ACC Tournament Preview: Syracuse Over North Carolina For the CrownPosted by Lathan Wells on March 12th, 2014
The 61st annual ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament will tip off Wednesday in Greensboro. This should be one of the more entertaining tournaments of recent years, as every team has something to play for from bottom to top. It’s startling that so many are dismissing Virginia, who just won their first outright ACC regular season championship in 33 years. Syracuse has been left for dead after once being projected to be the overall number one seed in the NCAA Tournament, losing four of their last six to close the regular season. Duke and North Carolina need late runs to continue to improve their seeding for the Big Dance. The lone likely bubble team in the conference, Pittsburgh, will seek to bolster its resume. Everyone else seeks to shock the world and win the whole thing to steal a tourney bid. Here is RTC’s ACC Tournament preview, with predicted champion included.
The first round kicking off on Wednesday is a new wrinkle for a newly-enlarged conference, and there won’t be any big surprises there. Virginia Tech owns two wins (their only two conference wins) over Miami this year; that will change this time around. It’s very difficult for anyone to beat a team three times in the course of one season, and this isn’t a juggernaut squad by any means. Jim Larranaga’s team tops James Johnson’s. Maryland, fresh off of its stunning win over Virginia in the season’s final game, will keep their momentum rolling in knocking Wake Forest out on the first day. The Demon Deacons don’t win away from home, and that won’t change in Greensboro. Georgia Tech will continue the disastrous year that Boston College has endured by out muscling them inside with Daniel Miller and capping off the win with Trae Golden’s ace free-throw shooting.
The second day will see Maryland oust a demoralized Florida State team that missed its best resume-boosting chance by being outclassed by Syracuse on the regular season’s final day at home. Former Big East foes Pittsburgh and Notre Dame will clash; Notre Dame’s defense is abhorrent (13th in the ACC), and Pittsburgh will simply need this game more. The Panthers take it. NC State and conference Player of the Year T.J. Warren did drop a shocking late-season game to Miami, but it won’t happen again. Warren is on a serious tear right now, and even Miami’s staunch defense won’t be enough to keep him from carrying the Wolfpack into the quarterfinals. Clemson, too, will try to rally behind their smothering defense, led by K.J. McDaniels, but their serious inability to score will derail their chance of beating Brian Gregory’s Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech moves on to the quarters as well.
Virginia will meet Maryland again for the second time in under a week on Friday, but the result won’t be the same. The Cavaliers will smother the Maryland shooters this time, and freshman London Perrantes will show everyone he’s unafraid of the big stage by dominating the point guard battle with Seth Allen. The top seed moves on. North Carolina, which had won 12 straight before an excusable defeat in Cameron on Duke’s Senior Night, will reignite their winning ways in defeating the Panthers and leaving them sweating bullets come selection time Sunday night. Syracuse, which needed a late steal to preserve a win over the Wolfpack in the regular season, will have no such trouble with the team from Raleigh this time. Jerami Grant should be back and healthy from his back injury, which makes a huge difference for Jim Boeheim’s team. The Orange advance to the semifinals. Duke will continue to score points in bunches and take apart the Yellow Jackets, with Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood continuing to be the best one-two scoring tandem in the conference.
This sets the stage for the top four seeds to play each other in the semifinals (sorry there’s not more shock and awe here, but there’s a precipitous drop-off after the conference’s top tier). North Carolina and Marcus Paige will score just enough to make up for their brutal loss in Charlottesville early in the ACC season, securing a place in the ACC title game and upending Virginia. On the other side of the bracket, Jim Boeheim does not freak out and the Orange win a third tilt with Duke in yet another close, down-to-the-wire match-up. A healthy Syracuse team is a scary Syracuse team.
That makes for a Tar Heels-Orange championship game. While the Tar Heels’ deficiencies are well-documented (shooting from the perimeter and the free throw line), Syracuse hasn’t been lighting the world on fire offensively at the tail end of the regular season either. But with Grant back in the lineup and Trevor Cooney suddenly regaining his deadly form from the arc, the Orange will eke out a win despite a scoring barrage from Marcus Paige. The ACC newcomers, the Syracuse Orange, will right the ship heading into the big tourney by claiming the prize in Greensboro.