DURHAM, NC - MARCH 03: John Henson #31 of the North Carolina Tar Heels jumps over Miles Plumlee #21 of the Duke Blue Devils as he drives to the basket during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on March 3, 2012 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
There is plenty at stake as the A2012 CC Tournament tips off on Thursday. North Carolina and Duke are looking to secure 1-seeds in the NCAA Tournament, Florida State and Virginia are trying to avoid the 8-9 line, and N.C. State and Miami are just trying to get into the field.
What, Who, When
The ACC Tournament runs March 8-11 at the Philips Arena in Atlanta.
The ACC has long used the standard 12-team bracket, with the top four teams receiving byes to the quarterfinals.
Thursday: No. 8 Maryland vs. No. 9 Wake Forest, No. 5 N.C. State vs. No. 12 Boston College, No. 7 Clemson vs. No. 10 Virginia Tech, No. 6 Miami vs. No. 11 Georgia Tech.
Friday: No. 1 North Carolina vs Maryland/Wake, No. 4 Virginia vs. N.C. St./B.C., No. 2 Duke vs. Clemson/VT, No. 3 Florida State vs. Miami/GT.
Who The Numbers Like
North Carolina. Ken Pomeroy's projections give the Tar Heels a better than 1-in-2 chance (52.2 percent) of winning this weekend. They are the only ACC team ranked in Pomeroy's Top 15 (they rank fifth), while No. 16 Duke (19.8 percent), No. 24 Virginia (10.4 percent) and No. 27 Florida State (9.9 percent) all have at least a fighting chance.
Who The Eyeballs Like
North Carolina. The Heels are indeed the most well-rounded team in the conference, ranking 10th in Pomeroy's offensive efficiency and 11th in defense. They rebound, they don't foul, they block shots and outside of perhaps Kentucky, they possibly have the highest upside in the country. They have shown vulnerability in perimeter defense -- Florida State, Duke and UNLV combined to make 39 3-pointers in their wins over UNC -- but one can only worry about that so much when a team has only lost four times in 31 games. They won 13 of 16 conference games by at least nine points, and while the stench of that 33-point loss at Florida State hasn't completely worn off … yeah, this is still the best team in the conference by a decent margin.
Virginia. Considering this "dark horse" must be capable of beating North Carolina, considering that only three teams were able to hang with the Heels for 40 minutes, and considering two of those three teams were Duke and Florida State (i.e. decidedly not "dark horses"), the process of elimination leaves the Hoos, who nearly took UNC down at home on Feb. 25. Tony Bennett's Cavaliers are not exactly hot right now -- they have won just eight of their last 15 games -- but they they have played reasonably well of late (three-point home losses to North Carolina and Florida State, tight road wins over Virginia Tech and Maryland), and … again, the pickings are slim here.
Best Possible Title Game
North Carolina vs. Duke. It almost feels like a cop-out answer, of course, but that doesn't make it untrue. Are you more likely to watch UNC-Duke on Sunday … or Virginia-Florida State?
Who Might/Will Get In Anyway
North Carolina. The Heels have won 12 of 13 and are in line for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but their hold is just tenuous enough that it would not be smart of them to lose to anybody other than Duke this weekend.
Duke. The Blue Devils have to feel they still have a decent chance at a No. 1 seed if they sweep through three games, but they will need a little help. If UNC or Kansas stumbles, the Blue Devils might still need some assistance in the form of losses by Michigan State, Ohio State and/or Missouri. It is unclear right now who is first in that pecking order.
Florida State. Just a few weeks ago, the Seminoles were in line for a potential ACC title, but stumbles to Duke (at home) and Miami (away) negated that. Despite a 12-4 record in a solid conference, the Seminoles still seem zeroed in on about a 7-seed right now, thanks mostly to an incredibly mediocre non-conference season. They were 0-5 versus Top 90 (according to Pomeroy) teams, losing not only to Michigan State and Florida, but also UConn, Harvard and Princeton. If they can take out Duke in a Saturday semifinal matchup, however, one would have to figure their odds of getting out of "meeting a 1- or 2-seed in the Round of 32" hell are strong.
Virginia. The Cavaliers seem destined for an 8-9 matchup in the Round of 64. They went 13-1 against an incredibly weak non-conference schedule -- they beat Michigan and Drexel but suffered a bad loss to TCU -- and cruised through ACC play with neither major wins nor truly bad losses. If they take out North Carolina on Saturday, we'll talk.
N.C. State and Miami. Typically, a 9-7 record in the ACC and 18-20 wins is a solid recipe for NCAA Tournament inclusion, and with the status of the tournament bubble (Seriously? Colorado State is still likely to get in?) one would think both N.C. State and Miami could each get into the Field of 68. But they are currently both on the outside looking in, in part because of their complete lack of interesting wins. Including a sweep of Miami, the Wolfpack are just 3-8 versus likely/possible NCAA Tournament teams; meanwhile, Miami went just 2-9 against the same pool. Each team has its fate, and a reasonably easy draw, in its hands -- wins over Boston College (whom they swept) and Virginia (one-point home loss to the Cavaliers) could get N.C. State in, while wins over Georgia Tech (whom they beat by 15 in January) and Florida State (with whom they split) could do the same for Miami.
Players To Watch
Harrison Barnes, North Carolina. Tyler Zeller is UNC's rock, the reason why the Tar Heels' floor is not very low (outside of Tallahassee, anyway). He is currently seventh in Ken Pomeroy's Player of the Year standings ($) for very good reason. But Barnes is the reason their ceiling is so high. And he is all over the place -- 25 points against Boston College, six points against Miami three days later. Twenty points on 14 shots against N.C. State, seven points on 15 shots against Virginia four days later. He averaged 21.2 points per game on 45 percent shooting from Feb. 8-21, then averaged 11 points on 32-percent shooting since. If he is good, North Carolina could be amazing. If not, they are only very good.
Seth Curry, Duke. Curry is Duke's Barnes. He was good in their loss to Miami (22 points on 13 shots, four assists), but here are his stats in Duke's wins (and Miami loss) and other losses:
Wins (and Miami loss): 29.9 minutes, 14.2 points (46 percent FG, 42 percent 3PT), 2.4 assists, 2.0 turnovers
Four Other Losses: 31.8 minutes, 9.3 points (29 percent FG, 27 percent 3PT), 2.3 assists, 2.5 turnovers
To say he is a difference-maker, for better or worse, is an understatement.
Michael Snaer, Florida State. Overall, FSU is an easy team to describe: long, strong on defense and streaky as hell on offense. Their defense is good enough to keep them in any game, and their offense is bipolar enough to either shoot them out of the game (Harvard 46, FSU 41 on Nov. 25) or make them a national title candidate (FSU 90, UNC 57 on Jan. 14). But while players like Deividas Dulkys come and go on the offensive end (Dulkys scored 32 points in nine games between Nov. 30 and Jan. 10, then scored 32 points versus UNC alone), Snaer is the workhorse. He attempted 154 more field goals than any other Seminole, and when he is cold (6-for-18 in a shock loss to Boston College), it is very difficult for FSU to win.
Mike Scott, Virginia. Most of the names on Pomeroy's Player of the Year Standings list are household names -- Thomas Robinson, Jared Sullinger, Anthony Davis, two Zellers, Draymond Green. But among the more well-known names stands Scott, a 6-foot-8 senior from Chesapeake, Va. Scott did everything for the Cavaliers this year: shoot (both well and in high volume), rebound, draw fouls (and make free throws) and avoid both turnovers and committing fouls of his own. He averaged 18 points and eight boards, and he was simply enormous in some of UVa's biggest moments. In their final two games of the regular season (a tight loss to Florida State and a win over Maryland), he scored 63 points on 20-for-35 shooting (24-for-29 from the free throw line) and grabbed 21 boards. Aside from a random glitch against North Carolina (six points on 3-for-13 shooting on Feb. 25), he has also been wonderfully consistent, a near-guarantee to score between 13 and 35 points and grab between five and 11 boards. If the Hoos are indeed a dark horse, Scott is the reason why.
Durand Scott, Miami. Though only the second-best Scott in the conference, Durand is a fascinating player. Though 6-foot-1 Malcolm Grant qualifies as Miami's point guard in terms of the eyeball test, Scott has the point guard stat line, leading the Hurricanes with 3.2 assists per game while committing just 1.8 turnovers (not bad considering how much he handles the ball). Meanwhile, he averages almost as many rebounds, and draws as many fouls, as 6-foot-11 Kenny Kadji. Almost 80 percent of his shots come from inside the three-point line. Is he a point guard? A shooting guard? A power forward? What is certain is, he is Miami's best overall player, and if they somehow win this tournament, he will likely be the MVP.