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2014 Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament Preview

(SportsNetwork.com) - The 61st-annual ACC Tournament will begin on Wednesday, March 12 and run through Sunday, March 16 at the Greensboro Coliseum, with the tournament champion earning the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

For the first time since 1981, the Virginia Cavaliers will be the top seed in the tournament. Tony Bennett's squad went a stellar 16-2 in the ACC to outlast normal ACC powers Duke and North Carolina, as well as newcomer Syracuse. The Orange picked up the two-seed at 14-4, the Blue Devils (13-5) earned the three-seed and the Tar Heels (13-5) finished as the four-seed, with all three teams joining Virginia with double-byes to the quarterfinal round.

Pittsburgh picked up the five-seed, followed by six-seed Clemson, seven-seed NC State, eight-seed Maryland, nine-seed Florida State, 10-seed Miami-Florida, 11-seed Georgia Tech, 12-seed Wake Forest, 13-seed Notre Dame, 14-seed Boston College and finally 15-seed Virginia Tech.

The tournament will consist of 15 teams for the first time ever and begins on Wednesday with three first-round matchups.

The tournament gets underway with 12th-seeded Wake Forest taking on 13th- seeded Notre Dame.

Wake Forest (16-15, 6-12) showed flashes of strong play, but unfortunately for Jeff Bzdelik's squad, there just wasn't enough of them. The Demon Deacons did post marquee wins over local powers North Carolina and Duke, but 14 of the team's 16 total wins came at home in Winston-Salem. Wake did split its last four games to end the regular season, but that came after a seven-game losing streak that effectively buried the Demon Deacons in the conference standings. Wake Forest isn't an offensive juggernaut by any stretch, averaging a modest 69.8 ppg, but does possess some depth and diverse scoring, with three players averaging double digits. Codi Miller McIntyre is a solid playmaker at the point, pacing the team in both scoring (12.9 ppg) and assists (4.1 apg). Travis McKie (11.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and Devin Thomas (11.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg) add balance up front.

Notre Dame (15-16, 6-12) had a rough go of it in its first year in the ACC. Mike Brey's Irish also struggled on the road this season with a mere 2-10 mark outside of South Bend and enter the postseason with losses in four of the last five regular-season games. The team has had its fair share of adversity with the loss of star guard Jerian Grant (19.0 ppg, 6.2 apg) after he was dismissed from the program after a dozen games. Still, others did step up and tried to fill the void, starting with fellow guard Eric Atkins (13.9 ppg, 4.8 apg). Pat Connaughton (13.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Garrick Sherman (13.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg) were an effective duo both in the scoring column and on the boards. Despite missing Grant's offensive contributions, Notre Dame finished the year as the fourth-best scoring team in the league at 72.1 ppg. Unfortunately, that success didn't find its way to the other end of the floor, where the Irish finished 13th in scoring defense (70.2 ppg).

The middle game of the first round pits 10th-seeded Miami-Florida against 15th-seeded Virginia Tech.

Coming off an ACC sweep last season (regular and tournament titles) there was nowhere to go but down for Miami (16-15, 7-11) this season. Just how far the Hurricanes actually fell may have been a bit of a surprise though, as the team finished dead-last in the conference in scoring (61.7 ppg), which negated its usually strong defensive play (fourth in the league in scoring defense at 59.5 ppg). The team did seem to earn some consistency down the stretch however, with wins in four of its last six games. Scoring depth was a big issues for Jim Larranaga's squad this season, as the 'Canes lacked options at the offensive end. Guards Rion Brown and Garrius Adams did what they could at 15.4 and 10.4 ppg, respectively, but the scoring pool dried up quick after that, with Manu LeComte ranking a distant third in the scoring column at just 7.9 ppg.

Virginia Tech (9-21, 2-16) suffered through a horrific regular season. The Hokies have only one win since the calendar turned over to 2014, and that came on Feb. 15 against Miami (52-45). The Hokies resided in the ACC basement with only two league wins and enter the postseason with a six-game losing streak in tow. The Hokies finished 13th in the league in scoring at just 63.2 ppg, last in the league in field-goal percentage (.406) and 14th in scoring margin (-4.1). Compounding the problem for Tech has been a number of injuries, including players like Cadarian Raines (5.3 ppg) and C.J. Barksdale (8.1 ppg) questionable for the start of the tournament and Adam Smith (11.0 ppg) out. The healthy players that head coach James Johnson will need to rely on to keep Virginia Tech competitive are Jarrell Eddie (13.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and Ben Emelogu (10.7 ppg).

First-round action closes out on Wednesday when 11th-seeded Georgia Tech battles 14th-seeded Boston College.

Georgia Tech (15-16, 6-12) suffered through stretches of futility this season, but was able to earn some distance from a four-game slide down the stretch with back-to-back victories to close out the regular season, including a shocking road win at Syracuse (67-62). Still, Brian Gregory's team didn't excel in any one area and was simply a middle-of-the-road squad for much of the year. The Yellow Jackets finished 11th in the league in scoring (66.5 ppg) and seventh in scoring defense (66.6 ppg), leaving no room for error. Despite the modest scoring numbers, Tech does possess some balance and scoring depth, as four players ended the regular season averaging double figures. Transfer Trae Golden made an immediate impact in Atlanta, leading the team in both scoring (12.9 ppg) and assists (3.1 apg). Marques Georges-Hunt (11.6 ppg) provides some perimeter support, while Daniel Miller (11.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg) and Robert Carter Jr. (11.0 ppg, 8.1 rpg) are a capable frontcourt duo.

Steve Donahue had his work cut out for him again in Chestnut Hill, as Boston College (8-23, 4-14) failed to turn its youthful exuberance into many victories. Wins in-conference certainly didn't come easy, with the highlight of the year being an overtime thriller that handed Syracuse its first loss of the season in mid-February. However, two of BC's four league wins came against last-place Virginia Tech. The team suffered from a lack of defensive grit, allowing 73.6 ppg this season, resulting in a league-worst -5.0 scoring margin. A lack of talent wasn't the problem however, as sophomore Olivier Hanlan and junior Ryan Anderson both performed well. Hanlan finished fourth in the conference in scoring at 18.6 ppg. Anderson was 12th in scoring at 14.3 ppg and 10th in rebounding (7.1 rpg). Sophomore Joe Rahon added 9.0 ppg to the cause and was tops on the team in assists (3.2 apg).

Four second-round games will follow on Thursday, starting with eighth-seeded Maryland against ninth-seeded Florida State.

Mark Turgeon was tasked with leading Maryland (17-14, 9-9) through its last season in the ACC and unfortunately for the fan base in College Park, it was a rather bland endeavor. The Terrapins took UConn to the brink in the season- opener (78-77 loss) and closed out the campaign with a huge overtime win against ACC champion Virginia (75-69), but there just weren't enough highlights in between. At just over 71 points per game, Maryland had adequate scoring depth, thanks to a quartet of double-digit threats. Dez Wells led the charge for Maryland, averaging 14.8 ppg. Seth Allen missed a long stretch of games, but has returned to the lineup without missing a beat at 13.2 ppg. Jake Layman and Evan Smotrycz round out the top threats with 11.6 and 11.0 ppg, respectively.

Florida State (18-12, 9-9) wasn't able to make any kind of headway in the conference standings this season, finishing that year at .500, due to a run of four wins in the last six games. Defense has never really been a problem under Leonard Hamilton's watchful eye and this year was no different, with the Seminoles ranking sixth in the conference in scoring defense (65.9 ppg) and second in field-goal percentage defense (.397). The team didn't put any player in the top 10 in scoring in the ACC, but three Seminoles finished in the top 20. Aaron Thomas led the way with 14.1 ppg (14th in the ACC), while Ian Miller (16th at 13.7 ppg) and Okaro White (19th at 13.3 ppg) were also effective.

The winner of the Wake Forest/Notre Dame clash with get fifth-seeded Pittsburgh on Thursday.

Just like Syracuse and Notre Dame, Pittsburgh (23-8, 11-7) left the comforts of year after year of dominant play in the Big East to try its hand in the ACC. The Panthers were in the conference race early on but withered from late January to late February and fell out of contention. Aggressive play at both ends of the floor is what Pittsburgh brings to the table. The Panthers finished third in the ACC in scoring (72.6 ppg), fifth in scoring defense (62.5 ppg), third in scoring margin (+10.1) and second in rebounding margin (+6.4). A veteran-laden squad is highlighted by the play of seniors Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna. The 6-foot-5 Patterson ranks fifth in the conference in scoring at 17.6 ppg. The 6-9 Zanna adds 12.5 ppg and ranks second in the ACC in rebounding (8.3 rpg). Cameron Wright (10.8 ppg) provides another option for Pitt at the offensive end.

The Virginia Tech/Miami-Florida winner will take on seventh-seeded NC State in the second round.

NC State (19-12, 9-9) ended the year with back-to-back wins to pull even in league play. Scoring wasn't really a problem for the Wolfpack this season at 71.2 ppg on .458 shooting (fifth in the league in both categories. A lot of that had to do with the play of sophomore sensation T.J. Warren. The 6-8 youngster took the ACC by storm this season, leading the league and ranking fourth nationally in scoring at an eye-popping 24.8 ppg. The real problem for Mark Gottfried's squad is the lack of a supporting cast. Ralston Turner ranks a distant second on the team with 10.0 ppg, with Desmond Lee and Anthony Barber behind him at 8.9 ppg each.

Day two concludes with sixth-seeded Clemson meeting the Georgia Tech/Boston College winner.

Clemson (19-11, 10-8) boasted some of the nation's best defensive play this season, but that didn't propel the Tigers into conference contention. Brad Brownell's squad had a marquee win in mid-January over Duke, but nothing of real note after that. The team did however, win four of its last six games to finish with a winning record in league play. Allowing just 57.6 ppg, the Tigers finished in the top five in the nation in scoring defense, albeit second in the ACC. Opponents shot just .397 from the floor against Clemson this year (tied for second in the ACC), including a league-low .281 from behind the arc. With that kind of defensive play, Clemson was able to mask its lack of scoring depth for the most part. K.J. McDaniels is a prolific threat at 17.2 ppg, but Rod Hall is a distant second in the scoring column at 9.6 ppg.

Quarterfinal action will be the first postseason action for Virginia, Syracuse, Duke and North Carolina.

While many thought Virginia (25-6, 16-2) would eventually fall off its torrid pace, the Cavaliers did the opposite, getting better as the season wore on. The team won 13 straight games entering the season finale, including a 75-56 rout of Syracuse to capture only its second outright ACC crown in school history and first since 1981. The year didn't particularly end on a strong note, with a 75-69 overtime loss on the road at Maryland, but the top seed and conference crown had already been earned. What Virginia does better than anyone else in the country is play stifling defense. The Cavaliers lead the nation in scoring defense (55.4 ppg), holding foes to a meager .384 shooting. The team also enjoys positives in both rebounding (+6.5) and turnover (+1.4) margins. Scoring isn't a priority thanks to the stellar defense, but the team's 66.3 ppg average (285th nationally) was more than enough this season. The Cavaliers are led by a pair of guards in Malcolm Brogdon (12.6 ppg) and Joe Harris (11.4 ppg). Akil Mitchell (7.1 ppg) isn't much of a scorer, but is the team's top rebounder (6.9 rpg).

Syracuse (27-4, 14-4) held the top spot in the national polls for a few weeks and didn't lose its first game until Feb. 19 against Boston College, but the wheels fell off the proverbial cart down the stretch, as Jim Boeheim's squad dropped four of its last six games, settling for a second-place finish in the team's first season in the ACC. Marquee victories over the likes of Villanova, North Carolina and Duke certainly justify Syracuse's standing as one of the favorites coming into this postseason. Syracuse's defensive reputation carried over from the Big East to the ACC, as the Orange dominated for the most part at that end of the floor, limiting foes to just 59.3 ppg, on .411 shooting. The team also played very disciplined basketball, averaging just 9.0 turnovers per game and boasting of a +4.5 turnover margin. Balance is apparent on the Syracuse roster, with four of the team's five starters making significant contributions. C.J. Fair leads the way with 16.9 ppg, getting help along the frontcourt from Jerami Grant (12.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg). The backcourt tandem of sniper Trevor Cooney (12.5 ppg) and playmaker Tyler Ennis (12.4 ppg, 5.5 apg) is equally productive and tough to handle.

Like Syracuse, Duke (24-7, 13-5) was in the running for the conference crown for a while, but just couldn't cover the ground between itself and the consistent Cavaliers. Losses on the road at North Carolina and Wake Forest late left Mike Krzyzewski's team on the outside looking in, but a big win over arch rival North Carolina in the regular-season finale gave the Blue Devils third-place. Offensive proficiency was the key in Durham this season, as Duke led the ACC in scoring (79.8 ppg), 3-point field-goal percentage (.393) and 3- pointers made (9.2 per game). Freshman phenom Jabari Parker certainly lived up to the hype and will more than likely be one-and-done in Durham. The 6-8 youngster finished second in the ACC in scoring (19.2 ppg) and first in rebounding (9.0 rpg). Fellow newcomer Rodney Hood uses his 3-point acumen to fill up the basket to the tune of 16.5 ppg (ninth in the ACC). Point guard Quinn Cook rounds out the top scoring threats on the Duke roster at 11.4 ppg, and also serves as the team's top distributor (4.5 apg). Other playmakers of note include Rasheed Sulaimon (9.5 ppg), Andre Dawkins (8.4 ppg) and Amile Jefferson (6.5 ppg).

There is no denying that North Carolina (23-8, 13-5) had some lulls this season, but very few teams over the second half of the campaign played better than the Tar Heels. Potential was certainly evident throughout the year, with marquee victories over the likes of Louisville, Michigan State, Kentucky and Duke. Roy Williams' squad won 12 straight games down the stretch to climb the conference ladder, before falling in the regular-season finale at Duke to finish tied with the Blue Devils, but settling for the four-seed in this event. The team battled through its share of adversity, as its top player P.J. Hairston never suited up for the squad and savvy guard Leslie McDonald missed a fair share of games. Other stood up and led the way in Chapel Hill, starting with sophomore guard Marcus Paige, who wore two hats, serving as the team's top scorer (17.1 ppg) and distributor (4.5 apg). The supporting cast was instrumental as well, thanks to the play of James Michael McAdoo (14.2 ppg), McDonald (10.7 ppg) and sixth-man Brice Johnson (10.2 ppg).