As the regular season of the men’s college basketball comes to an end, it is time to start looking ahead into the conference championships. A lot of people look at the conference championships as having no importance to the “Big Dance” that follows but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Plenty of teams have gone from a possible 10-seed all the way up to 5 or 6-seed. One could also see a potential 1-seed lose that coveted honor and drop to below a 3-seed.
One of the most watched and prestigious conference championships is the Atlantic Coast Conference. The ACC has plenty of perennial powerhouses that are consistently either in the “Big Dance” or in the national championship contender talks year after year. Such teams include Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse and Louisville. Last year, Notre Dame ran away with the conference championship by beating Miami, Duke and North Carolina by at least seven points each game as the 3-seed in the tournament. One thing to note, is that Syracuse did not play in last year’s tournament due to a self-imposed ban for NCAA violations.
Something that is guaranteed to be similar to last year’s tournament is that a big name team will not be participating in any postseason tournaments: Louisville. Unfortunately, Pitino and company are not going to be able to participate due to a self-imposed ban after word broke out of their violations of the NCAA. Currently, the Cardinals are sitting third in the conference standings. They are behind the Virginia Cavaliers (2nd), and North Carolina (tied 1st) and the Miami Hurricanes (tied 1st). It is a little sad to see that Louisville will not be able to play in the tournament because I am pretty sure everyone would be able to agree that they would have a legitimate shot to win the ACC Tournament.
Let’s take a look at the rest of the field. If the regular season ended today, here is what the rankings would be: (1) North Carolina (they own the tiebreaker over Miami), (2) Miami, (3) Virginia, (4) Duke, (5) Notre Dame, (6) Pitt, (7) Syracuse, (8) Virginia Tech, (9) Clemson, (10) Florida State, (11) Georgia Tech, (12) North Carolina State, (13) Wake Forest and (14) Boston College.
As long as the format follows last years, Boston College would face off against Georgia Tech and North Carolina State would meet Wake Forest. Seeing as how Boston College has yet to win a game in the ACC this year (going 0-17), I do not believe they have a prayer in the world to string together five in a row to gain the ACC Championship. And that goes for the rest of the ACC that is not seeded at least 9th.
With that being said, we will start off this prediction by jumping ahead to the Quarterfinals. The match-ups would include: North Carolina taking on Clemson, Miami meeting Syracuse, Virginia would face off against Pitt, and Duke would meet Notre Dame. I think this is a no-brainer of a prediction. North Carolina would have no problems against Clemson, Miami would be able to take it easy and still win against Syracuse, Pitt would not have a prayer against Virginia, and I think Duke would be able to move on but just barely against Notre Dame.
Let’s move on to the Semifinals. Here we would have North Carolina facing off against Duke in another Tobacco Road Rivalry, while Miami would take on Virginia. This would be the most competitive Semifinal match-up in recent memories. Duke and Carolina by itself would drive the viewers up since the winner of this game would be able to move on to the Finals for the conference championship. Virginia and Miami would be another great game to watch simply because of Virginia’s defense going off against Miami’s sometimes explosive offense. I think that Virginia will move on to the Finals based solely on their defense. The team has prided itself on it’s defense for the last couple of years and there is a reason why: they have been dominant. In the Duke/UNC game, a few situations could determine who wins this game. If Carolina continues their dominance of offensive rebounding and second chance points, along with running the fast break effectively they will have no problem making a mess of Duke. For the Blue Devils to win this game, they will need to crash the defensive and offensive boards, they will need to play tight defense and not give up as many second chance points as the first time they squared off. For arguments sake, I will say UNC wins this game simply because they have been more consistent than Duke has all year.
The finals are set: (1) North Carolina vs. (3) Virginia. Everyone wants to root for the underdog (unless you are a Tar Heel fan), but I just do not see the Cavaliers winning this year. North Carolina lost in the Finals last year as a 5-seed to Notre Dame by eight points. This team is much more experienced and they each know what the ultimate goal is: championships. North Carolina has been effective and consistent in a few categories: offensive rebounding, defense, second chance points and fast-break points.
There is no doubt that the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Virginia Cavaliers are not only ACC Championship contenders but also national contenders. If these two are to meet in the finals of their conference championship, it will be one of the best competitive games we see all year. However, I do not believe either team will make it to the Final Four, let alone win the national championship.