ACC Tournament Preview: Duke It Out
The Blue Devils should wrap up their 20th ACC Championship.
by Nick Rotunno
When: March 14-17
Where: Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, North Carolina
All those ACC rivalry games over the past few months—those Duke vs. UNC matchups on Tobacco Road, those in-state skirmishes and bragging-rights battles—mean very little at this point in the season. It’s mid-March, the sun is shining in the mid-Atlantic states, and the ACC Tournament is a fresh slate for all 12 teams involved.
Miami is tops in the conference right now, enjoying its regular season title, while Duke is poised for a big run. UNC has turned a corner and NC State is a dangerous group. And don’t count out teams like Virginia and Florida State, who could certainly spoil someone’s party.
Great players will take center stage and some of the nation’s most storied programs will vie for the title. The ACC tourney is up for grabs, so sit back and enjoy the ride.
Duke (27-4, 14-4) –- The Blue Devils are ranked No. 3 in the AP Top 25 (No. 4 in the coaches’ poll) and boast an overall record of 27-4. They’ve wrapped up second place in the ACC with a 14-4 record, right behind first-place Miami. Sure, the Dukies have had their setbacks—blown out by the Hurricanes back in January, floor-stormed at Maryland and Virginia last month—but they’re still the team to beat in the conference. With two of the nation’s top players in big man Mason Plumlee and guard Seth Curry leading an athletic and well-coached lineup, Duke is a very, very tough out. Saturday’s matchup versus rival North Carolina, the ACC finale for both squads, was huge: Duke looked mighty impressive in a 69-53 road win.
Miami (24-6, 15-3) — With a win ove Clemson on Saturday, the Hurricanes finished 15-3 in the ACC and their first outright regular season conference title. They played great basketball all season but faltered down the stretch, losing three of their last five games, including a tough 2-point loss at home against Georgia Tech last Wednesday. Still, this is the same team that won 13 consecutive ACC games and beat the hell out of Duke on January 23. The ‘Canes win this tournament if that team—the one that dominated every single night from New Year’s until late February—shows up in Greensboro.
North Carolina (22-9, 12-6) — Talk about a turnaround. On January 10 this Tar Heels team was 10-5 overall and 0-2 in the ACC, written off by just about everybody. And then Roy Williams, the great helmsman of Chapel Hill, got down to business and turned the whole season around. The Heels finished in third place in the ACC with a record 0f 12-6 and before losing to Duke on Saturday, they hadn’t dropped a game since February 13. UNC struggled against Duke this weekend but the Heels are talented and still pose a threat. Versatile sophomore James Michael McAdoo and junior Reggie Bullock are both averaging more than 14 points per game.
North Carolina State (22-9, 11-7) — Really more of a fourth contender than a sleeper, the Wolfpack has proven this season that it’s capable of beating any team in the ACC. NC State is 11-7 after a loss to Florida State on Saturday but had won three in a row, including a win at UNC on February 23, prior to Saturday’s loss. A team of runs and streaks, NC State has notched some big wins this year (an upset of then-No. 1 Duke on January 12, for example). It can score the basketball as well as anybody, averaging 78.1 points per game and forward CJ Leslie is one of the most dynamic scorers in the country.
Virginia (20-10, 10-7) — A team that can certainly knock off a giant (just ask Duke), and always plays hard. The Cavs beat NC State in January, hung with Miami on its home floor and beat the Blue Devils 73-68. That was cool, but then they lost to Boston College and Florida State. No, the 10-7 Cavaliers don’t have the most impressive conference record, nor the top-notch players in the league, but ask any ACC coach about Tony Bennett’s club and I reckon he’ll say something like this: We don’t want to play Virginia in the early rounds.
Players to Watch
Mason Plumlee, Sr. F, Duke — As Plumlee goes, so go the Devils. Duke’s uber-talented senior is averaging 17.0 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. He is the key to the Blue Devils offense. When Plumlee has a bad game, or when he’s outplayed by another skilled big, the Dukies just aren’t right.
C.J. Leslie, Jr. F, NC State — Offensively gifted, defensively disruptive, the Wolfpack’s most talented player is also its most erratic. When Leslie is on, there’s no one better. He has to play well if NC State hopes to win this tournament.
Erick Green, Sr. G, Virginia Tech — You don’t hear much about this kid because VT has slogged through a dismal season. But Green can flat out fill it up—he’s averaging 25 points per game, tops in the ACC. The 6-4 senior shoots about 48 percent from the field and his free throw numbers are pretty darn good at right around 82 percent.
Michael Snaer, Sr. G, Florida State — As clutch as they come, this guy. Snaer has played the hero against Clemson, Maryland, Georgia Tech and Virginia this season by knocking down shots with poise and confidence. If the game is on the line, Snaer will get the ball and he’ll probably put it in.
Duke — It’s very hard to bet against this Duke squad. The Blue Devils are experienced, talented in both the front and back courts and gritty on the glass. A healthy Ryan Kelly gives Duke an added boost up front. The Blue Devils looked great agains Carolina and the leadership of Mike Krzyzewski, a man who’s won more than 950 college basketball games, cannot be overlooked. It won’t be easy, but the Blue Devils should win this thing.