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ACC preview / March 11, 2009
Thanksgiving, by law, is observed each year on the fourth Thursday of November. For those who grew up in North Carolina and loved basketball, it was also unofficially celebrated on the second Friday in March.

That’s the day when everybody stopped what they were doing, stepped back and gave thanks for the tradition that is the ACC men’s basketball tournament.

The ACC has since expanded to 12 teams and added an extra day to the tournament, meaning that the annual epidemic that leads to so many people calling in sick from work this time of year now lasts two days instead of one.

And it starts today, when the 56th renewal of college basketball’s oldest and best postseason conference event tips off at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Although top-seeded North Carolina is the favorite to take home its third straight championship, the truly neutral venue with league’s top-to-bottom balance – make this potentially the most side-open tournament in recent memory.

That means the Tar Heels and their fellow high seeds are “going to have to have the same enthusiasm, the same intensity” as their opponents to survive, UNC coach Roy Williams said.

“Our league is incredible,” Williams said. “Nobody wants to play those 7-9 teams, I don’t care who you are.”

The following is a rundown of the tournament’s contenders, pretenders and also-rans as the chase for the ACC’s “real” championship officially begins:


North Carolina (27-3, 13-3 ACC)

Quarterfinal opponent: Va. Tech-Miami winner, Friday, noon

The top-seeded Tar Heels come to Atlanta having won 13 of their last 14 and are the heavy favorite to win their third straight ACC Tournament title. But with point guard Ty Lawson nursing a painful toe and their focus set on the next tournament, not this one, they could be ripe for the picking.

Coach Roy Williams’ team also didn’t get the most advantageous draw. Not only does it have to play a hungry opponent playing for its NCAA Tournament life in Friday’s quarterfinals, but should it win that, UNC must then play a Florida State team that came within a Lawson 3-pointer at the buzzer of upsetting the nation’s top-ranked team in Tallahassee.

And yet, with a lineup that includes Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green and Wayne Ellington, the Tar Heels are still a force to be reckoned with, even with their newly crowned ACC Player of the Year at less than full strength.


Wake Forest (24-5, 11-5 ACC)

Quarterfinal opponent: Maryland-N.C. State winner, Friday, 7 p.m.

The Deacons have recovered from their midseason slump to finish the regular-season on a high note with five straight victories. Although Wake has always had a solid inside-outside presence with the All-ACC tandem of point guard Jeff Teague and power forward James Johnson, they’ve added an extra dimension in recent weeks with the rapid development of freshman forward Al-Farouq Aminu.

The Deacons are deep, athletic and talented and still have a lot to prove – particularly that they’re mature enough to win three tough games in as many days and that they can play and win a game at something less than their favored uptempo pace.

Duke (25-6, 11-5 ACC)

Quarterfinal opponent: Boston College-Virginia winner, Friday, 9:30 p.m.

It’s been three years since the Blue Devils have been to a tournament final, let alone won a championship, and Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team is hungry to end the mini-drought. They stand a better chance of doing that now than they did three weeks ago, before freshman Elliott Williams was inserted into the lineup to add athleticism and another explosive offensive option to complement leading scorer Gerald Henderson.

If Kyle Singler continues his recent hot play and newly converted point guard Jon Scheyer keeps hitting from long range, Duke has a realistic shot of adding another banner to the Cameron rafters.

Florida State (23-8, 10-6 ACC)

Quarterfinal opponent: Clemson-Georgia Tech winner, Friday, 2:30 p.m.

The surprise team of the regular-season, the Seminoles will go as far as first-team All-ACC point guard Toney Douglas takes them. Although Douglas is the only FSU player averaging in double figures, the key to the team’s success has been the recent play of two improving youngsters – 7-foot freshman Solomon Alabi and sophomore off guard Derwin Kitchen. If you’re looking for a darkhorse pick to win the tournament, this would be it.


Clemson (23-7, 9-7 ACC)

First-round opponent: Georgia Tech, 2:30 p.m., Thursday

The fifth-seeded Tigers had designs on winning their first ACC Tournament title after making it all the way to the final last year. But by losing three of their last four and five of their last nine to miss a first-round bye, the Tigers will have to make history to do it. No team has ever taken home the trophy by winning four games in as many days. If there’s one thing coach Oliver Purnell’s team has in its favor, it’s that with Trevor Booker, K.C. Rivers and Terrence Oglesby in the lineup, they certainly have the talent to pull it off.

Boston College (21-10, 9-7 ACC)

First-round opponent: Virginia, 9:30 p.m., Thursday

Instead of cruising into the postseason with some momentum, the Eagles – led by point guard Tyrese Rice – stumble in after suffering a setback by losing at N.C. State last Wednesday, then barely avoiding a damaging loss to cellar-dwelling Georgia Tech in their regular-season finale Saturday.

Maryland (18-12, 7-9 ACC)

First-round opponent: N.C. State, 7 p.m., Thursday

The Terps seemed poised to punch their NCAA Tournament ticket before losing their final two regular-season games. Given all the controversy involving coach Gary Williams and an emotional stretch of games must-win games, Maryland might just have run out of gas. Still, one win may be all the Terps need, and with explosive point guard Greivis Vasquez on the floor, they at least have a shooter’s chance.

Virginia Tech (17-13, 7-9 ACC)

First-round opponent: Miami, noon, Thursday

Even after losing seven of their last nine, the eighth-seeded Hokies still stand a chance at getting an NCAA bid if they can beat Miami in their opener, then upset No. 1 UNC in Friday’s quarterfinal. That’s a tall order, but if the trio of A.D. Vassallo, Malcom Delaney and Jeff Allen all bring their “A” game with them to the ATL, it’s not impossible.

Miami (18-11, 7-9 ACC)

First-round opponent: Virginia Tech, noon, Thursday

Another bubble team that missed several late-season opportunities to help itself get into the NCAA’s field of 65. But like their first-round opponent Virginia Tech, the Hurricanes still have one last chance to redeem themselves. Whether they can do it or not will depend on how sound star guard Jack McClinton’s sore knee is.


N.C. State (16-13, 6-7 ACC)

First-round opponent: Maryland, 7 p.m., Thursday

The Wolfpack have a history of getting hot at just the right time and making a big run in the tournament – including two seasons ago when many of these same players made it all the way to the finals before losing to UNC.

For that to happen again this time around, coach Sidney Lowe’s team will have to get something close to consistent point guard play from Javi Gonzalez, hope enigmatic forward Brandon Costner shows up and pray that Courtney Fells’ strained groin holds up enough for him to be effective on both ends of the court.

Virginia (10-17, 4-12 ACC)

First-round opponent: Boston College, 9:30 p.m., Thursday

Despite the Cavaliers’ unimpressive record, the combination of the late starting time, BC’s recent struggles and an improving young roster led by ACC Rookie of the Year Sylven Landesberg make this a first-round upset waiting to happen. That would make Virginia’s tournament a success, no matter what else happens.

Georgia Tech (11-18, 2-14 ACC)

First-round opponent: Clemson, 2:30 p.m., Thursday

The Yellow Jackets have the home-dome advantage going for them, but that’ s about all they’ve got. At the very least, they’re still playing hard – led by All-ACC forward Gani Lawal, senior sharpshooter Lewis Clinch and freshman point guard Iman Shumpert.

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