Welcome to Conference Championship week, when automatic bids get stolen, bubble teams make their final push and top contenders look to affirm their status. As you prepare to fill out your NCAA Tournament bracket, catching up on these teams might give you a better idea of who could make a run.
CBS Local Sports is previewing the six major conference tournaments: ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC. We’ll break them down by the favorites, contenders and dark horses that will have a chance of locking up the automatic bid to the Big Dance, which starts next week.
To say there’s a logjam of talent in the ACC would be putting things very lightly. The ACC will likely have the most tournament teams of any conference in college basketball (what else is new?) and seven teams in the AP Top 25 poll as conference play begins.
So, which team will emerge victorious from the ACC Tournament when things kick off at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Tuesday?
Well, to be honest, picking a winner may be a fool’s errand. But let’s give it a shot and take a closer look at the favorites, contenders and the dark horses to take the conference crown.
First, a look at the tournament schedule.
Tuesday, March 7 (First round)
Game 1: No. 13 NC State vs. No. 12 Clemson | 12 p.m. | ESPN2/ACC Network
Game 2: No. 15 Boston College vs. No. 10 Wake Forest | 2 p.m. | ESPN2/ACC Network
Game 3: No. 14 Pitt vs. No. 11 Georgia Tech | 7 p.m. | ESPNU/ACC Network
Wednesday, March 8 (Second round)
Game 4: No. 9 Miami vs. No. 8 Syracuse | 12 p.m. | ESPN/ACC Network
Game 5: Game 1 winner vs. No. 5 Duke | 2 p.m. | ESPN/ACC Network
Game 6: Game 2 winner vs. No. 7 Virginia Tech | 7 p.m. | ESPN2/ACC Network
Game 7: Game 3 winner vs. No. 6 Virginia | 9 p.m. | ESPN2/ACC Network
Thursday, March 9 (Quarterfinals)
Game 8: Game 4 winner vs. No. 1 North Carolina | 12 p.m. | ESPN/ACC Network
Game 9: Game 5 winner vs. No. 4 Louisville | 2 p.m. | ESPN/ACC Network
Game 10: Game 6 winner vs. No. 2 Florida State | 7 p.m. | ESPN/ACC Network
Game 11: Game 7 winner vs. No. 3 Notre Dame | 9 p.m. | ESPN/ACC Network
Friday, March 10 (Semifinals)
Game 12: Game 8 winner vs. Game 9 winner | 7 p.m. | ESPN or ESPN2/ACC Network
Game 13: Game 10 winner vs. Game 11 winner | 9 p.m. | ESPN or ESPN2/ACC Network
Saturday, March 11 (Championship)
Game 14: Game 12 winner vs. Game 13 winner | 9 p.m. | ESPN/ACC Network
North Carolina Tar Heels
Last year UNC took home their first ACC Tournament championship since 2008, and it spurred them into the NCAA Tournament Finals where they were upended by Villanova in one of the best tournament games in history.
Now, the Tar Heels are looking to take it one step further, and a win in the ACC Tournament is once again the key.
They have experience on their side, boasting a veteran unit that has experienced tournament success and knows what it takes to get the job done.
ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson has more than just realized his potential in his junior year. Along with Joel Berry II, he has become the engine that powers this team.
The Tar Heels are physical and relentless on the boards, averaging 43.8 rebounds per game, which is tops in the country. That will serve them extremely well in the tournament. They also lead the country in rebound margin, out-rebounding opponents by an average of 13 boards per game.
As a result, they won’t have to rely on sharpshooting, which can come and go in big spots in big games. If they just keep up the tenacity on the glass and lean on their experience, they’ll have a chance to win every night they hit the floor in March.
Outside of their road loss to a tough Wake Forest team last Wednesday, Louisville hasn’t lost a game this year to a non-ranked opponent and are poised to make a seriously deep run into March.
Leading the way for the Cardinals is a dominant backcourt — featuring point guard Quentin Snider and first-team All-ACC shooting guard Donovan Mitchell — and a frontcourt that’s tough on the glass and can defend with the best teams in the nation.READ MORE: Former West Penn Hospital Employee Pleads Guilty To Video Taping Employees And Patients
Most importantly, Snider has returned and appears to be at full strength after missing six games with a hip injury. That has buoyed Louisville after they lost games to ranked teams like Florida State and Virginia without him.
With health and defense on their side, they’ll be a tough out.
Florida State Seminoles
Tough road losses against Notre Dame and Pittsburgh had Florida State reeling for a moment, with both their offense and defense under performing and leaving cause for concern heading into the season’s closing weeks. But the Boston College Eagles were the perfect cure for what ailed them, as the Seminoles ripped into the Eagles to the tune of 104 points. They followed that up with wins over Clemson and Miami to close out the year.
With the 17th-ranked scoring offense in the nation (83.0 points per game, second in ACC) lead by lanky 6-foot 7-inch sophomore guard Dwayne Bacon (16.8 points per game) the ‘Noles can make it rain, that’s for sure.
Defensively they’re not stellar, with a defensive efficiency rating of 99.2 according to SCACCHoops.com, which is good for 7th in the ACC. But they can mask that with their offensive output.
And of course, they’re one of the tallest teams in college basketball, averaging 6 feet 7 inches, which has made them a solid rebounding team (34.8 per game, third in ACC).
They’ve already beaten Duke, Notre Dame, Virginia and Louisville this year — pretty much consecutively to kick off conference play — proving they’ve got what it takes to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament and in the ACC tourney as well.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The Fighting Irish were the last team in for the coveted double bye, even with a loss to Louisville in their season finale on Saturday.
They rebounded fantastically from a four-game in-conference losing streak early in February that threatened to derail their season and rattled off six straight conference wins to lock up the bye. That gives thems a much-needed confidence boost heading into tournament play.
Offensively and defensively the Irish can compete with the best of the ACC. If there’s one area of concern for the Irish, however, it’s on the glass.
Even with potential ACC Player Of The Year Bonzie Colson averaging 10.5 boards per game, the Irish rank 12th in the ACC in rebounding, while teams like UNC, Louisville, FSU and Duke all occupy the top spots in the category.
Having the double bye helps, but they’ll need to be stronger on the boards and get more production from their backcourt if they’re going to make a deep tournament run.
Duke Blue Devils
The Blue Devils have squeezed 10 years worth of angst and agony into their 2016-17 season. After it looked like they exorcised their mid-year demons and got Grayson Allen back and were ready to ball, they suffered three losses in their last four games and ultimately cost themselves a double bye in the tournament.
Now, in order to make it to the ACC Tournament finals, they’ll have to win four games in four consecutive days in the deepest conference in college basketball.
If they are to make a deep ACC Tournament run, it’ll be thanks in large part to standout sophomore and All-ACC guard Luke Kennard (20 PPG, second in ACC) shooting the lights out night in and night out, as he has all year.
The Blue Devils rank third in field goal percentage, second in points per game and have five players averaging over 10 points per game. But it’ll largely be up to Kennard and Allen to power this team through the tournament, as Duke’s frontcourt has been underwhelming much of the year. Luckily for the Blue Devils, their backcourt might be good enough to get the job done.
What a difference a week makes.
After dropping four in a row — and five of six to ACC foes in a critical part of the year — the Cavaliers reasserted themselves as a team to be reckoned with by winning their last three games of the year.
The most impressive victory was obviously their suffocating, small-ball-style victory over UNC last Monday night at home.
Unfortunately, their three-game winning streak wasn’t enough to overcome the prior losing streak, and the deck is stacked against them in the tournament without a double bye.
Still, they proved that they can beat the best in UNC late in the year, and may have found the perfect lineup to do just that should they meet again in ACC Tournament play.
For a stretch — and it is possibly still the case — the Orange were on the outside of the NCAA Tournament picture looking in. But after a thrilling win on the road at Duke, their resume is looking a whole lot stronger, and they’ll likely creep into the tournament.MORE NEWS: Resolution At Pittsburgh City Council Meeting Would Ban Plastic Bags In The City
More importantly for Syracuse, it proved that they can compete with the class of the ACC. Fact is, it’ll be a grind for all of the teams in the ACC Tournament due to the immense level of talent. Could Jim Boeheim find a way to rattle off a few wins and make some serious noise before March Madness really kicks off? It’s long shot, but I wouldn’t be completely shocked.