The ACC has always been a premier conference, and this year is no different. The super-conference boasts three of the top ten teams and five of the top 17 in the nation.
As of March 1, North Carolina is clinging to the lead with 13-4 record in conference. Trailing UNC by only one game is Miami at 12-4 and close behind is 11-5 Virginia and Louisville. One staggering aspect about the ACC is the fact that Virginia is the highest ranked team in the ACC at number four in country, but they are not even a top two team in the ACC standings.
As interesting as it is to predict where the teams will finish within the conference, but the real question is what will happen in the ACC tournament, and more importantly, the NCAA tournament.
If it stands how it is today, Virginia is in a position to be a number one seed in the NCAA tournament, and Miami and UNC are in a solid situation to be two seeds. Louisville is banned from postseason play in 2016; nevertheless the ACC has several supplementary teams that will be in the tournament, including Duke, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and perhaps more.
So which team (or teams) will make a splash this march?
Title Winner: UNC. The Tar Heels have what it takes to make a run to the national championship. A trio of Brice Johnson (16.9 PPG, 10.4 RPG), Justin Jackson (12.4 PPG) and Marcus Paige (12.3 PPG, 3.5 ASP) have lead the way for UNC in 2016 (not to mention Joe Berry II). Carolina has been a tough team to track this year. The Heel’s pulled off wins over #2 Maryland, #11 Miami and #22 UCLA, but disturbingly, they haven’t beaten any other ranked teams. Losses to unranked Northern Iowa, Texas and Notre Dame don’t help their resume, and their record against top 25 teams is a good but not great 3-3. On the other hand, the Northern Iowa game was played without Paige, Texas is now ranked and Notre Dame is a good team.
So why is it that I think UNC is going deep this March? Depth and experience. As if their starting lineup wasn’t worthy enough, eight players for UNC enjoy 19+ minutes of playing time per game. The importance of this cannot be stressed enough, especially when looking ahead to the most chaotic tournament in American sports looming ahead. Anything can happen in March, which is exactly why senior leadership from Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson will help guide UNC all the way to the top in 2016.
Title Contender: Virginia. Last season, the Cavaliers were sent home early, losing to an underrated and under seeded Michigan State team that ran all the way to the final four. Don’t expect the same thing to happen in 2016. I personally believe that Virginia will join UNC in the final four. Their defense is still incredible-allowing the third fewest PPG in the NCAA, and it’s also unique. Malcolm Brogdon (18.5 PPG) and Anthony Gill make up a dynamic duo on both sides of the ball for Virginia. The Cavs are an exceptional 4-1 over ranked teams, but also have a slew of bad losses. They need to be careful in the early rounds and stick to their game, and if they do, we may see Virginia playing in Houston this April.
Upset Pick: Duke. The Blue Devils are a popular pick every March, and after last year, who can blame them? But last year was last year, and history will not be repeating itself in 2016. I believe Duke will lose at home against UNC this Saturday, and I think they are prone to being upset in March madness. The team is predominantly made up of youngsters with a deficiency of experience, but more treacherous than that is the sobering fact that they rely on the three pointer. Grayson Allen, Brandon Ingram and Matt Jones can all hit the three, but what happens when Duke encounters a team with a good three point defense? Look for the Blue Devils to lose early, and if they do endure until the sweet 16, to not survive that round.
Sleeper: Syracuse. The Orange have the thirty-third best defense in the country, and have proved they can stick with some of the better teams in college basketball. They are a respectable 4-5 against the top 25, they have been tested time and time again, and they are undervalued in my opinion. Although Syracuse may be seeded somewhere between 8-11, watch out for an Orange splash in the first weekend of the madness.