ACC Tournament starts early for NC teams

Three of the four local teams begin play on Wednesday

The NCAA Tournament fates of Jarkel Joiner and NC State along with Caleb Love and UNC will likley be determined at this week’s ACC Tournament in Greensboro. (Chris Seward / AP Photo)

GREENSBORO — As the ACC regular season wound down, it appeared we might see a first in the upcoming conference tournament: All four North Carolina teams were on pace to play back-to-back-to-back-to-back in Wednesday’s second round.

We’ve seen all four local teams in action on the same day before, of course, it’s just usually in the Thursday quarterfinals. To see all of North Carolina’s teams playing in what amounts to a preliminary round, before the big boys even show up, would have meant that all four teams missed out on the coveted double-bye into Thursday.

As it turned out, Duke finished on a six-game winning streak and grabbed the No. 4 seed in the tournament on the last day of the season, breaking up an All-N.C. Wednesday and keeping the state’s streak of at least one double-bye team intact.

Still, the close call, and the presence of three teams on Afterthought Wednesday, is a symbol of the shift in power the conference has seen. A year after Duke and Carolina played in the Final Four, both teams had growing pains as they adjust to life after their Hall of Fame head coaches. Rookie coach Jon Scheyer appears to have Duke pointed in the right direction, but UNC struggled through a soap opera season. Their coach called them soft, opposing fans spread rumors about player discord, and the team never seemed to click on the floor despite bringing back all but one contributor from a team that came 20 minutes away from a national title last year.

Turning Heel

The Heels stagger into the tournament as the seventh seed and are currently listed as one of the last four teams out in ESPN’s bracket prediction. Conventional wisdom has the Tar Heels needing to win four games in four days to get the automatic bid or else they’ll miss the Big Dance.

But after a regular season-ending loss to Duke, coach Hubert Davis refused to accept any conventional wisdom at all, taking issue with questions about the Heels needing to win the ACC Tournament, UNC being on the bubble, the season being frustrating and, presumably, basketball players being tall and the sun being hot.

The Tar Heels will open with a winnable game against either Boston College or Louisville. The Heels declared themselves well again after beating those same two teams in back-to-back games in mid-January, only to lose five of six to open February. Assuming they survive that game, they’ll draw a Virginia team who has given them trouble in recent seasons. The Tar Heels beat the Wahoos in Chapel Hill a week and a half ago, a game that accounts for UNC’s only Quad I win of the season in 10 attempts.

Prognosis: The Tar Heels will likely be deciding whether or not to accept an NIT bid by the time the ACCs hit the semifinals.

Pack mentality

Things are a bit better for NC State, which appears to be in the tournament at the moment, although they’re currently tagged as one of the last four teams with a bye. That means a bad week in Greensboro could put the Wolfpack in jeopardy. State finished one spot ahead of UNC and beat the Tar Heels in Raleigh, but the Wolfpack finished the regular season with back-to-back losses to Clemson and Duke and lost three of their last five.

State plays the winner of Virginia Tech-Notre Dame on Wednesday. The Wolfpack beat both teams in their only meetings in the regular season. A win would earn them a quarterfinal date with No. 3 Clemson. The Tigers are one of the teams to step into the void left by the N.C. teams’ fall from grace, although Clemson is an extremely weak No. 3.

Despite winning 22 regular season games and 14 ACC contests, Clemson is currently on the wrong side of ESPN’s bubble and in worse shape than UNC. A series of bad losses, including Loyola, Louisville and Boston College, has damaged the Tigers’ resume. State has perhaps the best path of any in-state team to the ACC semifinals.

Prognosis: Look for NC State to make a run and firm up their NCAA ticket

Desperate Deacons

Wake Forest gets Wednesday’s party started with a noon game against Syracuse. The Deacs will need to win the conference tournament to get an NCAA bid as they enter as the ninth seed. Wake went 18-13, 10-10 in the league but collapsed down the stretch, losing four of their last five and eight of their last 12. Wake lost to Syracuse in the regular season finale on Saturday, shooting 10 of 39 from 3-point range — an accuracy and shot selection that won’t win many games. They feature one of the conference’s best players in first-team All-ACC guard Tyree Appleby, and if he gets hot, he could carry the team. If Wake beats the Orange on Wednesday, they’ll take on regular season champion Miami in the quarters.

Miami is not getting much respect nationally, something that every ACC team is coping with this season. The Canes are currently slated to be a fifth seed in the NCAAs. Still, it would be an eye-raising upset for Wake to take out the Canes.

Prognosis: It may be one-and-done for the Deacs

Jon Scheyer, right, enters his first ACC Tournament as Duke’s coach with a young roster, led by freshman Kyle Filipowski. (Jacob Kupferman / AP Photo)

Familiar face could await Duke

Duke escaped Wednesday but has its work cut out for it. The Blue Devils will open with the winner of Pitt-Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech is 15-17 overall, went 6-14 in the ACC and lost by 43 at Duke. The Jackets, however, are on a roll, winning four straight and six of the last seven. The bigger concern for the Blue Devils will be Pitt, led by fellow Mike Krzyzewski disciple Jeff Capel, who won ACC Coach of the Year in Scheyer’s first season as Coach K’s replacement. Capel and Pitt gave Duke all it could handle in a game at Cameron in January, although the Blue Devils pulled out the win. Pitt was in contention for the regular season title before losing back-to-back games to end the regular season. Still, that game promises to be intense and emotional for the Blue Devils

Prognosis: Favored to make the semis but a first-game landmine awaits.