ACC tournament: Preview, prediction, TV info

By Chip Patterson | College Football/Basketball Writer

Latest in hoops: Top 25 (and one) | Bracketology | Bubble Watch

What: ACC championship.

When: March 12-16

Where: Greensboro Coliseum; Greensboro, N.C.

Bracket: View tournament field here.

TV: First round (March 12) on ESPN2, second round (March 13) on ESPN, quarterfinals (March 14) on ESPN/ESPN2, semifinals and championship game on ESPN. The entire tournament will also be shown locally and online via the ACC Network.

Last year's champ: Miami (29-7, No. 2 seed)

First Team All-ACC pick C.J. Fair leads Syracuse into its first ACC Tournament appearance.  (USATSI)
First Team All-ACC pick C.J. Fair leads Syracuse into its first ACC Tournament appearance. (USATSI)

What matters: It will be a week of first's and last's for the ACC. Syracuse and Pittsburgh make their ACC tournament debut along the new 15-team tournament bracket while Maryland, a founding member of the conference and three-time tournament winner, is taking one final trip to Greensboro before leaving for the Big Ten.

Virginia made waves with its first outright league title since 1981, but a loss at Maryland on Sunday throws the Cavs in the same group as Syracuse, Duke and North Carolina. All of the top four seeds are apparent locks for the NCAA Tournament, but each has suffered (at least) one loss in March. A No. 1 seed may be out of reach for the ACC, but each of the contenders above has an opportunity to reverse trends and improve their seeding/destination for the Round of 64/32.

After starting the season 25-0, Syracuse lost four of its final six games to finish the regular season. The Orange have maintained a suffocating defense through the slide, but the offense has sputtered and depth issues were not helped with an injury to 6-8 starting power forward Jerami Grant. Duke ended North Carolina's 12-game winning streak in dominant, Jabari Parker-led fashion on Saturday, but it will probably take a win in the semifinals (presumably knocking off Virginia or Syracuse) for either team to drastically change its tournament future.

Pittsburgh represents the fifth and possibly final NCAA Tournament bid for the ACC. The Panthers have just one top-50 win and needed an overtime thriller to beat Clemson on Saturday, but Jamie Dixon's squad could be one tournament win away from punching a ticket to the dance. Currently, CBSSports.com's Bracketology has Pitt firmly on the bubble, but in the bracket, as a No. 11 seed.

Who matters: Senior C.J. Fair was the Syracuse player to earn All-ACC first team honors, but the Orange need strong contributions from Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant in order to turn things around this week. Ennis finished the season as the ACC's assist leader (5.5 APG), but at midseason he was developing a reputation as one of the best clutch players in the country. If Jim Boeheim can help the freshman point guard regain that form then Syracuse could build its burgeoning role of ACC villain by cutting down the nets on Tobacco Road.

Virginia's defense and a balanced, but patient, offensive attack paced by Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris helped the Cavaliers lock up the regular season title and No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. Brogdon's development and the emergence of freshman London Perrantes have been important, but the Cavs will need a strong inside presence from Akil Mitchell and Mike Tobey to avoid another loss like the one on Saturday in College Park.

Duke freshman phenom Jabari Parker, No. 1 on the final Wayman Tisdale Watch, and Rodney Hood power the ACC's most efficient offense and present arguably the toughest challenge for opponents in this tournament. Parker finished the season with six straight double-doubles and if he and Hood continue keep the momentum going from the UNC win the Blue Devils will be tough to stop.

Marcus Paige, an All-ACC first team selection earlier this week, and James Michael McAdoo have powered UNC's late-season push, but neither can afford to disappear if the Tar Heels want to make it to Saturday. Pittsburgh, a team that hopes to avenge its 75-71 loss in Chapel Hill, will turn to super-productive senior Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna in hopes of avoiding a burst bubble.

N.C. State faces long odds to win the championship in Greensboro, but newly crowned ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren is a lock to get buckets when the Wolfpack do take the floor. Warren finished the regular season with back-to-back career highs (41 points against Pitt followed by 42 against Boston College) and leads the ACC in scoring (24.8 PPG) and field goal percentage (.532).

Fun Fact: T.J. Warren is on pace to become just the third player in ACC history to lead the league in both scoring and field goal percentage. The sophomore could join an esteemed group that only includes NBA champions Tim Duncan (Wake Forest, 1997) and Horace Grant (Clemson, 1987).

Prediction: Duke over Virginia OR Syracuse over Virginia. Call it a cop-out, but I'm not expecting anything other than chalk out of Greensboro this week. The ACC's top four seeds had a combined 58-8 (.875) record against the bottom 11 in ACC play, suggesting that it may be one of the more stable league tournaments of the week. Virginia has a more favorable draw, and there is a chance the Cavs will benefit from a draining Duke-Cuse Vol. III in the other semifinal game, but a comfortable league schedule makes UVA look beatable in the tournament.

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