After two days of bubble matchups and beatdowns, Thursday’s ACC Tournament schedule brings together the conference’s best. The mini-vacation afforded teams with the double bye is finally over and the quarterfinals are here. At 9pm (or more likely 9:40pm) Virginia will look to advance to the semifinals for a second straight year, but before that happens we’ve still got three other opportunities to break the bank.
ACC Tournament Prediction Record: 4-2-1
Note: No profits are guaranteed. Gambling is a risk. It is also illegal in many states and illegal activities are bad.
Game #1: #1 North Carolina Tar Heels (26-6, 14-4 in ACC) v. #9 Miami Hurricanes (21-10, 10-8 in ACC)
Time/Channel: 12pm, ESPN/ACCNetwork
Point Spread: North Carolina -8
Regular Season Meetings (Home team in bold): 1/28: Miami 77, North Carolina 62
Overview: Top seeded North Carolina begins their ACC Title defense and quest to lock up a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament at noon, but Miami won’t be an easy opening round game. When these teams met in January the Canes dominated the Tar Heels, racing out to a 17 point halftime lead and handing UNC its largest loss of the season (UVa was the only other team to beat the Heels by double digits).
Much like Virginia, Miami recognized that the only way to beat North Carolina is to slow down their offense. While UNC still scored 62 points in their regular season meeting, Miami held them to just 35% shooting from the field and 25% from three (again almost identical to what the Heels shot in Charlottesville). It’s certainly possible that the Canes can bottle up Carolina’s offensive Hydra a second time it’s not likely to happen, UNC hasn’t lost to the same team twice in a season since Duke in 2014-15. The Heels advance.
The Pick: North Carolina -8
Game #2: #4 Louisville Cardinals (24-7, 12-6 in ACC) v. #5 Duke Blue Devils (24-8, 11-7 in ACC)
Time/Channel: 2pm, ESPN/ACCNetwork
Point Spread: Louisville -1.5
Regular Season Meetings (Home team in bold): 1/14: Louisville 78, Duke 69
Overview: The afternoon’s second marquee matchup brings together two Hall of Fame coaches who combined have collected over 1,800 wins and used over 400 ounces of shoe polish as hair product. Both Duke and Louisville are likely top 3 seeds when the bracket is revealed next week, but the winner of this game could make a strong argument for a 2 seed if things break right.
Louisville won the lone regular season matchup on the back of a 17 point, 11 rebound performance from junior center Anas Mahmoud, a man who appears to have never seen a basketball before everytime the Cardinals play the Hoos. That loss was part of an early season swoon for a Duke team that lacked an identity but even as the Devils have rounded into form, cause for concern still lingers. While Duke’s roster is talented it isn’t very deep, all four starters played 30+ minutes against Clemson and sixth man Grayson Allen only logged 12 minutes and zero points as he struggles with a lingering ankle injury. That lack of depth will wear on a team against Louisville’s press and Coach K may secretly be content going home early and resting his guys for a few extra days.
The Pick: Louisville -1.5
Game #3: #2 Florida State Seminoles (24-7, 12-6 in ACC) v. #7 Virginia Tech Hokies (22-9, 10-8 in ACC)
Time/Channel: 7pm, ESPN/ACCNetwork
Point Spread: Florida State -6
Regular Season Meetings (Home team in bold): 1/7: Florida State 93, Virginia Tech 78
Overview: Wednesday night’s win against Wake Forest was a perfect example of how this Virginia Tech team is nowhere near a well-rounded product, but still has enough talent to be dangerous. After a first half in which the Hokies allowed Wake Forest to score 44 points and take a seven point halftime lead VT buckled down in the second half, and allowed Wake to score 46 points. The complete lack of defense was forgotten, however, as the Hokie offense came alive to the tune of 62 second half points, propelling VT to a 99-90 win. Virginia Tech’s defensive effort isn’t consistent enough to compete regularly with the ACC’s elite, but their offense can outscore anyone on any given night.
On paper this appears to be a bad matchup for VT against a Florida State squad that may boast the most athleticism and raw talent of any team in the conference. In their January matchup the Noles were more than content to run with the Hokies and let their superior talent shine in the open court to the tune of a 15 point victory. But while that Seminole team was a finely tuned machine that looked like a Final Four contender, they enter today having gone just 6-5 in their final 11 games, and just 2-5 outside of Tallahassee. The Noles are struggling while VT appears to be peaking. Don’t be surprised if the Hokies pull the upset here, and even if they fall they should have enough firepower to cover.
The Pick: Virginia Tech +6
Game #4: #3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (23-8, 12-6 in ACC) v. #6 Virginia Cavaliers (22-9, 11-7 in ACC)
Time/Channel: 9pm, ESPN/ACCNetwork
Point Spread: Virginia -4
Regular Season Meetings (Home team in bold): 1/24: Virginia 71, Notre Dame 54
Overview: A win-or-go-home matchup against a former Big East team that UVa has utterly dominated since they joined the ACC, what could possibly go wrong here? Virginia is 5-0 against the Irish since the latter became an ACC member and four of those wins have come by double-digits. In their matchup in South Bend earlier this year, UVa continued their dominance with a 17 point victory that also served as Ty Jerome’s coming out party.
With everything seemingly in Virginia’s favor you’ll have to forgive my nagging trepidation, and I swear it’s not just because I see Syracuse comparisons around every corner. When Virginia beat Notre Dame earlier this year the Irish were in the midst of a midseason swoon, losing five of six, but they’ve since turned things around and won six of their final seven with the lone loss occurring in closely contested game at Louisville. Virginia has also recovered nicely from their own slump but even against Pitt on Wednesday the Hoos showed inconsistency on both ends, mixing in occasionally dominant shooting and defense with prolonged scoring droughts and open looks for the Panthers. UVa can survive those spells against lower-tier competition, but to beat Notre Dame they’ll need to play a complete 40 minutes and I’m just not sure that’s something we can count on right now.
The Pick: Notre Dame +4