The Dagger will be previewing eight of this week's conference tournaments. Here's our look at the ACC tournament:
Dates: March 8-11
Site: Philips Arena (Atlanta, Ga.)
Draw: Click here
Favorite: Already by far the ACC's most talented team, North Carolina also benefits this week from a dream draw. Since fellow contenders Duke and Florida State, bubble hopeful Miami and surging Clemson are all in the bottom half of the bracket, the Tar Heels would only have to survive a quarterfinal vs. Maryland or Wake Forest and a semifinal against injury-plagued Virginia or NC State to reach the title game. North Carolina also shouldn't be lacking motivation this week. Unlike past years where the ACC's regular-season champ had already locked up a No. 1 seed, the Tar Heels probably need to win the conference tournament to stave off Kansas, Duke, Michigan State and others.
[Forde Minutes: North Carolina proves it's an NCAA title contender]
Three others who can win it: The two obvious choices are Duke and Florida State, both of whom pushed the Tar Heels until the final week for the ACC regular-season crown. The Blue Devils can be vulnerable to an upset because of their suspect defense and perimeter-reliant offense, but they've also proven they can beat anyone in the nation when their threes are falling and Austin Rivers is in a groove. Florida State's defense will keep them competitive with top teams, but the Seminoles could be ripe for a quarterfinal upset against highly motivated Miami if their offense stalls. Of potential dark horses, Virginia, NC State, Miami and Clemson, the Hurricanes have the best shot. They've beaten Duke and Florida State already this season, so they should be confident.
Three players to watch:
• Tyler Zeller, C, North Carolina — On a star-studded Tar Heels roster, Zeller has excelled most consistently. He's a deserving ACC Player of the Year.
• Austin Rivers, G, Duke — High-scoring freshman tallied double figures in Duke's final 14 games of the regular season.
• Mike Scott, F, Virginia — Averaged an impressive 17.9 points and 8.3 boards despite Virginia's molasses-slow tempo. Can he put his injury-plagued team on his back in Atlanta?
Bubble implications: A quarterfinal win from Virginia may not be necessary, but that would leave no doubt the Cavaliers will join North Carolina, Duke and Florida State in the NCAA tournament. Beyond that, it's up to Miami and perhaps NC State to ensure the ACC gets more than four teams this season. The Hurricanes would probably feel good about their chances if they win a can't-lose first-round game against Georgia Tech and then beat Florida State for the second time in two weeks in the quarterfinals. It's a harder road for NC State, which probably needs to reach the title game with a win over North Carolina in the semis to sneak in.
Projected champ: For all the criticism North Carolina endured after losing to Florida State by 33 or collapsing down the stretch against Duke, the Tar Heels appear to be peaking at the right time. They're talented, they're motivated, they have a cushy draw and they're probably the team who will be cutting down the nets on Sunday.
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