The Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament will be held at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. from Tuesday March 8 to Saturday March 12, marking the first time since 2005 that the tournament has been held in the nation’s capital. With the ACC’s recent expansion, the tournament will be moving further north in the coming years. The 2017 ACC Tournament will be at the Verizon Center again, and in the following years it will be held in the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Both in terms of venues and champions, the ACC Tournament has steered away from being centered on the traditional ACC teams located in North Carolina. Since the tournament started being played in 1954 up until 2011, 50 out of the 58 champions were from the state of North Carolina, with all those championships coming from UNC, NC State, Duke, and Wake Forest. However, this year’s tournament could see a fifth consecutive champion from outside the state of North Carolina, as Florida State, Miami, Virginia, and Notre Dame have won the past four titles.
One thing that has stayed consistent across the history of the ACC Tournament, and will remain the case this season, is that both the competition and the stakes will be high.
Let’s take a look at some of the most exciting storylines going into the ACC Tournament.
Coaches to Watch:
Jim Larrañaga, #3 Miami
Larrañaga was deservingly named ACC Coach of the Year Sunday, as Miami has exceeded expectations all season long. Picked as 5th in the preseason, the Hurricanes were in contention for the ACC regular season title until they fell to Virginia Tech in their final regular season contest. Larrañaga’s highlights of the season include wins over Virginia, Louisville, and Duke, as well as a number of quality nonconference wins.
Buzz Williams, #6 Virginia Tech
Buzz Williams has done an exceptional job in his second year in Blacksburg. After a number of years in the basement of the ACC, and being picked to finish 14th out of 15, teams in the ACC. Buzz has brought everything out of his team and has the Hokies in 6th place in the ACC standings. After his team started out 4-1 in the ACC, they lost 7 of their next 8 matchups, but have since rebounded with a five game winning streak they will look to continue going into the tournament.
Exciting Potential Early-Round Matchups:
#8 Pittsburgh- #9 Syracuse
This early-round matchup between “bubble” teams is one that has been called an “elimination game” by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. Depending on the number of “stolen bids”, or upsets in conference tournaments resulting in more teams coming out of a certain conference, these teams could see the field shrink, making this game even more crucial. Pitt swept the regular season series, but none of that matters come Wednesday. Look for Michael Gbinije to lead the Orange in scoring, and for their zone defense to try to contain Michael Young down low and on the offensive boards in an old-school Big East showdown with serious implications.
#3 Miami-#6 Virginia Tech
This potential early-round game features two teams that faced off in the last game of the regular season, when Virginia Tech ruined any chance Miami had of winning the ACC regular season title. Miami will be looking to bounce back from that loss in hopes of still earning a top-2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, while Virginia Tech is certainly on the outside at this point, but could play the role of spoiler yet again against the Hurricanes. The Hokies could even get some consideration for an at-large bid, but that would require getting a number of marquee wins this week, such as second wins over Miami or UVA. Miami will need to heat up from deep to advance from this rematch, as they were ice cold (4 for 24) in the last meeting.
#2 Virginia-#10 Georgia Tech
Another rematch of an upset from the regular season, Georgia Tech will have to defeat Clemson to get another crack at a big-time win resembling their January 9th 68-64 home victory over the Cavaliers. With Malcolm Brogdon having the Cavaliers playing their best basketball right now, it would be tough for lightning to strike twice, but the Yellow Jackets join the Hokies as a team certainly out of the field at this point, but with the opportunity to get a number of big wins that could play them into the conversation.
Stars with Tournament Take-over Potential:
Malcolm Brogdon, #2 Virginia
The first guy mentioned has to be the ACC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. Brogdon has the responsibility of leading the #2 seed Virginia Cavaliers to their second ACC Tournament title in three years, a feat that has never been accomplished in program history. Brogdon has scored in double-digits in every game this season since the season opener against Morgan State, and will look to stay hot in hisLast Chance for a conference tournament title in his redshirt senior season.
Grayson Allen, #5 Duke
Grayson Allen seems to be most noticeable on the biggest stages. He was for the most part unknown in the college basketball world until the biggest games of them all last season, the NCAA Tournament National Championship. On a team loaded with top freshmen Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, and Justice Winslow, Allen was the one who impressed the most against Wisconsin, scoring 16 much-needed points to help the Blue Devils get their fifth national championship in program history. Allen also showed his clutch gene in a buzzer-beater fashion against Virginia, then led Duke with 23 points just a few days later in a road win at Chapel Hill. Allen will look to prove this week that the fifth seed should not be overlooked this year.
Jaron Blossomgame, #7 Clemson
Clemson may need a number of big wins in this tournament, and will be rooting for conference favorites across the country in hopes of very few stolen bids in order to be in consideration for an at-large bid. If the Tigers are going to make noise in this year’s tournament, All-ACC First Team wingman and the ACC Most Improved Player will have to continue his elite play. Clemson has exceeded expectations this season, picked 12th in the league before the season, and has done so while not playing a single true home game all season. Blossomgame could be in the spotlight in a potential Thursday matchup against Malcolm Brogdon, which would feature two of the ACC’s best wingman on both sides of the ball.
Brice Johnson, #1 North Carolina
The other unanimous All-ACC First Team member along with Brogdon, Brice Johnson has big-game potential. Johnson is averaging a double-double with 16.8 points and 10.8 rebounds, and put up 39 points and 23 rebounds in a January game against Florida State. The athletic forward will hope to bring the ACC Tournament title back to the state of North Carolina. A crucial game for the UNC star could come in the championship against Virginia, a team known for double-teaming big men in the post, which forced Johnson into 5 turnovers in the Tar Heels most recent loss.
Mason Plumlee, #5 Duke
With the news that Amile Jefferson is officially not returning this season, Plumlee will have to continue to play big down low. The Duke rotation consists of Plumlee, four guards, and a shallow bench for the most part of only Luke Kennard. Plumlee is averaging 8.7 rebounds a game and has to continue to be a beast on the glass throughout the tournament, with Brandon Ingram being the only teammate averaging over 5 rebounds. Plumlee must stay out of foul trouble in order for Duke to make an ACC title run.
Mike Tobey, #2 Virginia
Mike Tobey has been an inconsistent low-post threat for the Cavaliers throughout his four-year career, but has shown flashes of being a dominant offensive weapon. On his senior night against Louisville, Tobey showed the toughness Tony Bennett has looked for in his seven-foot center, setting a career-high with 20 rebounds along with 15 points. In his senior season, Tobey could give the Cavaliers the consistent scoring and rebounding needed to be a favorite pick in the ACC and NCAA Tournaments.
Isaiah Hicks, #1 North Carolina
North Carolina, similarly to Duke, only goes two or three into their bench most games. However, the quality of UNC’s few bench players separates the Tar Heels from the Blue Devils. Isaiah Hicks and Theo Pinson have both had solid seasons off the bench, and Hicks was named the 2016 ACC Sixth Man of the Year. Hicks does not boast many monster games, yet averages a steady 9.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, which gives Roy Williams the ability to rest Brice Johnson when needed.
With the way the ACC stacks up this year, the eventual champion will have to run through the nation’s elite, in terms of both players and coaches, and will certainly earn their automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. With two ACC teams projected as 1-seeds in the NCAA Tournament and seven total ACC teams predicted to be in the field as per ESPN.com, competitiveness will be at an all-time high starting Tuesday at the Verizon Center between the fourteen schools fighting for their right to play throughout March, and to be the 2016 Atlantic Coastal Conference Champions.