By: Carter Woodiel, KCOU Sports
The Atlantic Coast Conference tournament returns to Greensboro, N.C. starting on Tuesday, its last go-round at Greensboro Coliseum until 2020. The tournament, headed for Washington, D.C. next season and Brooklyn afterward, is shaping up to be one of the best conference tournaments in the country, with the 14-team field featuring five top-25 teams and a potential title game with a possible NCAA Tournament 1-seed on the line. Let’s take a look at the teams in contention for this years ACC tourney title.
When: March 10-14
Where: Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, N.C.
How to watch: All games are on ESPN/ESPN2, or the ACC Network in certain local markets. (Bracket)
The Top Dogs: Virginia, Duke
The second and third-ranked teams in the country, the Cavaliers (28-2, 16-2 ACC) and Blue Devils (28-3, 15-3 ACC) are a step above the rest of the league – and that’s saying something. Tony Bennett’s squad is the first team not named Duke or North Carolina to win back-to-back ACC regular-season titles since Gerald Ford was in the White House. They did it through their suffocating “pack line” defense, which has allowed the fewest points per game in the nation this season. Losing number two scorer Justin Anderson to a broken finger and an appendectomy was a tough blow for the Hoos, but other players have stepped up in his absence to keep UVA atop the ACC standings.
Virginia isn’t the top-ranked ACC team in the polls, however. That honor goes to Duke, who boast the nation’s third-best scoring offense and a 69-63 victory on the Cavs’ home floor on Jan. 31. Led by Player of the Year candidate Jahlil Okafor and cool-as-a-cucumber point guard Tyus Jones, this is a team that can beat anyone, including Kentucky if they get the chance. They also can lose to anyone, as evidenced by a 16-point thumping by Miami at home on Jan. 13 and a trip to overtime at ACC cellar dweller Virginia Tech on Feb. 25. Since then, Mike Krzyzewski’s team has straightened itself out, and a matchup with Virginia’s defense would be extremely exciting.
Upset Threat: Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish (26-5, 14-4 ACC), are known for their three-happy offense, which can be wildly effective (see a 77-72 win at home vs Duke on Jan. 28) but also inconsistent (see a loss at Pitt in their very next game and a 30-point thumping in the rematch at Cameron Indoor). Fortunately for Mike Brey’s squad, they have Jerian Grant, possibly the most exciting player in the ACC. Averaging 16.8 points and nearly seven assists per game, Grant is best known for his performance in clutch situations, something that showed during his monster afternoon in Notre Dame’s win over Duke. Look for Grant’s side to keep the title race interesting in Greensboro.
Semifinals: Virginia over North Carolina, Duke over Notre Dame.
Championship: Duke over Virginia
Both teams are slotted as 1-seeds according to most bracket projections, but a tourney loss could be all it takes to drop Virginia or Duke down to the 2-line, meaning an ACC tournament title is vital to both teams. To me, Duke’s offense is too good and its defense is just good enough to get past the Cavs and into March Madness on a winning streak.