ACC tournament preview: Four contenders emerge after drama-laden season

WINSTON-SALEM, NC - MARCH 05: Jabari Parker #1 of the Duke Blue Devils huddles with teammates during their game against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Joel Coliseum on March 5, 2014 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The Dagger will be previewing this week's marquee conference tournaments. Here's our look at the Atlantic Coast Conference:

ACC Tournament
Dates: March 12-16
Site: Greensboro (Greensboro Coliseum)
Top four seeds: 1. Virginia 2. Syracuse 3. Duke 4. North Carolina
Draw: Click here

Best draw: Duke. None of the top four seeds can skate through their potential quarterfinal matchups, but if all four do make it, Duke might be in the best position. Its potential opponent, Syracuse, skidded into the postseason, dropping four of five before a bounce-back win at Florida State. The Orange need a healthy Jerami Grant and Trevor Cooney to emerge from his perimeter slump in order to beat the Blue Devils.   

Worst draw: Virginia. The No. 1 seed didn't earn Virginia a favorable path. Its quarterfinal opponent will either be the Maryland team that beat the Cavs on Sunday or a desperate Florida State team hoping to resuscitate its at-large hopes with a big win. Even if Virginia survives that, North Carolina would have the home crowd in a potential semifinal and Duke or Syracuse loom on the other side of the bracket.   

Three players to watch:

Jabari Parker, F, Duke — Of all the heralded freshmen in college hoops this season, none have been more impressive than Parker. He can score in so many ways, from bull-rushing the rim, to sinking a jumper, to with his back to the basket. 

• Marcus Paige, G, North Carolina — On a North Carolina team with few shooters, Paige's perimeter shooting is key. He's taking 6.1 threes per game and hitting nearly 40 percent. 

• T.J. Warren, F, North Carolina State — The ACC player of the year joined Tim Duncan and Horace Grant as the only players to lead the league in scoring and field goal percentage. 

Bubble implications: The ACC's top four teams will receive high seeds in the NCAA tournament, but nobody else is completely safe. With Pittsburgh's dearth of quality wins, it would be wise not to blow its opening game against either Wake Forest or Notre Dame. Florida State is probably the next-best position, but the Seminoles probably need to beat Maryland in the opening round and upset Virginia in the quarterfinals to have a realistic chance. Clemson and NC State probably need to win the ACC tournament to get a bid, but a trip to the title game could at least get them in the conversation.

Projected champ: North Carolina. In a league where any of the top four teams are capable of winning the tournament, why not pick the hottest team? The Tar Heels had won 12 in a row before dropping their regular season finale at Duke last Saturday. Luckily for North Carolina, the ACC tournament isn't played at Cameron Indoor Stadium and the Blue Devils are on the other side of the bracket anyway.

- - - - - - -

Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!