It's Champ Week, and for the first time this afternoon, the first major conference will tip off - as the ACC begins play in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Admittedly, Tuesday's matchups aren't all that appealing (shout out to Louisville and Boston College!) but this is one of the more intriguing tournaments we'll have this week. Duke is a slight favorite, but it feels like there are legitimately three or four teams that can win this thing, along with maybe the single most compelling bubble team in college hoops in North Carolina.
So who do we like to cut down the nets in Greensboro? Here is our ACC preview, with odds presented by Betfred Sportsbook.
Format: Three play-in games Thursday; top four get a double-bye into Thursday's quarterfinals
Watch: All games available on ESPN, the ACC Network and ESPN+
Odds via the Betfred Sportsbook:
North Carolina (+650)
NC State (+1400)
Wake Forest (+4000)
Virginia Tech (+4500)
Florida State (+20000)
Boston College (+30000)
Georgia Tech (+30000)
Notre Dame (+50000)
To be blunt, it's a little bit surprising to see Duke as the tournament favorites. Maybe a little bit of it is that Duke is one of the most public teams in the sport, but still, it isn't often that you see the No. 4 seed overall in the tournament picked to win it. Especially, by the way, when that team is 1-3 overall against the top three teams in this field (Miami, Virginia and Clemson).
In terms of why Duke would be favored though, well, to their credit, they're playing their best basketball of the season coming into this one - winners of six straight games. That of course included Saturday's win over North Carolina on Saturday to give the Blue Devils a season sweep of the Tar Heels, in Jon Scheyer's first year.
Now, in terms of the biggest reason for the Blue Devils late-season success (outside of an advantageous schedule) is the re-emergence of veteran guard Jeremy Roach late. The only significant returnee from last year's Final Four team, Roach has scored in double-figures in 10 of his last 11 games. To the Blue Devils credit, they are also one of the league's best defensive teams, ranking in the Top 30 in college basketball in both field goal percentage defense and scoring defense.
Despite it, this isn't a Duke team that can simply overwhelm teams with talent. If they are to win this conference tournament, they'll have to grind to the finish line.
In the second "to be blunt" in this column, to be blunt, Miami is actually the team I thought would be favored coming into this one. They split the regular season title with Virginia and earned the No. 1 seed here, thanks to a December win over Tony Bennett's club, in their only meeting with the Cavaliers.
For the Hurricanes, it all starts with guard play.
Isaiah Wong was one of the stars of last year's Elite Eight squad and is even better in 2023, averaging just under 16 points per game on 38 percent three-point shooting. Jordan Miller contributes 15 points per game and noted transfer Nijel Pack brings a calm poise to the backcourt as well, averaging double-figures, while also shooting 40 percent from the three-point line. Down low, Arkansas State transfer Norchad Omier has been the Hurricanes toughest player down low, averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds per game.
While Duke (and Virginia below) try to beat you with defense, Miami is the ACC's best offensive team. Their 79.6 points per game as a team leads this conference. As does their 37 percent shooting from behind the arc.
Another year, another ACC regular title for the Cavaliers, who split with Miami at 15-5 in league play. Because of a head-to-head loss to the Hurricanes all the way back in the team's only matchup before Christmas, the Cavaliers get the No. 2 seed here.
And in true Virginia fashion, this Hoos team is no different than pretty much any other one you've seen in recent years. They play slow (they actually rank dead last in possessions per game among power conference teams) but use that slow pace and suffocating defense to wear down opponents. Virginia allows just 60.5 points per game, one of the best marks in college basketball.
At this point we know who Virginia is, and know they're capable of winning of this tournament.
However, you could also argue they have a tougher path to a title than any of the four teams that get the double-bye into the quarterfinals. Their first game will likely come against a North Carolina team that just beat them a week ago, and if they survive that, would almost certainly get either NC State or Clemson in the next round. The title game matchup speaks for itself.
The Cavaliers have the goods to win it all. But to get there, they'll have to earn it.
I'm not really sure if Clemson is an actual contender or not, but with the fourth best odds in the bracket, it's probably worth a quick mention here.
First off, it shows you just how weird this season is when Clemson - which finished fourth in the ACC in the regular season - is far from an NCAA Tournament lock at this point. Losses to South Carolina and Loyola-Chicago in the out of conference will do that for you, as will a loss to Louisville late in the regular season.
Yes, that somehow happened. As did a loss to Boston College as well.
Therefore, much like several teams in this bracket (North Carolina, Pitt and to a smaller degree NC State), the Tigers come to this event needing at least one, and probably two wins to punch any sort of ticket to the NCAA Tournament. The bad news (if you want to call it that) is that the Tigers get a double-bye into the quarters, and will likely open with a tough Pittsburgh team. They definitely need to win that one, and likely would need a win against Miami in the conference semifinals to feel really good going into Selection Sunday (assuming they don't win the whole darn event).
But the Louisville loss proves they can lose to anyone, literally, in this bracket.
And let's just say that it wouldn't be my personal recommendation to bet Clemson here.
North Carolina (+750)
Finally, in the contenders field, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention... you know, last year's runner's-up and the preseason No. 1 team in college basketball in North Carolina.
Unlike Clemson, I do believe they're an actual "contender" in this tournament. The talent is there with four double-figure scorers on this squad, and four starters back from last year's Final Four run. A win over Virginia a few weeks ago proves that they can beat just about anyone in this field.
The question is, why should we believe in North Carolina at this point? They're just 19-12 overall, were 9-11 in a bad ACC, and their longest win streak this season - five - came to open the season. There are very clear stylistic issues with the team, and to outsiders, it appears as though there's chemistry issues as well.
Oh, and if you're betting North Carolina to win this thing, here's another thing to consider: They have one extra game than most of the contenders, opening on Wednesday, while Duke, Miami, Virginia and Clemson all don't play until Thursday.
The good news for North Carolina is that it's an extra chance to add a win to pad their NCAA Tournament resume, but of course the bad news is, it's another spot to pick up a bad loss for them as well.
And if you're betting them at +750, it also means you're betting them to win one more game than all of the other contenders as well. Keep that in mind.
NC State (+1400)
While it's hard to find a true sleeper in some of these brackets, the ACC has a few.
The most obvious one in my eyes is NC State. One, their style of play makes it tough on everyone, as their three-headed guard monster of Terquavion Smith, Casey Morsell and Jarkel Joiner combines to average 46 points per game, and puts constant pressure on opposing defenses. When the Pack themselves are on defense, they're also putting pressure on you, averaging 13 turnovers forced per game.
More importantly, they've played with, and beaten a lot of the contenders in this field, with regular season wins over Miami, Duke and North Carolina.
Like Carolina, they would have to play an extra game. But the bracket breaks nicely with a potential quarterfinal with Clemson, before getting Virginia in the semi's.
At +1400, NC State is very much a real underdog possibility.
I'd also consider Pitt at +2500, although I don't feel as confident in that one.
The Pick: Miami
While "Miami" might not be the first school you think of when you think "ACC basketball" they are the right play here.
One, I just think they're the best team - which is always a good thing.
Two, they also have a pretty advantageous path, with No. 2, 3 and 4 seeds all drawing potential NCAA Tournament teams in the quarterfinals (Virginia could play North Carolina, Clemson could draw NC State, and Duke could get Pitt). Miami would get either a hobbled Wake Forest, or a wildly inconsistent Syracuse.
Everything lines up nicely for Miami to win this event, which could be the start of a big March ahead for them.
Follow Aaron on Twitter - @Aaron_Torres
To get full odds on the WCC and all conference tournaments, visit Betfred Sportsbook
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