Notre Dame and North Carolina.

    Buzz Williams is a great coach who always has the team prepared. Their No. 31 overall rank in KenPom is based on a balanced set of skills—33rd in offense and 55th in defense. They have five players averaging at least 10 points per game.

    The Hokies are a lock for the tournament. They will have a little less energy than a desperate Notre Dame squad—it's human nature. They might as well save their strength for a big NCAA run anyway.

6. North Carolina Tar Heels

10 of 15

    Joel Berry II
    Joel Berry IILance King/Getty Images

    Second-round matchup: Syracuse (projected) (Wednesday, 9 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Wins first two games, loses to No. 2 Duke

    In a lot of ways, this is a classic Carolina team. The Tar Heels (22-9, 11-7) love to run and they love to shoot.

    Per Basketball Reference, they ranked first in the ACC during conference play in shots attempted and second in three-point shots attempted. They finished second in the ACC overall with 83 points per game and first in conference play (80.7).

    Their rebounding gets it started. Luke Maye, Theo Pinson and their 17.2 boards each contest power the transition game. Maye and senior leader Joel Berry II also combine for 35.5 points per game.

    Only Villanova, Purdue and Duke outrank North Carolina in KenPom's offensive efficiency. 

    The Achilles' heel: defense. They surrendered 74 points a game, which is only 221st in the country.

    The defending national champs should outscore Syracuse and then avenge their Feb. 27 loss to Miami before dropping a season rubber match to the archrival Blue Devils.

5. North Carolina State Wolfpack

11 of 15

    Markell Johnson
    Markell JohnsonRich Barnes/Getty Images

    Second-round matchup: Boston College (projected) (Wednesday, 2 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Wins first game, loses to No. 4 Clemson

    The Wolfpack (21-10, 11-7) is sitting pretty on Lunardi's No. 9 line. Wins over Duke, Clemson and North Carolina landed them there. They finished the season on a positive note, too, winning three of their last four.

    NC State isn't what you would call defensively challenged, but offense is its strong suit.

    It ended the season fourth in the ACC with 81 points per game. Senior guard Allerik Freeman pours in the points (15.3 per game) but doesn't do it with a tremendous rate of precision (36.7 percent from the field). Luckily the rest of the team shoots well enough to bring the team's rate up to 46.8 percent, tied for fourth in the conference.

    Clemson is tough but not the world's most difficult matchup. The Wolfpack split with the Tigers this season, most recently winning a one-point nail-biter in Raleigh that Clemson kind of gave away. You know Clemson will want to get that one back if the two meet in the quarters.

4. Clemson Tigers

12 of 15

    Marcquise Reed
    Marcquise ReedBrett Carlsen/Getty Images

    Quarterfinal matchup: NC State (projected) (Thursday, 2 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Wins first game, loses to No. 1 Virginia

    Most everyone struggles with injuries, especially this time of year, but Clemson has taken more of its fair share of damage.

    Losing senior forward Donte Grantham (14.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game) to a torn ACL back in January was a terrible blow. Floor general Shelton Mitchell is back with the team after suffering a concussion. 

    It has taken its toll. The Tigers have seemed demoralized, or at least fatigued, during their 2-4 end to the regular season. That stretch saw them score 66.1 points per game—well below the 73.2 points they scored per season. Even that number had them tied with Louisville for eighth in the ACC. You can see how much they miss Grantham.

    They'll regain a measure of lost dignity by avenging that heartbreaker to NC State. After that, Virginia awaits. That's not a game they're likely to win.

3. Miami Hurricanes

13 of 15

    Dewan Huell
    Dewan HuellEric Espada/Getty Images

    Quarterfinal matchup: North Carolina (projected) (Thursday, 9 pm)

    Prediction: Loses first game

    I hate to predict this for the most overlooked team in the ACC, but here we are.

    But first, Jim Larranaga is an absolutely wizard and has guided the Miami Hurricanes (22-8, 11-7) to another successful season. It's hard to remember the details when this was strictly a football school.

    Miami is 25th in national RPI, good for fifth overall in the conference. The Hurricanes' resume really hangs on late-season squeakers over North Carolina and Virginia Tech. Their nonconference schedule gets a lot shabbier when you look back at their win over a team that was then ranked No. 12—but turned out to be 15-17 Minnesota.

    Their backcourt tends to lapse into sloppiness in ball-handling (their 1.17 assist-to-turnover ratio is eighth in the ACC) and shooting (their 36.5 percent three-point shooting is 10th). Barring that, the Canes are a balanced team that does everything well. They are truly a starless group and have serious depth, with no fewer than nine players averaging at least 15 minutes per game.

    Sorry, though. A rested North Carolina team just has too much firepower. A 91-88 Miami win over the Tar Heels on Feb. 27 doesn't suggest to me that Miami somehow has Carolina's number. 

2. Duke Blue Devils

14 of 15

    Marvin Bagley III
    Marvin Bagley IIILance King/Getty Images

    Quarterfinal matchup: Notre Dame (projected) (Thursday, 7 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Wins first two games, loses in the final to No. 1 Virginia

    Marvin Bagley III is your ACC rookie and player of the year. Seeing as how he's tied for the conference lead in points per game (20.7), tops in rebounds (11.2) and second in field-goal percentage (60.4), he kind of deserved it. And he'll deserve when he's likely drafted first overall in the NBA draft this summer.

    For now, the superfrosh will continue to play well after missing four games with an injury. Duke (25-6, 13-5) is more than just Bagley, though.

    Remember Grayson Allen? Oh, he's still there, and he's second on the team with 15.5 points per contest. Don't forget about highly touted freshmen Wendell Carter and Gary Trent Jr. or the quieter contributions of role players like Javin DeLaurier (only 3.6 points per game but a steady presence in the post).

    Duke will have to beat the Bonzi Colson-infused Fighting Irish and then get past rival North Carolina before the Blue Devils reach the final. Will they have anything to play for if they reach the last game, presumably against Virginia? Hard to say.

    CBSSports.com bracketologist Jerry Palm recently wrote that Duke could overtake Kansas for No. 1 seed, depending on their respective conference tourney runs. Duke is currently slated to be a No. 2 seed, but a No. 1 brings lots of benefits. If the Devils can get there, we'll see if they have the stuff for a rock fight with the nation's No. 1 rock fighter.

1. Virginia Cavaliers

15 of 15

    Devon Hall
    Devon HallRyan M. Kelly/Getty Images

    Quarterfinal matchup: Louisville (projected) (Thursday, noon ET)

    Prediction: Wins ACC tournament

    This is the odds-on favorite to win the tournament, according to OddsShark. As you might expect from a team that was No. 1 or No. 2 in the national rankings for a huge portion of the season. 

    You don't need to know much more about the Cavaliers defense, the top in KenPom's defensive efficiency rankings and more or less any other ranking you want to look at. 

    The key is their "pack-line" defense, which essentially entails relentless ball pressure and forcing ball-handlers into taking certain angles that funnel them toward help defenders and ultimately forcing contested shots.

    It's a grueling way to play ball, but it's so effective. They allowed an average of 52.8 points per game! In November, they held Wisconsin to 37. On January 23, they gave up 36—thirty-six points!—to Clemson. 

    It goes on. This team is just ferocious. And after disappointment in previous Marches, they seem focused, with a five-game win streak to end the regular season. They should put the screws to Duke—or whomever they face—and nab themselves a banner.