All 12 Atlantic Coast Conference teams will convene in Greensboro for the ACC Tournament beginning today, but each one is playing for something different. Two teams are playing for potential No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Two others are hoping to improve their footing. Eight are hoping to impress the selection committee enough in the next four days to be around come Sunday night.
The regular season has taught us quite a bit about the league, but there still are questions that can only be decided in the Greensboro Coliseum:
1. Will the “traditional” ACC go out with a bang or a series of yawns? Maryland will move to the Big Ten after this year; Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame will join the conference for next season, and Louisville will be added the year after (perhaps even sooner). There’s little doubt the additions make the ACC a stronger basketball conference, but quite a bit of nostalgia will be present with a charter member of the conference attempting to make a final run in the league. Though the Terrapins aren’t the force they once were, their history is forever intertwined with the history of the ACC. Maryland’s battles with North Carolina and N.C. State in the 1980s and with Duke in the early 00s remain some of the more beloved (and more talented) basketball in NCAA history. Do the Terps have one or two classic ACC games remaining in them?
2.Will the real N.C. State please stand up?
Playing a fickle game in an especially unbalanced year, the Wolfpack might be the most inconsistent team in the country, which is saying something. N.C. State was picked to win the league and didn’t come close, though in part because of an injury to point guard Lorenzo Brown. The Wolfpack showed promise, winning six games in a seven-game stretch late in the season. N.C. State set itself up to earn a bye into the ACC Tournament quarterfinals, only to lay an egg against Florida State and land at No. 5. Yet nobody can deny N.C. State’s talent: The Wolfpack has one of the top offenses in the country when it’s playing well. Don’t forget, this is almost the same team that was two baskets away from making the Elite Eight last season.
3.Can Duke respond to this type of schedule?
The Blue Devils have two starters, guard Seth Curry and forward Ryan Kelly, whose rest needs to be monitored constantly. Curry has a bothersome shin injury that becomes aggravated after games, an ailment that has kept him very limited in practice this season. Kelly still isn’t in game shape after missing nearly two months because of a foot injury, and he clearly was exhausted after Duke’s game at North Carolina. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the win at UNC that Duke must be mindful about how to approach the ACC Tournament, when the Blue Devils could play three games in fewer than 72 hours. Duke is, at worst, a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament – even with a loss in Greensboro. With bigger fish to fry, it will be interesting to see how Curry and Kelly are treated this week.
4.Do we have a party crasher?
The ACC Tournament traditionally isn’t much for upsets: No team seeded lower than third has won the title since 2004, when No. 6 Maryland took the trophy. Since 2005, only one team that had to play in the first round made the championship game. (That honor belongs to 2007 N.C. State, a No. 10 seed which upset its way into the title contest.) Miami and Duke clearly were the top two teams in the regular season, but both have shown they can be beaten. Duke lost to two teams that will be playing in the first round; Miami handily lost to No. 10 seed Wake Forest and at home to No. 9 Georgia Tech. Maryland has a dynamic frontcourt and a good defense, Clemson and Virginia Tech both have a game-changing star player and Wake Forest has shown a penchant for upsets. Possibilities are available for low-seeded teams with dreams of playing at this time next week.
As of now, the only four teams which likely would make the NCAA Tournament are Miami, Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State. If high seeds reign this weekend, that’ll probably stay the number. Virginia is in need of a big win. Maryland will have to beat Duke for the second time at the very least to even be in the conversation. Many projections had N.C. State on the fringe before last season’s ACC Tournament, but a good run put them in the field of 68. If anyone is to do the same this year, and the conference is to earn a fifth bid, it probably will have to do so at the expense of one of the ACC’s top teams.
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz@ rmtelegram.com.