Let's talk brackets. Duke is a resounding (11/10) favorite in the ACC tourney, followed by Miami (3/1) and UNC (11/2). Let's take a look at the matchups in the tournament and I'll pick my bracket. Jump in on the comments section below to add your own thoughts and predictions.
#8 BC vs. #9 Georgia Tech (-1): Tech has stolen some games from better teams lately and seem to be playing reasonably well. I will go with the line here and say they hold Rookie of the Year Olivier Hanlan in check and advance to the quarters.
#5 NCSU (-11.5) vs. #12 Va Tech: This one SHOULD be an easy one, even if it is a dreaded 5/12 matchup. The question is whether State decides to show up (isn't it always?). The Pack can throw Brown, Purvis, and maybe even Wood and Warren at POY Erick Green to slow him down. On the flip side, the army of big men VT has will not be a match for either Leslie or Howell down low. I'm going with NC State on this one, though I think we'll know in the first few minutes whether that's the right pick.
#7 Maryland (-5.5) vs. #10 Wake Forest: Let's see; how much closer is Greensboro to Winston-Salem than College Park? Both teams play so much better at home. If Maryland's team were a microcosm of the ACC, then Alex Len would be NC State. When he shows up, he's a monster, but he inexplicably disappears for entire games, and Maryland tends to lose when he does. The Terps might be looking ahead to a rubber match with Duke (I know I am...), but they should take care of business here.
#6 FSU (-2.0) vs. #11 Clemson: What a yawner to end the first round... I don't see a run in FSU this year, and I haven't picked an upset yet. Clemson wins as Booker dominates and Jennings actually hits some 3s...
#1 Miami vs. #9 Ga Tech: The question most people are asking about Miami right now (other than whether Larkin deserved 2nd place in POY voting) is how much gas is left in the tank. It certainly seems like fatigue is setting in when you consider how they took a 3 game conference lead with 4 games left and almost made the regular season race interesting. The deciding factor here will be that Ga Tech beat Miami the last time out, and you have to think Miami will use any and all of the gas left in the tank to avenge that loss. Miami moves on.
#4 UVA vs. #5 NCSU: While I am tempted to slate UVA all the way into the finals so Duke has a chance to avenge all 4 regular season losses by the end of the tourney, that would be ridiculously homer-ish and just plain isn't going to happen. UVA is 13-14 away from Charlottesville this year, and, like Erick Green, Joe Harris could see a barrage of ‘Pack players thrown at him during this game. Slight upset here (or at least going against chalk) as State's many weapons gruel it out in an ugly game, but beat the ‘Hoos to move on.
#2 Duke vs. #7 Maryland: Remember that "one small point of pride" I mentioned earlier when looking at the last 4 games of Duke's regular season? Maryland may not be a rival to Duke, but you can bet the bank that the Blue Devils do not want to send Maryland off to the Big10 on a 2-game winning streak. Focus will be on the Plumlee vs. Len matchup, and while Len will certainly be up for that matchup, the Terps didn't have to deal with Ryan Kelly the last time out, so Len can outplay Plumlee and Duke will still win.
#3 UNC vs. #11 Clemson: Saturday's drubbing on Senior Night in Chapel Hill notwithstanding, the small-ball lineup for UNC has been working well for them, and it should continue against the Tigers. Devon Booker is a force down low that the Heels don't have an answer for, but the rest of the Clemson team, especially Milton Jennings, will get caught up in the running game and play right into UNC's hands. Heels advance.
#1 Miami vs. #5 NCSU: This could be the game of the tournament. When playing at high levels both teams are fun to watch. Here's hoping they are both at high levels (and it goes into triple OT for the sake of the winner of the 2nd semifinal). Reggie Johnson's tip-in winner in Raleigh capped a great game in the only meeting of these two during the regular season, but Lorenzo Brown didn't play due to injury. State should have some confidence that they can beat Miami when at full strength. If Brown can stay in front of Sugar Shane (a tall order), they just might do it, as all other matchups probably favor the Pack. NCSU lives up to its pre-season billing and advances to the ACC Championship game.
#2 Duke vs. #3 UNC: The old adage says that it's extremely difficult to beat the same team 3 times in a season. Duke will be confident going in after winning so handily in Chappa Heeya a week before. But there's no way UNC goes 1-15 on 3s again in this game. Will Ol' Roy switch it up and put some taller personnel into the game to keep Plumlee from scoring at will down low? Will the Heels wonderfully inventive and unique Harlem Shake video propel them to victory? The answer... is no... This game will be more like the first than the second matchup, which is to say, interesting, but Duke has too many weapons and takes down the three-peat (check's in the mail, Pat) of the Heels. Remember, UNC's 6 game winning streak of small-ball was bookended by, that's right, 2 losses to Duke. (Honestly, did anyone expect a different prediction from me?)
#2 Duke vs. #5 NC State: If State gets this far, will they pull a Notre Dame BCS performance and "just be happy to be here?" If you look at matchups, I think this can be a game where Rasheed Sulaimon breaks out of his slump. Howell can outmuscle Plumlee, Leslie can stretch as well as Kelly at the 4 (except the 3pt shooting), Brown can give Quinn Cook all he wants, and Purvis or Warren can pester Curry into a tough night. So, the winner of this game is the winner of the Scott Wood vs. Rasheed Sulaimon matchup. My heart obviously wants to go with Sulaimon to show he should have gotten frosh of the year, but I just don't know if that will happen. Wood is a crafty senior and won't get down if he misses early shots. He also should be able to play through foul trouble. Both of those could hamstring ‘Sheed. If State has anything left after 3 games in 3 days, they win in a squeaker. (Again, I am following my boy Stuart's theory that picking your team to lose results in a win/win scenario.)
Or, NC State could lose to VA Tech on Thursday. Who knows this year?