ACC Tournament 2019: Preview and Predictions for Every Team

Sean Highkin@highkinFeatured ColumnistMarch 11, 2019

ACC Tournament 2019: Preview and Predictions for Every Team

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    Chris Seward/Associated Press

    As conference play begins, all eyes will be on the ACC—or more specifically, Duke. Zion Williamson has been sidelined since suffering a knee injury Feb. 20, and he is expected to return for conference tournament play. His presence—or absence—could swing the tournament, along with all of its other implications.

    Beyond Williamson, there is plenty of intrigue in the ACC tournament. Virginia looks as dangerous as ever, and North Carolina is riding a hot end of the regular season into the knockout rounds. These games will determine how some of these teams are seeded in the NCAA tournament, or if they qualify at all. There's a lot to watch.

    Here are predictions for all 15 teams going into the tournament, in order of their official seeding ahead of Tuesday's opening games.

15. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    First-round matchup: No. 10 Georgia Tech (Tuesday, 2 p.m. Eastern)

    Prediction: Loses in their first game

    At 3-15, Notre Dame is tied with Pittsburgh for the worst in-conference record in the ACC. There isn't much reason to believe the Fighting Irish have a shot against a better George Tech team, and they will fall in the first round.

14. Pittsburgh Panthers

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

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

    Prediction: Loses in their first game

    Like Notre Dame, Pitt is clearly at the bottom of the conference. Also like the Irish, the Panthers don't have much hope to avoid a first-round exit against a more talented Boston College team.

13. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

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    Robert Franklin/Associated Press

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

    Prediction: Wins first game, loses to No. 5 Virginia Tech

    Tuesday's game between Miami and Wake Forest is the only opening-day matchup with much intrigue. These teams split the season series, and Wake is coming off a disappointing regular-season-ending loss to Florida State, which featured a late collapse after a strong first-half performance.

    This pattern for Wake Forest follows a similar recent late-game collapse against Duke. The Demon Deacons continue to play well against top-ranked teams for stretches before running out of steam at the end. That's going to be a problem for them as the ACC tournament progresses.

    The Miami team that Wake Forest faces in the first round of the tournament is not nearly as good, and Wake should be well-positioned to take advantage of the Hurricanes' lack of dependable scoring depth. However, a first-round victory would set Wake Forest up for a matchup with Virginia Tech, and that will reopen old concerns about its ability to hang with the best teams in the conference.

12. Miami Hurricanes

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    First-round matchup: No. 13 Wake Forest (Tuesday, noon ET)

    Prediction: Loses in first game

    In Friday's season-ending loss to Virginia Tech, not a single Miami bench player scored a point. That lack of dependable depth is a serious concern for the Hurricanes heading into conference tournament play.

    Miami has struggled in recent weeks shooting on the perimeter. On Friday, Chris Lykes alone missed his first seven three-point attempts and shot just 5-of-15 from the field overall. The rest of the team didn't fare much better, and that doesn't create a lot of room for encouragement going into the ACC tournament.

    The Wake Forest team the Canes face in the first round is hungry to redeem itself after recent close losses to Duke and Florida State. Unless Miami's bench shows up in a way it hasn't recently, the tournament could be a one-and-done affair for the Hurricanes. 

11. Boston College Eagles

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

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

    Prediction: Wins first game, loses to No. 6 Syracuse

    Boston College enters ACC tournament play on the heels of an embarrassing blowout loss to North Carolina State in which it shot an atrocious 16-of-60 from the field as a team.

    The Eagles' first-round matchup with Pittsburgh, at the absolute bottom of the conference, should at least be favorable enough to avoid a one-and-done performance in conference tournament play. But once it's time to face the higher-seeded and more talented teams, there isn't much reason to believe they're going to be able to pull off an upset.

10. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

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    Danny Karnik/Associated Press

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

    Prediction: Wins first game, loses to No. 7 Louisville

    Georgia Tech should be able to handle the bottom-ranked Notre Dame in the first round without much difficulty, but its second-round matchup with Louisville will be another story.

    Louisville blew out Georgia Tech by 28 points in their only meeting of the season, behind a big scoring night from Jordan Nwora. Georgia Tech has managed to battle through various injuries all season and stay competitive, but the Louisville matchup was a particularly bad look. It should go about the same way when they meet this time in the ACC tournament. 

9. Clemson Tigers

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    Robert Franklin/Associated Press

    First-round matchup: No. 8 North Carolina State (Wednesday, noon ET)

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

    Clemson rides into the ACC tournament on the heels of a nice season-ending win over Syracuse. The Tigers recovered nicely after a slow start to conference play and finished the year off 9-9 against ACC competition.

    The lone meeting of the year between Clemson and NC State was a thriller, with Clemson coughing up a six-point lead in the final minute after going cold from the free-throw line. The team will look to avenge that loss in the first round of the conference tournament.

    Should the Tigers beat NC State in the first round, they'll find themselves matched up against the top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers, whose talent they simply cannot compete with.

8. North Carolina State Wolfpack

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    Steven Cannon/Associated Press

    First-round matchup: No. 9 Clemson (Wednesday, noon ET)

    Prediction: Loses in first game

    NC State ended its season with a much-needed easy blowout win over Boston College. Its first-round opponent, Clemson, also enters having finished its season on a win, although Clemson's victory over Syracuse was a little closer than NC State's final game.

    The Wolfpack battled back to beat the Tigers in their only meeting of the season, but it took a fortunate streak of missed free-throws and late-game luck to happen. These teams are evenly matched, and Clemson will have a chip on its shoulder.

    NC State went just 5-5 in its final 10 games of conference play, struggling to develop the consistency it'll need if it wants to go far in the tournament. This could be a short run in the tournament for the Wolfpack.

7. Louisville Cardinals

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    Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

    First-round matchup: No. 10 Georgia Tech (projected) (Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Wins first game, loses to No. 2 North Carolina

    The Cardinals finished the regular season on a disappointing note, losing to the top team in the conference, Virginia, on the road.

    Even after that loss, they appear well-positioned to challenge in early rounds of the tournament, if not to make a serious run at the crown. They aren't as deep as the likes of Virginia and Duke, as the loss to the Cavaliers made plain. A 19-point, six-rebound performance from Jordan Nwora wasn't enough, and other shortcomings up and down the roster make clear they aren't in the same league as the top teams in the conference.

    A win over Georgia Tech in the opening round of the tournament should be in the cards for Louisville, but that would set up a matchup with the surging, No. 2-ranked Tar Heels. That isn't going to end well for the Cardinals.

6. Syracuse Orange

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    Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

    First-round matchup: No. 11 Boston College (projected) (Wednesday, 9 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Wins first game, loses to No. 3 Duke

    Syracuse's calling card once again is its defense, which is once again in the top 20 in the country. The Orange's length can overwhelm teams, and they block a lot of shots and generate a lot of turnovers. They ended the regular season with a disappointing loss to Clemson but face a friendly first-round opponent in either Boston College or Pittsburgh. Either one should be a comfortable win for them.

    Unfortunately, a first-round win would likely set up a matchup with a Duke team that looks to be fully healthy with Zion Williamson back in the fold, and that doesn't bode nearly as well for the Orange.

5. Virginia Tech Hokies

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    Robert Franklin/Associated Press

    First-round matchup: No. 13 Wake Forest (projected) (Wednesday, 2 p.m. Eastern)

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

    It's been a trying season for Virginia Tech, between injury troubles for point guard Justin Robinson and losing Chris Clarke and Landers Nolley II for the entire year. It's a testament to the Hokies' resiliency and the job of coach Buzz Williams that they still managed to earn the No. 5 seed in the ACC tournament, and they'll be a tough out.

    The two-way play of Nickeil Alexander-Walker has kept them afloat this season, as well as Kerry Blackshear Jr., who enjoyed a breakout year in his senior season. Robinson is expected to remain out for most if not all of the ACC tournament, but by now, they've gotten used to playing without him and should be able to handle their early-round matchups.

    Still, the gap in talent between the Hokies and No. 1-seeded Virginia, should they eventually meet, will be too much for Virginia Tech to overcome.

4. Florida State Seminoles

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    Phil Sears/Associated Press

    First-round matchup: No. 5 Virginia Tech (projected) (Thursday, 2:30 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Loses in first game

    Florida State is coming off a terrific season, setting a new program record with 13 wins in conference play. The Seminoles won 12 of their final 13 games to close out conference play and defeated Virginia Tech in their only meeting of the season.

    Look for Virginia Tech to get revenge in its likely Thursday matchup in the ACC tournament. The Hokies have managed to mitigate the loss of Justin Robinson and stay afloat in conference play, and they have a chance to go deep in the tournament. A talented FSU team may simply draw a bad first-round matchup after its bye.

3. Duke Blue Devils

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    First-round matchup: No. 6 Syracuse (projected) (Thursday, 9 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Wins first two games, loses to Virginia in ACC final

    Duke's chances at taking home the ACC title, of course, come down to the health of superstar forward Zion Williamson. If he's healthy, the Blue Devils could win the whole thing. If not, they could be headed for an early exit.

    Williamson is likely to be back in action for the ACC tournament, and his return will be the most talked-about storyline in college basketball. Duke is a different team with him on the floor at both ends.

    However, while Williamson's expected return will be enough to power Duke through the early rounds of the tournament and earn a spot in the ACC title game, he'll still be feeling his way back after missing time with a knee injury, and it will take him a while to find his footing. Duke will face a Virginia team that closed the season strong and doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon.

    An ACC title would be nice, but the real goal for Williamson and Duke is a deep March Madness run. If he's back to complete form by the end of the ACC tournament, it will have been a success no matter the result of the title game.

2. North Carolina Tar Heels

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    First-round matchup: No. 7 Louisville (projected) (Thursday, 7 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Wins first game, loses to No. 2 Duke

    Carolina took down Duke in the final game of the regular season with a strong defensive performance and hot shooting nights from Coby White and Kenny Williams to make up for some ineffectiveness in the paint.

    The Tar Heels are No. 2 for a reason, and they should be heavy favorites in their first-round matchup, likely against Louisville. The bigger test will be a possible semifinal rematch with Duke, which is likely to have Zion Williamson back in the lineup.

    Williamson, of course, suffered an ankle injury 30 seconds into the Duke-Carolina matchup on Feb. 20. Assuming he's healthy for tournament play, Carolina will have its hands full in that matchup.

    Until then, however, Carolina appears to be peaking at the right time and looks poised for a strong ACC tournament run.

1. Virginia Cavaliers

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    Steve Helber/Associated Press

    First-round matchup: No. 9 Clemson (projected) (Thursday, 12:30 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Wins ACC tournament

    Virginia finished the season strong to lock up the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, and the team should keep things rolling to take home the ACC title.

    The Cavaliers are deep and talented, losing just two games all season. They have a balanced scoring attack led by Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, with plenty of other players capable of stepping up and making shots. Going into the tournament, they look as strong as any team.

    Both of their losses came to Duke, before Zion Williamson's ankle injury. That Blue Devils team could be their opponent in the ACC title game. But unlike a Duke team that has slipped with its best player out, Virginia has maintained continuity and showed itself a worthy No. 1 seed in the conference.