Wide-open ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament comes to Greensboro

The conference tournament figures to determine NCAA bids

UNC and Duke are two of four Top 25-ranked teams that enter this week’s ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament in Greensboro looking to dethrone three-time defending champion NC State. (Kaitlin McKeown / The News & Observer via AP)

The ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament tips off in Greensboro on Wednesday as a top-heavy league looks to make one last statement before NCAA bids and seedings are handed out.

If the end of the regular season is any indication, it will be a wild, dramatic few days in Greensboro. The league race went down to the wire in Sunday’s final day of regular season play. Notre Dame wiped out a nine-point Louisville halftime lead and rode a late 12-3 run to top the Cardinals and stake a claim to a share of first place.

Duke, however, held the tiebreaker, meaning if the Blue Devils topped archrival UNC, they would claim the top seed in Greensboro. Duke saw the Tar Heels wipe out a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit, however, to upset the Blue Devils and give the Irish the top seed.

Duke, Carolina and Notre Dame now lead a quartet of ranked teams into the tournament. No. 8 Virginia Tech is the fourth team in the AP poll and will tip off the postseason as the highest-ranked ACC team despite being the No. 3 seed in the tournament. The top-seeded Irish are No. 10, second-seeded Duke No. 13 and seventh-seeded UNC No. 18. Louisville enters as the fourth seed and, like Tech, Duke and Notre Dame, gets a double-bye into Friday’s quarterfinals.

The top seed in the tournament has been significant in recent history. In the last 10 years, the No. 1 seed has made the ACC Tournament championship game nine times and cut down the nets in eight of those years. No. 2 seeds have made the title game just six times and won the championship twice.

Here’s a look at the four North Carolina-based teams that will be playing for a title in Greensboro this week.

Duke Blue Devils

24-5 overall, 14-4 ACC

The Blue Devils were held to their lowest point total of the season (41) in the loss to North Carolina. Now, Kara Lawson’s team heads to Greensboro with a chip on its shoulder.

“An opportunity to win a share of the title and coming up short is disappointing,” Lawson said. “I can’t wax poetic about it. It’s disappointing. It stinks. Not playing as well as we could have, I think, is probably one of the things that is disappointing. But, as I told the team in the locker room after the game, we put yourself in these situations. It is really hard to put yourself in a game like today, meaning you’re playing to win the title. That speaks to their discipline, their commitment … to be a team that was playing for something today.”

Duke is a veteran team with eight seniors and grad students on the roster, and is led by Elizabeth Balogun, who leads the team in rebounding and is one of two double-figure scorers, and Celeste Taylor, the team’s leading scorer and a finalist for national defensive player of the year.

The Blue Devils open play Friday with a possible rematch against UNC. Duke could also open with Clemson or Pitt depending on how the earlier rounds go. The Blue Devils were swept by UNC in two games and won their only game against both Clemson and Pitt.

UNC Tar Heels

20-9 overall, 11-7 ACC

The Tar Heels tied Miami for sixth place and open as the seventh seed in the tournament. Courtney Banghart’s team won a hard-fought defensive struggle against Duke, posting the lowest winning score (45 points) in program history.

“I don’t know if that was fun for you guys to watch,” Banghart said, “but two of the best defensive teams in the league really brought that.”

Despite the boost from the win at Duke to close the schedule, the Tar Heels have been inconsistent, splitting their last eight regular season games. They are led by Deja Kelly, who leads the team in scoring and assists. UNC will open play on Thursday against the winner of Clemson-Pitt. The Heels beat each team in their only meeting this year, and a win will give Carolina a rematch with Duke.

NC State Wolfpack

19-10 overall, 9-9 ACC

The Wolfpack enters as winners of the last three ACC Tournaments and will be looking to keep that streak alive, even in a rebuilding year. NC State earned the eighth seed and will open with No. 9 Syracuse on Thursday. State beat the Orange in their only meeting this season, although the Wolfpack won just three of their last eight games down the stretch.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

14-15 overall, 5-13 ACC

The 12th-seeded Deacs get the tournament started in Wednesday’s first game, taking on Virginia. Wake enters on a five-game losing streak and dropped its only meeting with Virginia by 20 in the season opener.