The ACC men’s basketball tournament begins today at Philips Arena. Georgia Tech will face Miami at 9 p.m. The championship game is Sunday. Here is a preview of what to expect.
The top four seeds
No. 1 North Carolina (27-4, 14-2). Since losing to Duke on Austin Rivers’ 3-pointer at the buzzer, the Tar Heels have won seven straight, including some 18-point revenge at Duke on Saturday. UNC has the top seed for the fifth time in six ACC tournaments and could claim a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament with a run here.
No. 2 Duke (26-5, 13-3). The Blue Devils have won three consecutive ACC tournament titles and 10 of the past 13, including six as either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed. They were the fourth team to go a perfect 8-0 in ACC road games, though they struggled in an overtime win against Virginia Tech and the North Carolina loss — both at home — coming down the stretch.
No. 3 Florida State (21-9, 12-4). The only team to beat both North Carolina and Duke this season made a run at becoming the first regular-season champion not named Duke or Carolina since Wake Forest in 2003. The Seminoles will try for more of the same in the ACC tournament, where Maryland (2004) is the only winner other than Duke or UNC since 1996.
No. 4 Virginia (22-8, 9-7). The Cavaliers blew an 11-point lead in the final 4 1/2 minutes in a loss against Florida State which almost cost them the No. 4 seed, a bye, and a little NCAA security. They got it back despite squandering a 12-point lead in the last eight minutes against Maryland by winning in overtime behind a career-high 35 points from senior Mike Scott.
Four players to watch
Tyler Zeller, forward, North Carolina. Mr. Steady has averaged 16.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, which wasn’t good enough to lead his team in scoring (Harrison Barnes averages 17.4 ppg), but it was to win ACC player of the year.
Mike Scott, forward, Virginia. The 6-foot-8, 237-pound senior made his own case for ACC player of the year as arguably the most versatile inside-out player in the league. His fadeaway jumper is difficult to defend, and he’s not afraid to pull up from 3-point range. He’s Virginia’s primary offensive option, and it showed in his 35-point performance against Maryland.
Austin Rivers, point guard, Duke. The unanimous pick as ACC rookie of the year has averaged 15.3 points per game. The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder could become the first freshman to lead Duke in scoring since Johnny Dawkins did in 1983.
Kendall Marshall, point guard, North Carolina. He needs five assists to break Georgia Tech standout Craig Neal’s ACC single-season assist record of 303, which he has held since 1988. That should take maybe a half for Marshall, who averages 9.6 assists per game to lead the ACC.
Top three storylines
N.C. State is back in the NCAA picture under first-year coach Mark Gottfried, one of three teams tied for fourth before tiebreaking procedures went into effect. A regular-season loss to Virginia cost the Wolfpack a bye, but that could be remedied in a second-round matchup with Virginia. ... Miami’s 62-year-old rookie coach Jim Larranaga is one of four rookie coaches entering his first ACC tournament. He led the Hurricanes to nine ACC wins, their most since joining the league in 2004, but they need a good run to make the NCAA tournament. ... Duke has owned the ACC tournament in recent years but lacks its typical star power and defensive prowess. Is somebody else ripe for a run? The knock on North Carolina is a perceived lack of commitment to winning here, but now a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament is at stake.
Most intriguing first-round matchup
Clemson vs. Virginia Tech. Clemson won the first meeting by two; Virginia Tech won the second meeting by two. Since Virginia Tech joined the ACC, the average margin of victory in this series is 3.6 points. The Hokies are 4-12 in the ACC, but in the past three weeks forced Duke to overtime and lost to both Virginia and Florida State by a total of three points.
Best potential second-round matchup
Virginia vs. N.C. State. N.C. State lost to Virginia 61-60 on Jan. 28 after Lorenzo Brown’s shot fell short on the final play. The loss would eventually cost the Wolfpack a fourth seed, a first-round bye in the ACC tournament and possibly a trip to the NCAA tournament.
The numbers game
19 ACC regular-season games that were decided in the game’s final five seconds, which bodes well for an exciting tournament.
Compiled by Carroll Rogers