I have no read on this year’s tourney, so my picks will likely end up much more accurate than usual. Tis the way it goes.
1. North Carolina
Realistic Chance to Win? Absolutely. The Holes have gotten fantastic effort from every man on the roster (since Drew II left the building), and Ol’ Roy is a very good tournament coach. Roy certainly answered the question of whether he had lost his fastball in 2010-11, easily winning ACC COY honors. The biggest hurdle is lack of motivation – UNC has a short bench, and Roy would probably rather lose in the semis (provided that preserves a #2 NCAAT seed) and be more rested for later in March.
Toughest Obstacle(s): Boston College has already proven that it can slow the Hole offense to a maddening grind (losing by two in Chapel Hill), and Clemson is another tough, defensive-minded team that could keep the score low. But the toughest obstacle is whether the Holes are motivated to win it. Roy has stated many times that he values the regular season title more. And BC or Clemson will be UNC’s Saturday foe, which is the day Roy would rather lose (if the Holes are to lose at all).
Realistic Chance to Win? Absolutely. Duke is every bit as good as UNC, but much hungrier after stumbling down the stretch (including a humiliating beatdown against their biggest rival). Coach K will be highly motivated to get revenge, and the #1 NCAAT seed that would surely come with cutting down the nets in Greensboro.
Toughest Obstacle(s): Florida State. The Noles might have to close their eyes and pretend they’re in Tallahassee, but they’ve proven capable of playing the Devils without fear. If Chris Singleton plays, he could be enough to disrupt Nolan Smith’s game, and Florida State should dominate Duke in the paint. That said, I would still expect Duke to win, as I would in the final.
3. Florida State
Realistic Chance to Win? Yes. Florida State might be the league’s most consistent team, given their defensive ability and frontcourt depth. They’ve come closer and closer to the brass ring of late, and if anyone is to stop the embarrassing blue title run (13 out of the last 14), the Noles are your best bet.
Toughest Obstacle(s): Perimeter scoring. Singleton may play, but will certainly be rusty. Dulkys is in the middle of a lost season. In the regular season finale, this resulted in losing a big lead (and almost the game) against a lackadasical NC State team that was clearly just playing out the string. Virginia Tech likely awaits on Friday, and the Hokies will be desperate for a win. Duke is also a much more formidable Saturday foe than #1 seed UNC. All said, it would have been better for FSU to be the #4 seed.
Realistic Chance to Win? A very, very small one. It’s tough to imagine the Tigers winning three games in three days, but Boston College isn’t very good, the Holes could be unmotivated, and the Tigers have a game changing guard (the criminally underrated Demontez Stitt). And once you make the final, anything can happen.
Toughest Obstacle(s): Duke, lack of scoring depth. Anything CAN happen on Sunday, but by far the likeliest outcome would be a loss to Duke. And if Stitt has an off night, the Tigers don’t have enough of a Plan B to beat anyone. OK, other than Wake Forest.
5. Boston College
Realistic Chance to Win? Extreme Longshot. Steve Donahue did a great coaching job in his first year with the Eagles, and has the best computer numbers of any ACC bubble team. They’ve also proven they can hang with UNC as long as they force a grinding tempo. Reggie Jackson was “Mr. October” with the Yankees, and his namesake could similarly serve as “Mr. March” for BC.
Toughest Obstacle(s): Lack of athleticism, over-reliance on the three-point shot. Despite those solid computer numbers, BC doesn’t really pass the eye test. Their second-best player is a transfer from tiny Vermont. Their inside presence is virtually non-existent. Although they face only token Thursday opposition, they still would need to win four games in four days. A perimeter-oriented team will be hard pressed to do that.
6. Virginia Tech
Realistic Chance to Win? Extreme Longshot. This is the last rodeo for seniors Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen. Having an inside-outside combo like that certainly gives the Hokies a puncher’s chance. They also showed an ability to match up very well with the blues in the regular season. Motivation will also be sky high, as they likely need two wins to feel good about their bubble odds.
Toughest Obstacle(s): Consistency and depth. Virginia Tech followed up its signature win against Duke with back-to-back bed shittings against Boston College (at home on senior night, no less) and Clemson. Can a team that frustratingly inconsistent win four games in four days? This becomes increasingly challenging when you have a short bench like the Hokies do. We keep waiting for VT to have that breakout year, and perhaps it just isn’t going to happen.
Realistic Chance to Win? No. The Terps have to like their first matchup, at least. Gary Williams has never lost to Sidney Lowe. But this is another team that lost at home on senior day. Worse than VT, they lost to a very mediocre Virginia squad. Maryland does have the ACC’s best true big man, in Jordan Williams – and a seasoned, solid tournament coach in Sweaty Gary.
Toughest Obstacle(s): Duke, backcourt inconsistency. It’s never a good sign when a guy who more or less didn’t play in the first half-plus of league play becomes your go-to guy. But that’s what happened with “boom or bust” freshman Stoglin. Think Duke is licking their chops to pressure the Terrapin backcourt into countless turnovers on Friday? Yeah, me too.
Realistic Chance to Win? No. Tony Bennett should be commended for getting his ragtag bunch to 7-9 in the league. But perhaps that says more about the league than it does the Cavaliers. Just playing hard (with very little ACC-caliber talent) is almost enough for .500.
Toughest Obstacle(s): UNC, lack of a primary scorer. Who does UVA look to when they need a big basket? I don’t know, either. First round foe Miami is reeling, but a few random Sammy Zeglinski threes won’t be nearly enough to beat a rested UNC squad on Friday (even if they play at 3/4 speed).
Realistic Chance to Win? No. The Hurricanes fell hard in league play, closing the season with an atrocious performance in Atlanta that almost caused Frank Haith to pull a Bobby Knight. Most years, that’s excusable – but not 2010-11. They do have multiple weapons at guard, and Reggie Johnson is a solid big man. Perhaps they have enough to at least make Roy sweat, if they make it through to Friday.
Toughest Obstacle(s): Poor ballhandling, UNC. A large part of what makes Miami frustrating to watch comes from their inability to protect the ball. This problem hit its apex last Sunday. First round foe Virginia certainly plays consistent defense. So do the Tarheels. That adds up to a two-day trip in Greensboro, at best.
10. NC State
Realistic Chance to Win? No. You all know the story with this Wolfpack team, who has only beaten two halfway decent teams (George Mason, Clemson) all season. They aren’t going to beat four such teams in four days. Especially if the team is as mentally checked out as it was in its last two games. This is likely the last stop on the Sidney Lowe Farewell Tour (barring a CBI invite to buy more time for the coaching search), and Pack fans have mostly moved onto said coaching search mode since January.
Toughest Obstacle(s): Lack of defense, poor coaching, bad draw. Wow, is that ever a perfect storm. Maryland is a bad basketball team, and anyone who plays decent defense should beat them. But State never does that. Even if Lowe were to get his FIRST (and only) win over Sweaty Gary, a hungry Duke team awaits in Round Two. If Duke and State played 100 times, Duke would win 99 – and 90 of those by double digits. Should a miracle happen (and Lowe have his “Bob Wade” moment), State looked pretty bad against Florida State and Virginia Tech in the regular season, too.
11. Georgia Tech
Realistic Chance to Win? No Chance in Hell. The Yellow Jackets play good defense, but they show an appalling lack of basketball IQ on offense. They can play well in random spurts (it will always be a mystery how they smoked UNC by twenty in January), but definitely not four nights in a row. This is also the last stop on the Paul Hewitt Farewell Tour. I wouldn’t bet on another Hewitt/Lowe semifinal brick fest, either.
Toughest Obstacle(s): Frontcourt talent gap and coaching. Georgia Tech is arguably even worse than NC State from a coaching/leadership standpoint. They also have absolutely nothing in the lowpost. If Virginia Tech has any pride and fight left, they should kick GT’s teeth in – and spare us from watching this brutal, clumsy team play anymore this season.
12. Wake Forest
Realistic Chance to Win? No Chance in Hell Times a Billion. Wake Forest is probably the worst ACC team since the 1988-89 Maryland Terrapins. You might remember that Wade’s charges blitzed #1 seed NC State in the first round that year. So, I suppose lightning could strike once, and put Boston College on the wrong side of the bubble. But this Deacon squad is an absolute train wreck.
Toughest Obstacle(s): Ballhandling, shooting, defense, talent, coaching. Basically, everything that could suck about a basketball team sucks with Wake Forest. They are extremely lucky that a weak ACC allowed them to salvage their solitary win. They only really came close one other time (home against an awful Miami team). When a Sidney Lowe-coached team sweeps you by 20+ each game – you’ve got serious, serious problems.