This has been a long, strange trip through ACC play this year. My picks are notoriously pretty bad, and should clearly not be used for gambling purposes. But read on anyway:
Realistic Chance to Win? Absolutely. Yes, they looked much more beatable down the stretch. Hunter instead of the hunted, and all that. But come on – when they are on, they are the best team in the league (see blowouts of Duke and the Holes, road win at NC State in a game where the Pack played very, very well). Looking vulnerable can help COY Jim Larranaga get and keep his team focused again. They are loaded with upperclassmen, for whom next year will involve job searching and watching the ACCT on TV. Don’t sleep on these guys.
Toughest Obstacle(s): Their own level of confidence, grinding defensive teams. Losing at home to lousy Georgia Tech had to at least temporarily shake Miami’s confidence. Other grinding teams also gave Miami considerable trouble, home and on the road. But Miami looked very good against all three Triangle teams, and is probably the lone obstacle to one of them winning the crown.
Realistic Chance to Win? Absoluetly. I have to imagine they are the betting favorite in Vegas, and with good reason. They beat Miami when the Hurricanes played well, and have not lost a game with Ryan Kelly in the lineup. Confidence has to be through the roof after destroying the Holes on their Senior Night. This Devils squad can even play good defense without ACC officiating (ie, free hand checks and no blocking fouls for anyone wearing a blue uniform).
Toughest Obstacle(s): Conditioning/health, motivation. As Duke fans that I work with have pointed out, Seth Curry struggled on short turnarounds earlier in the season. He hasn’t practiced in months, due to injury. One has to expect the same could apply to Ryan Kelly. Duke’s win on Saturday also locked up a #1 seed in the big dance, and that’s the title Coach K really cares about (they legitimately have a shot this year). Might they, consciously or not, take their foot off the gas a little bit? Though I can’t imagine them going at half speed vs. UNC in a possible semifinal matchup. Likely Friday foe Maryland has beaten Duke already this year, and could easily do so again.
Realistic Chance to Win? If Duke loses on Friday, yes. One thing was abundantly clear last weekend. Even at their hottest, UNC matches up horridly with their blue counterparts. Otherwise, the Holes have beaten all comers with their small lineup. Momentum is important, and Ol’ Roy would love a title (cutting down the nets in Atlanta is not gonna happen).
Toughest Obstacle(s): Duke, Miami. Both losses to the Canes came before the “transformation” – but can you really go small and be effective against Miami? I think not. The Holes likely come in overrated, having fattened their late record on easy games, and one good team (NC State) playing as poorly as possible. But it’s hard to bet against Ol’ Roy in a tournament setting.
Realistic Chance to Win? Not really. I suppose mutliple upsets could clear the field. But a team this offensively offensive is not built to win three games in three days. For TV ratings, one must hope for an early exit. But they will be motivated, needing at least a Friday win to be on the right side of the bubble.
Toughest Obstacle(s): Modern offense, the shot clock era. These Hoos would have been delighted to play in Dean Smith’s “four corners” era. A game without shooting would send Tony Bennett into a fit of ecstasy. But the team I painfully watched Sunday night should be an easy out, and NIT bound.
5. NC State
Realistic Chance to Win? Define “realistic.” Anything is possible with this unpredictable Wolfpack squad. They’ve looked really good at times. But sometimes not. Like in a home near-loss to…eep, Thursday opponent Virginia Tech. But talent is talent, and Mark Gottfried is a skilled tournament coach. State also can’t face a blue before the finals, which has to qualify as a favorable draw.
Toughest Obstacle(s): Momentum, consistency, short bench. One certainly CAN win four games in four days with seven players, but nobody in the ACC has done it yet. In fact, nobody with normal depth has managed that feat. I also worry about the team’s collective psyche after a weird game lost in Tallahassee, followed by watching Maryland blow a 17-point lead in Charlottesville (which cost the Pack Thursday off). In my view, a NCAAT run is more likely than one this week. I certainly hope to be wrong.
6. Florida State
Realistic Chance to Win? No. The Seminoles have been a huge disappointment, and have a ceiling much lower than your typical 6 seed. Once they beat Clemson to likely cement their NIT bid, I could see the Noles pack it in without much resistance.
Toughest Obstacle(s): UNC, Duke. Their patented physical defense has been less effective than usual, and I don’t see them forcing either blue into a grinder that they could win. Since both blues are in FSU’s half of the bracket, don’t expect to see that famous scowl on Sunday.
Realistic Chance to Win? Very remote. Maryland is a weird, ugly team. But if they catch Duke taking it easy, they have enough talent and depth to make things interesting. Mark Turgeon would be highly motivated to take on his mentor in the semifinals. If somebody is going to raise eyebrows on Friday, the Terps seem like the most probable culprit. But they could easily shit the bed against Wake Forest, too.
Toughest Obstacle(s): Offense, lack of star power. Alex Len really regressed this year, and Maryland has nobody to call on when they really, really need a basket. They must win the ACCT to have any shot to dance, and will make the NIT regardless. So they could very easily mail it in, especially if they fall behind Wake Forest early.
8. Boston College
Realistic Chance to Win? No. While the Eagles arguably showed more fight than the other ACC bottom feeders, it’s hard to see four wins in four days in any scenario. 2014 could be a different story, though I still question whether they have the threshhold talent to really compete at the highest level.
Toughest Obstacle(s): Miami, inexperience. Almost all of BC’s key players are underclassmen, and I can’t fathom how they would slow down Miami’s offensive attack – or penetrate the Canes’ great defensive guards. They could do Miami a huge favor by taking out the Bees, though.
9. Georgia Tech
Realistic Chance to Win? No chance in hell. Georgia Tech was pretty lousy from start to finish, except for their random comeback win at Miami. Should they get past BC, we will see whether that was truly a random event or not. But they aren’t going to beat Duke, Carolina, or NC State – and it’s hard to imagine cutting down the nets without facing at least one of those teams.
Toughest Obstacle(s): Offensive skill, consistency. While the Jackets can get hot for short bursts, they typically can’t maintain for 40 minutes. Nor can they usually grind a team down to their level with defense. I say “usually” because of the Miami outlier, once again.
10. Wake Forest
Realistic Chance to Win? No chance in hell. Come on, Jeff Bzdelik.
Toughest Obstacle(s): Coaching, toughness, talent. I am not a fan of Coach Consonant’s system – it has produced a fairly soft team that depends too much on the outside shot and can be pushed around. Yes, the Deacs beat both Miami and NC State…but they are still seeded 10th and were murdered in every single road contest.
Realistic Chance to Win? No Chance in hell. There was much room to advance to the middle in this year’s ACC, but Clemson didn’t even come close. Unless they win the conference tourney (snicker), Brad Brownell will suffer his first ever losing season as a head coach. Without a significant infusion of talent, it likely won’t be his last.
Toughest Obstacle(s): Talent, offense. It’s a broken record for the 2012-13 ACC – lots of lousy offensive teams. And Clemson is the worst offender, without the really tough defense to compensate for it. Consider the Tiggers a low-rent version of Georgia Tech. Needless to say…that’s not a good thing.
12. Virginia Tech
Realistic Chance to Win? No. That’s not to say they can’t be pesky. They have a phenomenal scorer in Erick Green, something the other bottom feeders lack. That’s always key for a tourney run. The Castrated Turkeys also match up very well with a possibly unmotivated/sulking NC State team, having taken the Pack to overtime in Raleigh (and in all honesty, deserved to win the game). And really, anyone can beat Virginia. Couldn’t ask for a better draw.
Toughest Obstacle(s): The blues, Miami, non-Erick Green roster slots. VPI had the POY, and still finished dead last at 4-14. You are what your record says you are. This is a program in turmoil, having fired Seth Greenberg late in the spring and forced to make somewhat of a desperation hire in unproven James Johnson. It’s hard to imagine a team more in need of a miracle run to revitalize their program.