1.) Realistically, how far will there Terrapins go in the ACC Tournament?
Michael Willis: There are definite drawbacks to storming the court when you pull off an upset against a team you’re going to be facing later on in the year, the biggest being that it pisses them off. So even if the Terrapins abuse Wake Forest in the first round, they are going to storm the court into a buzz-saw in the second round against a healthy, well rested Duke team.
Given the manner in which the Terps lost their last game against Virginia (blowing a 19 point lead and Len scoring a game winning basket for the other team), and how badly they play on the road (2-7 ACC record away from Comcast), momentum and odds clearly aren’t in their favor at the moment. A win against Wake Forest isn’t going to change the fact that they have to play a terrifying Duke team, and it’s not going to make them any better on the road. For that reason alone, I have a very sour feeling in my stomach thinking about how far Maryland can go in the ACC tournament and, by extension, the NCAA tournament.
I mean let’s just say they do beat Wake Forest, then they do beat Duke because they’d done it once before. They’ll then have to play either North Carolina or Florida State, and have an 0-4 record against those two. If they can manage to beat Wake, and manage to finally beat North Carolina and/or Florida State, then I’ll give them decent odds to beat someone from the upper half of the bracket like Miami/N.C. State. Unfortunately, it’s just highly unlikely they go that far, and as a result won’t be sniffing the tourney.
Michael Bohlin: In order for the Terrapins to go to the big dance later this month they will more than likely have to win four games in four days as the 7 seed in the ACC Tournament, which kicks off tomorrow in Greensboro, NC. By finishing the season with losses against UNC and UVA the Terrapins locked themselves into the seventh seed and, as a result, drew an opening round match up against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. In both of their regular season meetings the Terps beat Wake Forest by double digits, 86-60 in College Park and 67-57 in Winston-Salem. While the old addage is that it’s tough to beat a team three times in the same season as long as Maryland sticks to what worked for them in their prior meetings with the Deacons, getting points in the paint by pounding the ball inside to the big men and attacking the basket off the dribble from the perimeter.
Now comes the question of how far these Terps can realistically go? Should they get past Wake Forest tomorrow night they will have a rematch with the Duke Blue Devils, at full strength this time now that Ryan Kelly has returned, in what should be a pro-Duke crowd in Greensboro. This will be a very tough test for Maryland as the Terps haven’t had to face Duke at full strength as of yet, a group that has yet to lose on the season. Mark Turgeon’s bunch have already proven they can beat the Blue Devils on their home floor but they will face a tough test should they get by Wake Forest tomorrow evening.
Should Maryland upset Duke again the next step in the gauntlet would be a third game versus the North Carolina Tar Heels who have proved to be an extremely tough match up for this team. So I would have to say that the furthest I could see the Terrapins getting in this tournament is the semi-finals but it would be an uphill battle to make it there by having to go through Duke for a second time this year.
2.) What’s the biggest storyline heading into the ACC tournament?
MW: Obviously Miami losing three of their last five heading into the ACC tournament is big, and North Carolina’s relatively solid play (save for their game against Duke) is also interesting. Still, the Ryan Kelly-led Dukies have to be the biggest storyline heading into the tournament. Like them or not, Duke has yet to lose a game this season when Ryan Kelly has suited up for them. His importance to their team cannot be overstated.
In his first game back, Kelly didn’t look like he had any lingering effects from his injury, dropping 36 points and seven three-pointers against the #5 team in the country (at the time it was Miami). Everyone in the ACC, and the nation as a whole, let out a collective shudder thinking about what this team is capable of with Kelly back in action. The ACC tournament should make for a great primer heading into NCAA tourney play, and I know I’d personally like to see what this team is capable of. If they win the entire tournament handily at full strength, it’s safe to say they’ll be one of the hottest teams in the country.
MB: The biggest storyline heading into tomorrow is that this will be the last ACC Tournament as we know it. Starting next season, with the addition of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, the tournament will include 15 teams forcing some interesting scheduling decisions that will have to be made by the league office between now and next year’s conference tournament. While the lone season of playing Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame will be exciting for Terrapins fans, as they ready themselves for the move to the Big 10 in 2014, for many this week’s tournament will truly signify the end of an era. With Gary Williams set to be honored as an ACC Legend in Greensboro this weekend wouldn’t it add to the nostalgia of the event were the Terrapins to pull off the unthinkable and win the ACC?
3.) Who is the darkhorse team in the ACC tournament this year?
MW: The darkhorse team could theoretically be Duke, since they aren’t the top seed, but I’m going to go with another squad that seems to give really good team fits: Virginia. When you talk about the best teams in the ACC, you speak of Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State, and Florida State. Which team has beaten all of them? You guessed it.
I don’t know what it is about them, but when Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell are playing sound basketball, the Cavaliers usually win. They play a stingy brand of defense, and are versatile enough on offense that they can score with anyone. Can they put together a four game winning streak to take the ACC crown? Well, eight of their ten losses have come on the road so my guess is definitely not. However, considering how they match up with anyone I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say yes.
MB: Duke has been considered the overwhelming favorite to win the ACC Tournament by essentially all of the pundits in the college basketball world. Their resume speaks for itself and the Blue Devils have earned the distinction of being the team to beat without a shadow of a doubt from what they have done on the floor as of late. If I had to pick one team as a darkhorse candidate to take the league title away from Coach K it would be the Florida State Seminoles. In any sort of tournament situation you need a closer to be successful and the Noles have, for my money, the best closer in the ACC in Michael Snaer. He has made a name for himself throughout his career by taking, and many times making, the last shot in pressure situations. I am not sold on the fact that the Noles will in fact win the league but were I Roy Williams I would not be looking forward to a potential opening game in Greensboro against Michael Snaer and the Seminoles.
4.) Finally, who wins the entire tournament?
MW: Duke is probably going to come out on top come tourney time. I can’t say it enough: when Ryan Kelly is playing, Duke simply has not lost yet. His leadership, and most importantly, near unguardable three-point shooting makes an already daunting Duke team even better. The way the Blue Devils completely manhandled North Carolina in their season finale is telling, and what Kelly did against a great defensive team like Miami is even more so. I’m not sure any team in the ACC has the firepower to contend with them, and it should show in this tournament.
The Blue Devils certainly have a tough road ahead of them, with a rivalry game against Maryland, then another potential rivalry game against North Carolina, and after that Miami or N.C. State. If any team can do it, though, it’s probably going to be the Blue Devils. So as much as it pains me to say it, they’re the team to beat and it’s not even close.
MB: In the end I believe the Duke Blue Devils will end up winning the ACC Tournament. They are one of the hottest teams in the country right now and no one in the media will let you forget how they are undefeated with Ryan Kelly in the lineup. That is a statistic that is hard to ignore and until someone shows they are capable of beating the Blue Devils when they are at full strength it is difficult to pick against them in a tournament setting where they should have a home court advantage against most of their potential opponents.