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March 9, 2011
Like Old Times
ACC Tournament

by Asher Fusco

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2011 ACC Tournament
March 10-13
Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC
Bracket (pdf)

Log5 odds by Ken Pomeroy
One-half a home-court advantage is credited to all NC schools in games vs. non-NC schools.

Seed                   Qtrs   Semis   Final   Champ
 2 Duke                100    86.9    75.5    54.5
 1 North Carolina      100    86.6    67.2    30.5
 4 Clemson             100    65.6    20.4     5.1
 3 Florida State       100    53.4     9.5     3.0
 6 Virginia Tech      73.7    39.1     7.6     2.6
 7 Maryland           75.9    11.4     6.2     2.1
 5 Boston College     92.0    34.0     7.4     1.3
 9 Miami FL           65.7    10.4     4.2     0.7
11 Georgia Tech       26.3     7.6     0.7     0.1
10 N.C. State         24.1     1.7     0.5     0.09
 8 Virginia           34.3     3.1     0.8     0.08
12 Wake Forest         8.0     0.4     0.01    0.0003

Two things are certain in the ACC: Duke and North Carolina. Sure, either five or six teams from the Atlantic Coast are NCAA tourney-bound, depending on which bracket expert you believe. But the ACC tournament title is Duke's or North Carolina's to win based on the eye test, the record test, the efficiency test and Ken Pomeroy's always-handy log5 test.

Looking at Pomeroy's numbers above, it's easy to draw comparisons to a similarly stratified league on the other side of the country. The West Coast Conference's log5 picture looked like a condensed version of the ACC's: a heavily favored No. 2 seed followed by a formidable top seed and a few other teams with outside shots at the title, to put it kindly. The WCC tournament went about like Pomeroy's numbers said it would, with Gonzaga and Saint Mary's pushing past the competition and into the final where the Zags took the automatic bid.

Meanwhile back on the East Coast, the ACC regular season provided plenty of proof that the league's next auto bid will probably go to the Blue Devils or Tar Heels. Duke played at a solid-to-high level in 15 of its 16 of its ACC games, suffering two of its losses by less than five points on the road (at Florida State, at Virginia Tech) and its third in less dignified fashion at North Carolina. Despite its second-place finish in the standings and corresponding tournament seeding, Duke posted the conference's best offensive and defensive efficiency numbers and its top overall efficiency margin, making Nolan Smith and company a safe bet to make the finals and the likely tournament winner.

As strange as it may seem, Duke certainly has something big to play for this week. The Blue Devils aren't locks for the No. 1 NCAA tournament seeding line, and a slip-up short of the ACC finals could drop Duke to the two-line, depending on how Notre Dame, Texas, BYU, and yes, North Carolina, fare over the weekend.

About those Tar Heels. After a shaky 7-4 start that had some crying NIT, an ugly 20-point loss in January to also-ran Georgia Tech, and the transfer of lead guard Larry Drew II, North Carolina pulled off the nation's highest-level Lazarus job. On the shoulders of freshman point guard Kendall Marshall and fast-maturing freshman Harrison Barnes, UNC has won seven in a row and 12 of 13 since mid-January. In his most recent edition of Tuesday Truths John Gasaway pointed out that since Marshall's takeover of the offense, the Heels have scored 1.09 points per possession while keeping their defense around their ACC season mark of 0.94. If that continues, North Carolina could have as good a chance as Duke does to win the ACC tournament crown.

The rest of the league is either jockeying for better seeds, spots on the bubble, or just playing out the string. The power of its 11-5 ACC won-loss record should put Florida State on the inside track for a bid even if Clemson and Virginia Tech were more effective in conference play and just as likely to win the conference title. A potential Friday night matchup between the Seminoles and Hokies (should Virginia Tech dispatch Georgia Tech) could be the most NCAA tourney-pertinent game in Greensboro, closely followed by a potential 5-vs.-4 Boston College-Clemson matchup earlier in Friday's second round (assuming BC takes care of Wake Forest on Thursday).

Virginia Tech is playing for that vanity 20th victory, and though pre-bracket bracketeers Andy Glockner and Joe Lunardi both place Virginia Tech in as a 12-seed, Malcolm Delaney's team could use another victory to bolster its post-Duke upset credentials. Clemson already has 20 victories and an above-.500 ACC finish, but losses at South Carolina, NC State and Virginia don't look good on the Tigers' resume. Boston College is another middle-of-the-pack team hanging around the bubble thanks to a 9-7 ACC record but suffering from two losses to Ivy League foes. The relative weakness of the conference's bottom two seeds gives Virginia Tech and Boston College easy paths out of the first round, setting up quarterfinals that could decide who goes dancing and who does whatever action verb applies to the NIT. Based on Pomeroy's work, things look most bleak for Boston College and brightest for Clemson.

As for spoilers, the most likely are Maryland and Miami. The Terrapins could never gain traction and ended up dropping three straight to end the regular season at 7-9, while the Canes were their usual less-than-notable selves this season. The conference's bottom four don't stand much chance of making noise this week as they limp toward the finish line.

Asher Fusco is a writer in New York City. Follow him on Twitter at AsherFusco.

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A Clear Top Three (03/09)

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