The 56th annual Atlantic Coast Conference tournament is about ready to tip off, as it leaves the Carolina region for a trip to Atlanta, with Georgia Tech playing host. This has been the premier event in postseason college basketball for years and 2009 should be no different. North Carolina is the overwhelming favorite at -175 to cut down the nets Sunday afternoon; however a cloud of doubt has arisen as junior guard Ty Lawson is questionable for the opener and possibly for the whole tournament with a badly swollen right toe according to coach Roy Williams. Smart bettors know it is Lawson, not Tyler Hansbrough that makes the Tar Heels play most efficiently. Here is a game by game look at the opening round.
Miami vs Virginia Tech 12 Eastern
Miami (7-9, 7-8-1 ATS in ACC) starts the festivities with Virginia Tech in the tournament opener in a 8 vs 9 matchup and are favored by 3.5-points at Bookmaker.com, having won three of last four contests. The Hurricanes lean on two-time All-ACC selection Jack McClinton. The junior guard sets the table for Miami offense and leads the conference in three point accuracy at 46.4 percent. If the games are close, McClinton is a big reason why the Hurricanes are 7-0 ATS as a neutral court favorite or pick over the last two seasons as he converts 88.5 percent from the charity stripe.
Virginia Tech (7-9, 6-10 ATS) fell apart late in the season, losers of six of last seven, including three in a row. The Hokies have been burying backers as well, on 2-7 ATS skid, as they are not receiving enough contributions from leading scorers A.D. Vassallo and point guard Malcolm Delaney. If Virginia Tech is going to move to 17-6 ATS as a neutral court underdog or pick, their scoring tandem must come through.
The winner advances to same time slot Friday to face top seeded North Carolina.
Georgia Tech vs Clemson 2:20 Eastern
Georgia Tech was 2-14 (6-10 ATS) in ACC action and earned the last seed. The Yellow Jackets were a rambling wreck with too many young players in a ruthless league. Georgia Tech lost eight of last nine and is 5-12 ATS after one or more consecutive losses this season. The Jackets were beaten twice by Clemson and failed to cover the spread either time.
Clemson (9-7, 8-7-1 ATS) could well have had today off; unfortunately, they lost three of last four, which lowered them to fifth seed. The Tigers didn’t have any teeth at crunch time in those losses and their defensive weakness is guarding opponents once they break their press, surrendering far too many easy baskets once broken down. Clemson went to the title game last year and will seek that magic elixir that got them their in 2008. “We’re going to go back to practice and hopefully try to catch fire and get back to the championship,” said forward Trevor Booker.
Clemson is a 9.5-point favorite, however is just 10-25 ATS on the road after allowing 80 points or more. The winner moves on to take on Florida State.
N.C. State vs Maryland 7 Eastern
Both the Wolfpack and the Terrapins arrive at the Georgia Dome with seat belts attached and treys in upright position after a bumpy close to the season. N.C. State (6-10, 10-5-1 ATS) lost four of last six ACC affairs, including one to Maryland. The Wolfpack are the 10th seed and are hoping for some of the same magic they made two seasons ago. In 2007, they were a No.10 seed and caught fire, riding it all the way to ACC title tilt, before losing to North Carolina. The club from Raleigh is listed as 1.5-point underdogs and is 7-19 ATS after playing a game as an underdog over the last two campaigns.
Maryland (7-9, 8-8 ATS) was having a very average season until they caught everyone’s attention in upsetting North Carolina at home in overtime 88-85 on Feb. 21. Since the upset they are 1-3 SU and ATS. The Terps wouldn’t even be a seventh seed except for point guard Greivis Vasquez, having frequently been asked to carry the load for a team light on talent in a conference of this quality. The junior will on occasion come unglued and make bad choices, like in the last game loss at Virginia, with questionable judgments when the game was on the line. Maryland has won and covered last four games against N.C. State, however is mere 3-10 ATS on neutral courts.
Whoever survives has second seeded Wake Forest on tap.
Virginia vs Boston College 9:20 Eastern
In the first day finale, Boston College is 4.5-point choice to surpass 11th seeded Virginia. The Eagles look solid for making the field of 65 on Sunday, but one more win at least only gives a greater level of comfort. Boston College (9-7, 7-9 ATS) already has resume building wins over North Carolina and Duke. Tyrese Rice and Rakim Sanders give the Eagles exceptional backcourt play and B.C. is 25-10 ATS after a game where they made 20 percent of their three-point shots or worse.
It has been another dismal campaign for Virginia with just four wins (8-8 ATS) in the ACC. The Cavaliers are only 9-23 the last two seasons in conference play, their worst two year stretch in a decade. Virginia is only 1-9 away from home (6-4 ATS) and coach Dave Leitao is trying to keep positive attitude. “Obviously you’re the one that drives the bus, and so a lot of times it kind of starts and ends with you. It’s difficult, but at the same point in time, it doesn’t shake both my confidence and my will of thought to know that we’re doing the right thing and we’re going in the right direction.”
It’s rather easy to make a case, Virginia is the worst team in the ACC, finishing last in the in field-goal percentage (41.8) and field-goal percentage defense (43.8). To complete the inept trifecta, they were last in three point shooting at 31.1 percent. Based on how things have been playing out in Charlottesville, it doesn’t take a degree from Virginia to understand 17-30 spread record in March.
The victor draws Duke Friday night.