2021 ACC Tournament Preview
It was a down year for the ACC, and specifically its blue bloods. North Carolina should find its way into the field of 68, but its rival in Durham could be spending March at home this year. Virginia was good, not great, this season, and Florida State had a weak close to its season as well.
The storyline in this tournament though, is the bubble. UNC, Louisville, Georgia Tech and Syracuse either have room to improve their resume, or need to keep winning to get in. Since the top of the conference does not have the strength of years past, a run from one of these teams in Greensboro, NC, is not out of the question.
Even in a “down year” for the Virginia Cavaliers, they remain the class of the ACC. Tony Bennett has led the ‘Hoos to three of the past four ACC regular season championships. Virginia has the best defense in the conference once again, though their pack-line scheme has shown more vulnerability this season than in those past. The ‘Hoos have an excellent frontcourt, with sharpshooter Sam Houser, the team’s leading scorer, and 7’1’’ forward Jay Huff, a 40% three point shooter. Point guard Kihei Clark penetrates defenses and finds shooters on the perimeter, a key point in their offense. Virginia is hard to prepare for in a tournament setting, and will be favored to win the tournament.
Like Leonard Hamilton’s traditional teams, Florida State goes deep into the bench and there is not one main guy to stop. M.J. Walker leads the Seminoles in scoring with about 13 points per game. Raiquan Gray and Scottie Barnes are the other double digit point-getters for the highest scoring team in the ACC. Florida State did not finish their season on a high note, but with the depth the Seminoles possess, they are dangerous in a tournament setting.
After years of success coaching at Wofford, Mike Young has broken through at Virginia Tech. The Hokies were one of the surprises in the conference this year, but they are for real. Virginia Tech defeated Villanova at the beginning of the season and crushed Virginia during conference play. Keve Aluma, who played for Young at Wofford, leads the Hokies with 15.9 points-per-game and 7.9 rebounds per game. The issue with Virginia Tech lies in the extended covid pauses and cancellations they had toward the end of the season.
The Yellow Jackets’ run in their last few games saved their postseason dreams. Georgia Tech beat Virginia Tech, Syracuse and Duke consecutively and snagged a double-bye in the bracket. Georgia Tech has very impressive wins, but awful losses have stuck them to the bubble at the moment. Moses Wright, the ACC player of the year, will look to solidify his team’s status in the tournament, and he will have the help of the ACC steals leader, Jose Alvarado. The Jackets finished the season strong, but now they need an even stronger showing this week to feel safe on Sunday.
The Tigers have quietly won six of their past seven games heading into the postseason. Aamir Sims is the lone double-digit scorer on the team, also leading Clemson in rebounds and assists. Guard Al-Amir Dawes has developed as of late, and will look to carry his hot streak into the ACC tournament.
UNC’s comeback win a few weeks ago over Florida State likely saved their season. The Duke win in their regular season-finale was impressive, but losing to Syracuse and taking an absolutely unnecessary home loss to Marquette was not ideal. Regardless, the Tar Heels should be in the field of 68, but winning a game or two in Greensboro would be well advised. Carolina’s frontcourt is extremely talented and deep, headlined by Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot who dominate inside.
Louisville has one of the more fragile resumes of the ACC bubble teams. They have some wins over bubble opponents, but nothing to stand out. Their best win game against a ranked Virginia Tech squad, and wins over Seton Hall and Georgia Tech. The key for the Cardinals will be their second round matchup; a win pretty much locks them up, but a loss leaves them at the mercy of bid thieves the rest of Championship Week. Carlik Jones has become a star as a grad transfer from Radford, now averaging 17 points-per-game at the power-five level. He can carry the Cardinals in this tournament, but Jae’lyn Withers and Samuell Williamson will need to step up in the frontcourt with the loss of Malik Williams to a foot injury.
The only normal part of this unprecedented season in college basketball is Syracuse in its usual spot, gasping for breath on the bubble leading up to Selection Sunday. Some years they get in, some years they fall short. This season points to the latter happening. A strong finish with wins against UNC and Clemson has put them in the at-large discussion though. The Orange have three scorers averaging over double-digits, most notably Buddy Boeheim who has a nice three point stroke.
When I think of the ACC, I think about some of the best coaches in college basketball. Therefore, I believe it's smart to ride with the best coaches on the best teams, since the talent in the conference is down from past seasons. I’ll take chalk in the championship game with a Virginia-Florida State matchup, and Tony Bennett will lead Virginia to another ACC Tournament Championship.