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ACC Tournament Preview

Cedric Donaldson

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© jacksonville.com

By most any measure, the 2022-23 season was a step in the wrong direction for the ACC. The teams at the top of the standings aren’t quite up to the conference’s elite standard, and depth is lacking in the 15-team league. While these are valid critiques, however, the ACC also improved over the course of the season. A number of teams in the conference played some of their best basketball in February, and it feels as if several of those teams are capable of making a run to win this tournament. 

The ACC Tournament has become a sprawling affair, with all 15 teams receiving invitations. This makes previewing the action challenging. Nevertheless, here’s an overarching look at the games and matchups to come. 

Tournament Matchups 

Game 1: #12 Florida State vs. #13 Georgia Tech 

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Game 2: #10 Boston College vs. #15 Louisville 

Game 3: #11 Virginia Tech vs. #14 Notre Dame 

Game 4: #8 Syracuse vs. #9 Wake Forest  

Game 5: Game 1 Winner vs. #5 Pittsburgh

Game 6: Game 2 Winner vs. #7 North Carolina 

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Game 7: Game 3 Winner vs. #6 NC State 

Game 8: #1 Miami vs. Game 4 Winner  

Game 9: #4 Duke vs. Game 5 Winner  

Game 10: #2 Virginia vs. Game 6 Winner  

Game 11: #3 Clemson vs. Game 7 Winner 

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Game 12: Game 8 Winner vs. Game 9 Winner 

Game 13: Game 10 Winner vs. Game 11 Winner 

Game 14: Game 12 Winner vs. Game 13 Winner 

 

First Round

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Game 1: #12 Florida State vs. #13 Georgia Tech 

As evidenced by their seeding, these two teams struggled mightily throughout the ACC season. Of the two however, Florida State had more bright spots. The Seminoles nearly toppled Clemson (when the Tigers were rolling atop the conference); they recently upset a Miami team ranked top-15 nationally; and they in fact beat Georgia Tech by 11 in the teams’ lone meeting. The Seminoles also boast the lone star player between the sides in Matthew Cleveland. It’s not a given, because neither team is very strong, but Florida State should be favored here. 

Game 2: #10 Boston College vs. #15 Louisville 

Louisville, often a powerhouse, just endured one of the more disastrous regular seasons in recent power conference history. The Cardinals are in the early stages of a particularly dramatic coaching transition and roster overhaul, and looked uncompetitive en route to a 2-18 ACC record. Now, Louisville did show some improvement later in the season, most notably with a win over Clemson. But Boston College –– which beat the Cardinals by 10 in January –– is the superior team. 

Game 3: #11 Virginia Tech vs. #14 Notre Dame 

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These are two of the toughest teams in the ACC to read. Virginia Tech boasts some of the top individual performers in the conference (such as Justyn Mutts and Grant Basile) as well as wins over Duke, Virginia, and Pittsburgh. They also have a handful of bad losses, however, and finished just 8-12 in conference play. Notre Dame, meanwhile, was just a win better than Louisville at 3-17 –– but recently came within four points of Duke, four of North Carolina, and two of Virginia. They also beat a 25th-ranked Pittsburgh team to close out their home slate. Frankly, this one might just come down to which team has the hot hand from deep, as both rosters boast some fearsome shooters. 

Second Round

Game 4: #8 Syracuse vs. #9 Wake Forest  

Syracuse’s season was marked by fairly dramatic up-and-down swings. Even in the final week of the season, the Orange suffered a humiliating 20-point loss to Georgia Tech, only to turn around and beat the same Wake Forest team they’ll face in this game. If the Demon Deacons are to do better this time around, they’ll have to contain Syracuse big Jesse Edwards, whose monstrous 27-point, 20-rebound performance fueled the Orange’s recent victory. Wake Forest can’t be too encouraged that its recent loss to Syracuse also came despite the Orange shooting a woeful 2-14 from three. 

Game 5: Game 1 Winner vs. #5 Pittsburgh

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Pittsburgh’s surprisingly excellent season was good enough to win Jeff Capel the ACC’s Coach Of The Year award in a runaway vote. The Panthers did fade somewhat down the stretch, with three road losses in their last five games. They also lost one of their two games against potential opponent Florida State (winning both matchups with their other possible foe, Georgia Tech). Still, this is a battle-tested team led by two of the ACC’s best players in Blake Hinson and Jamarius Burton, and it should be favored to advance regardless of who wins Game 1. 

Game 6: Game 2 Winner vs. #7 North Carolina 

North Carolina handled both of its potential opponents, Boston College and Louisville, with relative ease. The Tar Heels also boast a massive talent advantage on both teams. That said, it’s anybody’s guess how UNC will perform in the unfamiliar position of likely needing to win this tournament to make the NCAAs. This team has lacked focus for much of the season. If it taps into determination, it could be dangerous; if it already feels defeated, this could be an interesting game. 

Game 7: Game 3 Winner vs. #6 NC State 

NC State beat both Virginia Tech and Notre Dame during the regular season, albeit in close games. More generally, the Wolfpack can be one of the most dangerous teams in the ACC on any given night –– as proven in January wins over Duke and Miami, and even a near-upset of Kansas early in the season. As mentioned, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame can both be tricky when they’re hitting shots, but NC State at its best can handle either opponent. 

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Third Round

Game 8: #1 Miami vs. Game 4 Winner  

Miami earned its 1-seed with strong play throughout the conference season. This is a well-coached, veteran Hurricanes group that many will see as the ACC’s best chance at a deep NCAA Tournament run. Miami also struggled with its potential opponents, however. It only beat Syracuse by four at home, and it was in a three-point slugfest with Wake Forest with under 10 minutes to go before winning by nine. The Hurricanes will be favored, but aren’t unbeatable.  

Game 9: #4 Duke vs. Game 5 Winner  

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Duke finished the season hotter than any other team in the conference, and finally looks close to what it was believed to be entering the season. The Blue Devils have won six straight, and went 3-0 against their three potential opponents. That said, a rematch with Pittsburgh would make for an intriguing contest. The Panthers were tied with Duke half way through the second half in Durham in the teams’ lone matchup. 

Game 10: #2 Virginia vs. Game 6 Winner  

Virginia shared the ACC regular season title with Miami, though it finished the season with a 2-2 stumble, losing at Boston College and North Carolina. Notably, those are the two most likely opponents for the Cavaliers (barring a shocking run by Louisville). Virginia would still be favored against either side, but won’t be getting a free pass to the semifinals.  

Game 11: #3 Clemson vs. Game 7 Winner 

If you’re looking for a top-four seed with a “double bye” to be upset, Clemson might be the pick. The Tigers finished third in the ACC on the strength of a red-hot start to the conference slate. But they also dropped down to Earth toward the end of January, and went just 4-5 in their final nine games. On the plus side for the Clemson faithful, the team did go 4-0 against its three potential opponents (though it barely scraped past Virginia Tech on two occasions). 

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Semifinals & General Outlook 

As stated previously, the ACC Tournament feels like a fairly open contest between a number of capable teams –– even if the conference isn’t what it typically is. There is no runaway favorite, and there are a few teams playing on the first day capable of winning couple games. 

On the top half of the bracket, the smart money still has to be on a clash between Miami and Duke –– the best team in the conference, and the hottest. The two teams split their matchups during the regular season, with Miami losing in Durham but then thrashing the Blue Devils at home. A rubber match would be excellent entertainment, and it does feel as if one of these teams belongs in Saturday’s conference championship. 

The bottom half of the bracket feels even more wide open. The two double-bye teams, Virginia and Clemson, finished the regular season looking more vulnerable than Miami and Duke. Furthermore, some of the teams without double byes –– North Carolina, NC State, and even Virginia Tech –– can take down heavyweights on any given night. On pure talent and quality, Virginia and NC State might be the likeliest to break through. But a desperate North Carolina team and a Clemson group wanting to prove itself shouldn’t be overlooked. 

As for the ACC champion, it’s anybody’s guess at this point. At least six or seven teams are fully capable of cutting down the nets in Greensboro. Consider Miami, Duke, Virginia, and NC State the favorites though.  

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College Hoops 360

MARCH MADNESS: Heartbreak and Hunger for Miami, Florida Atlantic

Jae Fortune

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USA TODAY

HEARTBREAK, AND HUNGER

This year’s Division 1 NCAA Men’s basketball tournament has seen the southern-most part of the state electrified by bracket-busting emergence of the Florida Atlantic, and Miami programs as dark horse championship contenders.

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MIAMI HURRICANES (59) UCONN HUSKIES  (72)

“The U” made it’s presence felt, taking down multiple tournament favorites, one after another.

Back in the third week of March, Miami was a lowly fifth seed. Stuck behind the likes of Indiana, Xavier, Texas and, national championship game hosts in Houston. After dispatching the Drake Bulldogs (15) in the first round, Jim Larranaga’s squad shocked both the Hoosiers, and the then first-placed Cougars.

FLORIDA ATLANTIC OWLS (71) SAN DIEGO STATE (72)

In January, Florida Atlantic University entered the AP Rankings for the first time in program history.

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A landmark achievement, which set the tone for what will go down as the greatest season in FAU basketball, thus far. fifth-year Head Coach Dusty May’s team Despite this, FAU would barely make it within the tournament’s top ten teams. Meanwhile, fifth-year Head Coach Dusty May would keep his Owls focused, as they flew stealthy under the national radar.

March Madness set in early for the Birds from Boca, as the Owl’s first round match up with the Memphis Tigers (8) came down to the absolute wire.


PREDICTION TIME

South Florida is serious, and college basketball was put on notice this year.

A last second, buzzer-beater was the only thing that could keep the Owls out of the national championship. Next year, the rest of the NCAA will have to face a hungrier, vengeful opponent whenever they visit the 305.

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College Hoops 360

AAC Tournament Preview |  Part 2

Cedric Donaldson

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© gousfbulls.com

March is finally upon us, and as tends to be the case, the transition to postseason basketball feels abrupt. All around the country, teams that wrapped up their regular seasons over the weekend are stepping right into the early rounds of conference tournaments –– often with a great deal on the line. Such is the case in the American Athletic Conference as well, where a handful of solid teams will be looking to break through (and potentially make NCAA-Tournament-worthy statements). 

Here’s a look ahead at the action…. 

 

Tournament Matchups 

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Game 1: #9 East Carolina vs. #8 South Florida 

Game 2: #10 SMU vs. #7 UCF

Game 3: #11 Tulsa vs. #6 Wichita State 

Game 4: Game 1 Winner vs. #1 Houston 

Game 5: #5 Temple vs. #4 Cincinnati 

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Game 6: Game 2 Winner vs. #2 Memphis 

Game 7: Game 3 Winner vs. #3 Tulane 

Game 8: Game 4 Winner vs. Game 5 Winner 

Game 9: Game 6 Winner vs. Game 7 Winner 

Game 10: Game 8 Winner vs. Game 9 Winner 

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First Round

Game 1: #9 East Carolina vs. #8 South Florida 

The 8-9 matchup in a conference tournament is typically a bit of a toss-up. In this case however, South Florida will be considered a strong favorite. The Bulls beat ECU at home and away, and also closed out the season winning three of four. There’s a slim chance the Pirates get lead scorer Javon Small back from injury, but it seems unlikely. 

 

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Game 2: #10 SMU vs. #7 UCF

Both of these teams frustrated their fans at times this season, and neither closed out conference play the way they’d have liked to. The one time they met though –– albeit back in early January –– UCF was decidedly the stronger team. The Knights’ guards had their way throughout the game, and ought to again if they play to their capability. 

 

Game 3: #11 Tulsa vs. #6 Wichita State 

This game would appear to be little more than a formality. Tulsa lost its last 11 games, and 18 of its last 19 on the season. Wichita State has its flaws, but it also plays a brand of basketball that minimizes the chance of a major upset. The Shockers don’t rely heavily on made threes; they rebound; and they play defense. 

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Second Round

Game 4: Game 1 Winner vs. #1 Houston 

A consistent top-3 team in the country, Houston went 17-1 in conference play. It will be the clear favorite against any team it faces this week. It is worth noting however that potential Game 4 opponent South Florida came within six points of the Cougars in Houston earlier this season. The Bulls rode hot shooting and a slight rebounding edge to a surprisingly tense late-game finish. East Carolina, meanwhile, lost by 19 in its only meeting with Houston. 

 

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Game 5: #5 Temple vs. #4 Cincinnati 

The only second-round game that isn’t waiting on a first-round winner will be between Temple and Cincinnati –– two evenly matched sides who split their regular-season matchups home and home. Temple will hope to recapture the magic that helped it to a four-win streak in the midst of conference play, and the only victory anyone in the AAC had over Houston. Cincinnati finished the season looking like the stronger team, however, and will look to ride its high-scoring guard duo of Landers Nolley II and David DeJulius into the semifinals. 

 

Game 6: Game 2 Winner vs. #2 Memphis 

Memphis has been the second-best team behind mighty Houston, and in fact nearly upset the Cougars in their final game. That said, the Tigers will have a challenge on their hands if UCF is able to get past SMU in Game 2. Memphis and UCF played two of the American’s most dramatic games –– the first an overtime thriller that went to UCF 107-104, and the second a tense, 64-63 win for the Tigers. 

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Game 7: Game 3 Winner vs. #3 Tulane 

Tulane doesn’t have the national pedigree of Memphis, nor does it boast a star quite like the Tigers’ Kendric Davis. That said, the Green Wave were neck-and-neck with Memphis, a tier below Houston, for most of the season. This is a strong basketball team. That said, the Green Wave also split their conference meetings with both of their potential opponents in Wichita State and Tulsa. Look for a tight contest no matter which team plays Tulane. 

 

Semifinals & General Outlook  

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Beyond the opening rounds, the top half of this bracket may be somewhat lacking in suspense. Houston is simply a tier above the rest of the league, and will be looking to gain momentum heading into an NCAA Tournament in which it may be the top overall seed. The Cougars ought to reach the final, with Cincinnati and its potent offense perhaps representing the biggest potential threat along the way. y

On the bottom half of the AAC bracket though, it feels more as if anything could happen. Memphis earned its 2-seed and will rightfully be favored to advance. But a potential second-round matchup with UCF could well stop the Tigers and open things up –– either for a deeper Knights run or for the Game 7 winner to make a surprise championship appearance. 

In the end, any outcome other than Houston cutting down the nets will be a surprise. But there are a handful of teams in this field capable of competing with the best on any given night. And we know that in March, everything gets a little bit more possible.   

 

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College Hoops 360

THE LION QUEENS: Conference Championship, Team Honors for FMU

Jae Fortune

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© florida memorial university athletics

LET’S GO FMU!

Florida Memorial secured their first Sun Conference championship, defeating Southeastern University, 94-64 in Miami Gardens. This is the 14th straight conference victory for the Lady Lions.

WINNING SEASON

As his team, Coach Greg Stanback was left speechless.

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after leading the Lions to a 20-5 record overall, including 14-1 in conference play.

BIG TIANNA

Florida Memorial’s Tianna Ayulo (South Broward HS) has been named the 2023 Sun Conference Player of the Year, in her first with the Lions. Ayulo has averaged about 21 points per game (No. 1 in the conference), shooting a little more than 55 percent from the floor (No. 2 in the entire conference).

Ayulo scored double digit points in all 19 games in which she played, including 13 games of 20+ points, and is currently ninth in the NAIA in points per game. With 54 steals and a 2.8 average, the senior leads the conference in steals per game.

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