March is here, and quite possibly the best week for diehard college basketball fans have arrived - CHAMP WEEK, as a whole bunch of teams fight for their league's automatic bid, with the big bracket set to be released on Sunday.
And as part of it, we're going to have previews of all the major conference tournaments here at AT Online.
Today, we start with the ACC, where you can probably guess who is the favorite is (the school just took a big loss, in their coach's final home game Saturday) but after that lies a wide open tournament.
Before our picks, a couple things - one, I will actually be at the ACC and Big East Tournaments all week for AT Online, so make sure you're following on Twitter @ZacKrull_.
North Carolina (+800)
Wake Forest (+1000)
Virginia Tech (+1000)
Notre Dame (+1000)
Miami (FL) (+1100)
Florida State (+6000)
NC State (+10000)
Georgia Tech (+15000)
Boston College (+25000)
Now, to your preview
The Favorite: Duke (-135)
The college basketball universe had their eyes on Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday, for the final home game of head coach Mike Krzyzewski's legendary career. Despite the raucous atmosphere that included more than 80 of his former Duke players, the impossible
happened and North Carolina left with a victory. From the start of the game being delayed on ESPN due to Texas Kansas going to overtime to Coach K’s Ceremony taking place after a loss, not many things went as planned in Durham on Saturday.
Even for the current players, it's almost like you could see how much that game meant to them, and how disappointed they were they couldn't pull it, which to me is a legitimate question heading into the ACC Tournament: Can this young team regroup?
Still, Duke goes to Brooklyn as the ACC Tournament favorite, (-135) after winning their first outright ACC Conference Title, shockingly since 2006.
Duke has proven throughout the course of the season that they are clearly the best team in the ACC. This is a Blue Devils team with multiple future NBA Draft Picks including Paolo Banchero, AJ Griffin, Mark Williams and Wendell Moore. With that being said, being the most talented team in the league doesn’t mean this is a team that’s avoided the bad losses and that is not including Saturday’s North Carolina game. Earlier this season, Duke has blown late leads against Ohio State, Miami, Florida State and Virginia. In each of these games, Duke had chances to win at the end but could not convert. Duke is a young team, who's top six players are composed of five Freshman and Sophomores. Even Wendell Moore, a junior at Duke and has not played in an NCAA Tournament game yet.
Although Duke is clearly the most talented team in the ACC and should be considered the favorite, it has been proven that this Duke team is not unbeatable especially in close games.
Does the second favorite have value: North Carolina (+800)
North Carolina’s odds to win the ACC Tournament have shot up to second on the board at +800 fresh off their biggest win of the season on Saturday. What made that effort so intriguing is that it was the first time all season that North Carolina’s talent really played up to its potential. Remember, for all the struggles of this team, North Carolina was ranked No. 19 in the AP preseason poll based on the talent in Chapel Hill. Both starting Guards Caleb Love and RJ Davis were top 40 recruits coming out of High School and Big Man Armando Bacot was a consensus top 30 recruit as well. Those three guys, who decided to come back to school this year and play for Coach Davis combined for 67 points against Duke along with super senior Oklahoma Brady Manek who had 20. Bacot is making a case to win ACC Conference Player of the Year averaging 16.6 points and an ACC leading 12.5 rebounds per game.
This was a win that secured North Carolina an NCAA Tournament bid, but if you look at their schedule, Duke is really the only NCAA Tournament lock the Tar Heels have beaten all season. This was only North Carolina’s third quadrant one win of the season, and the fact that North Carolina was even on the bubble up to this point has accurately reflected a disappointing season in Chapel Hill.
However, Hubert Davis deserves credit for winning the biggest game of his coaching career up to this point and this team has the talent to get things turned around. North Carolina is by far, the second most talented team in the ACC and should be favored in any game they play in Brooklyn until a possible rematch against Duke in the Championship.
There is reason to think they have a chance of winning this thing, especially with a favorable path to the Championship game.
Best Value: Virginia Tech +1000
Despite likely having five teams that will make the NCAA Tournament, after Duke there is a very small level of separation between everyone else. So much so, that there wouldn’t be one particular result in the tournament that would be completely shocking because no one has really to get going as a consistent Top 25 caliber team week in week out.
That could lead to a potential bid stealer, and the Hokies fit that bill to perfection.
Mike Young’s team, has had a somewhat disappointing season considering this is Virginia Tech that returned a majority of last year's team that made it to the NCAA Tournament. And entering Brooklyn as the No. 6 seed in the ACC Tournament and currently on the wrong side of the bubble, so we are in must-win here mode for the Hokies.
There are two reasons to like the Hokies as a long-shot bet.
First, the metrics are a huge fan of Virginia Tech, as they are currently #29 on KenPom and #36 in the NET. Although these rankings might not be the end all be all, they are important due to the fact that the committee will be using them as tools while selecting teams in the tournament field.
Secondly, after starting off the season 11-10, Mike Young’s team have now won 8 out of their last 10 games and got a pretty favorable draw in the tournament. The Hokies will have to win four games in four days, however they will avoid Duke until the championship game.
Another thought: Virginia Tech might not even have to win the entire ACC Tournament to get in which provides a possible hedging opportunity. Getting to the championship game is entirely on the table for a team that has a lot of things going for them. +1000 is good value, especially for a team that has been playing better lately with tournament experience.
Stay Away: Notre Dame +1000
Notre Dame is a team that is currently on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, however they may not be as safe as people realize. Notre Dame’s resume starts with a massive win over Kentucky, a win not many other teams will be able to match. With that being said, other than that, their resume is a little thin and they haven’t beaten a good basketball team in what feels like too long. Notre Dame is 8-2 in their last 10 games, but also have not beaten an ACC team that finished in the top 7 since February 2nd at Miami.
In a bad ACC, that's not a lot to get excited about, with Notre Dame’s wins in the last month against NC State, Louisville, Clemson, Boston College, Syracuse and Pitt. All of those teams finished ACC Conference play with a below .500 record and Notre Dame recently lost to a Florida State team that is severely shorthanded. Comparing Notre Dame to North Carolina and Virginia Tech in the same part of this bracket and it won’t end up going in the Irish favor. Notre Dame does start four Seniors which could be a little misleading considering they have aero NCAA Tournament experience. The Irish are also a team that only plays 7 guys consistent minutes, which could come back to haunt them.
Despite a great season, Mike Brey’s team is a misleading No. 2 seed in Brooklyn and will be vulnerable as soon as they hit the floor in their first game, likely against Virginia Tech.
Longshot: Virginia (+1500)
It has been a down season in Charlottesville, compared to what we’re used to seeing with Tony Bennett’s club as Virginia is likely to miss their first NCAA Tournament since 2013.
Still, there's a lot to like with Bennett's club and their draw here.
The Cavaliers will be the No. 7 seed in Brooklyn and will avoid a possible matchup with Duke until the championship game. They would also get Notre Dame in the quarterfinal round opposed to North Carolina, who is much similar from an overall talent perspective. Virginia has played well in both of their matchups against Duke this season including a victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 7th and that should make Virginia feel confident they are capable of beating anyone in the tournament field. Kihei Clark may not necessarily be an NBA guard or the best guard in the conference, however he is a guy that can handle the ball and has played in a ton of close games in March. In addition Reece Beekman knows how to hit the clutch shot in the big moment and transfers Jayden Gardner and Armaan Franklin have played a ton of basketball, as both seniors.
Tony Bennett is someone that has had a ton of success in this tournament and the pack line defense is very difficult to prepare for.
Considering the favorable draw, a National Championship winning Head Coach and an experienced Point Guard, 1500 is worth a shot as a longshot.
Prediction: Duke (-135)
At the end of the day, Duke is by far the best team in this league and there is no one that has played enough consistently good basketball to comfortably take over them. Coach K’s team will be ready to play following the shocking North Carolina loss and with NCAA Tournament seeding on the line, these are the games Duke needs in the worst way. For a Duke team that is by far the best team in the league, only laying -135 doesn’t seem like that bad of a bet at all. The Blue Devils will take home the ACC Tournament Title over a hot Virginia Tech team in the championship game, ending a Hokies red hot run.
Follow Zac, who will be covering the ACC Tournament all week long on Twitter, @ZacKrull_
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