2022 ACC Tournament Preview and Predictions
It’s March, folks, but the ACC – as we’ve come to know and expect it this time of the year – has taken quite the tumble this season. Following an impressive dismantling of then-No. 4 Duke over the weekend, North Carolina joined the Blue Devils in the AP Top 25 poll this week. After what felt like months of Coach K’s final squad sitting alone in the rankings, another ACC squad squeezed through the cracks to at least return some normalcy to one of college basketball’s premier conferences. With all that being said, Champ Week is finally here and the 2022 ACC Tournament tips of Tuesday in Brooklyn, N.Y. in what will likely be a chaotic sequence of days.
No. 1 Seed Overview: Duke
There isn’t much to say about the Blue Devils that hasn’t already been said. They are loaded with talent, notably boasting five potential first round picks in the upcoming NBA Draft. Freshman Paolo Banchero spearheads the attack with 17.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, as his efforts earned him ACC Freshman of the Year honors. The conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, Mark Williams, anchors the paint for Duke, averaging 11.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game. And you can’t forget junior wing Wendell Moore Jr. who has also had an impressive year, coming in second on the team in scoring (13.1), leading the Blue Devils in assists (4.6) and third on the team in rebounding (5.5). Moore is the squad’s primary ballhandler and primary defender, both of which secured him second team All-ACC and All-ACC Defensive team honors.
Mike Krzyzewski has a myriad of weapons to choose from, including the aforementioned trio plus spectacular freshmen in guard Trevor Keels and wing A.J. Griffin, both of whom can score in bunches quickly. The Blue Devils, despite the profound embarrassment of Saturday’s loss to the Tar Heels, remain the best team in the conference and will be heavy favorites coming into the tournament.
Sleeper to Win: Wake Forest
I’ve loved watching Wake Forest blossom under head coach Steve Forbes throughout the season. The Demon Deacons were a team expected to finish in the basement of the conference, yet with Selection Sunday just under a week away, they have (nearly) played themselves into an at-large bid. The quick turnaround by Forbes and Co. surprised many, including myself, but when Wake Forest Basketball is good, the ACC is just that much more fun.
As they looked to add more team hardware this week, the Demon Deacons enjoyed a lot of individual success. Forbes was awarded Coach of the Year for a 23-8 season and a fifth-place finish in the conference. One of Forbes’ most important pickups in the offseason was guard Alondes Williams who made the leap from Oklahoma to Wake Forest and was, in a word, spectacular. Williams led the conference in points (19.3) and assists (5.3), while also grabbing 6.6 rebounds per game. The Milwaukee native received Player of the Year honors, beating out UNC’s Armando Bacot and Duke’s Banchero.
The individual talent of the Demon Deacons, including Williams, Jake LaRavia and Daivien Williamson, could carry this team all the way to the 2022 ACC Tournament title game. Wake Forest has the second highest scoring offense in the ACC (79.5 points) and second highest scoring margin (9.7) – behind Duke in both categories. They have a dynamic offense and also hold the best player and coach in the conference this season, so, in summation, watch out for the Demon Deacons.
Players to Watch
For the sake of brevity, there won’t be much mention of the All-ACC first team members in this list of players to watch, because they will attract eyeballs on their own.
Clemson’s P.J. Hall
Hall was an honorable mention for the All-ACC teams and was probably snubbed from that list. It’s always hard to pick just 15 guys in a conference loaded with individual talent (yes, even in a year like this one), but Hall, who averaged 15.4 points and 5.7 rebounds for the Tigers was worthy of inclusion.
Hall has been nursing a foot injury all season – admirably playing through the pain of late – but will need to be productive if Clemson is going to make a run in Brooklyn. He’s the leader of this offense and, even while injured, can have a tremendous impact on the game on both ends of the floor.
Duke’s A.J. Griffin
When Griffin is cooking for this Blue Devil squad, they are truly at their best. The Archbishop Stepinac product is averaging 10.3 points per game on 48.3% shooting from beyond the arc this season. Evident by his game in Chapel Hill in February, Griffin can really score in bunches. He went on a personal 10-0 run to start the second half as the Blue Devils cruised to victory, as he posted a career high 27 points.
If he can brush off the unproductive game against UNC on Saturday, Coach K will have lights out shooter waiting in the wings or the corner that can pick up apart any defense in the conference. If Duke wins the ACC Tournament, Griffin will likely be a major reason why.
Virginia Tech’s Keve Aluma
Aluma, a preseason All-ACC first team nod by many media members, could have very well made the first team, but was placed on the second team – a great honor, regardless. Aluma is averaging 15.4 points and 6.5 rebounds a game for the Hokies and will see his first action on Wednesday in the second round.
Virginia Tech runs the offense through him, and when he’s clicking offensively and keeping you honest from the perimeter, he’s one of the toughest matchups in the conference. This Hokies squad is well-coached and defensively sound, only conceding 61.3 points per game, and could spell trouble for the higher seeds, with Aluma leading the charge.
UNC’s Caleb Love
Love, much like the Tar Heels, came into the season with high expectations. The St. Louis native would likely be viewed as another All-ACC snub as his numbers do likely warrant such a consideration: 15.7 points, 3.7 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game. While he is not an efficient player, Love can score in bunches, and when he gets hot, it’s a scary sight for opponents.
Love has recorded 16 or more points in each of his last seven games – UNC won six during that stretch and are entering the tournament on a five-game win streak. The Tar Heels, although led by Bacot, go as Love does and he will need to have a big tournament if Carolina is going to take the ACC crown in coach Hubert Davis’ first year.
Other Players to Watch
This list could go on and on, so here are just a few more guys to keep an eye out on: Blake Wesley (Notre Dame), Charlie Moore (Miami), Jake LaRavia (Wake Forest), Dereon Seabron (NC State) and Matthew Cleveland (Florida State).
First Round Predictions
No. 12 Pittsburgh vs No. 13 Boston College
These two teams split the regular season series, each winning at home. The Eagles enter the contest riding a three-game losing streak, while the Panthers have lost four straight. Both schools are going to be in desperate survival mode, but in this one, I’ll give the edge to Boston College.
Boston College 71, Pittsburgh 66
No. 10 Clemson vs No. 15 NC State
The Tigers won the only regular season meeting in Raleigh, N.C. by five points. The aforementioned PJ Hall had 20 points in that meeting but remains hobbled by the foot injury entering Tuesday’s bout. Hall’s ability to play, healthy or not, impacts the game tremendously, but momentum is just as critical, and Clemson has won four straight. I think they make it five against the Wolfpack.
Clemson 71, NC State 63
No. 11 Louisville vs No. 14 Georgia Tech
The reigning ACC champions versus a team in total disarray, sums up Tuesday’s final clash. Louisville notably fired coach Chris Mack midway through the season and Georgia Tech has simply been on the struggle bus. The Yellow Jackets are led by Michael Devoe (18.0 ppg), but his 23 points in the early season matchup against the Cardinals weren’t enough to secure a victory. It’s a different reality for Louisville this time around and I’m hard-pressed to pick a team that has lost 11 out of its last 12 games.
Georgia Tech 78, Louisville 74
Second Round Predictions
No. 8 Florida State vs No. 9 Syracuse
Two iconic systems and two phenomenal coaches go head-to-head on Wednesday to start the day’s slate of ACC hoops. The Seminoles have been plagued with injuries throughout the season and after early wins against Duke and Miami (FL), the wheels have totally fallen off. It hasn’t been much better for the Orange, but they do have an All-ACC first team member – albeit, one can certainly make the argument Buddy Boeheim should’ve been relegated to second or third team. I’ll take the 2-3 zone to beat the slim depth of the Seminoles.
Syracuse 74, Florida State 68
No. 5 Wake Forest vs No. 13 Boston College
This one will be short and simple. Wake Forest is just better than the Eagles. Williams, LaRavia and more should cruise past Boston College, despite the reality that games are often much closer in March. If the Demon Deacons fall in their first game of the 2022 ACC Tournament, I’ll be as shocked as any.
Wake Forest 83, Boston College 68
No. 7 Virginia Tech vs No. 10 Clemson
I worry about the impact consecutive days of playing will have on Hall’s injury, and the Tigers will be tested because of it. These two teams met in the pair’s final regular season contest of the season, with Clemson emerging victorious 63-59, despite Hall only playing 14 minutes. Expect this one to be a low scoring affair.
Virginia Tech 61, Clemson 58
No. 6 Virginia vs No. 14 Georgia Tech
Again, another contest where I think the higher seed advances with relative ease. The Cavaliers, similar to the conference, have had some sporadic spurts of play, but Tony Bennett remains at the helm, and that should at least garner some more trust. Virginia won the only regular season meeting by 10, so I expect a similar result, barring a total Devoe takeover.
Virginia 63, Georgia Tech 56
No. 1 Duke vs No. 9 Syracuse
If these predictions are correct, Thursday’s contest would be the final meeting between two coaching giants in Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim. The Blue Devils easily handled Syracuse’s 2-3 zone in a pair of clashes in conference play, securing 20 and 25-point victories, respectively. A.J. Griffin has splurged in the corners and wings against the zone and the tandem of Banchero and Williams should feast in the paint. Duke has no excuse to lose this one, but I think it’ll be a closer affair as the Blue Devils take another step towards the 2022 ACC Tournament crown.
Duke 82, Syracuse 71
No. 4 Miami vs No. 5 Wake Forest
The Hurricanes swept the Demon Deacons in conference play, winning 82-74 and 76-72, respectively. Both teams also had surprisingly productive years, with Miami pegged to finish in the middle or lower middle of the conference and Wake Forest near last place. Both said screw the preseason noise and played some of the best basketball in the ACC in spurts. This will be a great game with great guard play in Isaiah Wong, Kameron McGusty, Alondes Williams, Charlie Moore, Daivien Williamson and more. But the postseason resets all records, and Wake Forest wins this one.
Wake Forest 79, Miami (FL) 73
No. 2 Notre Dame vs No. 7 Virginia Tech
In what has become a fairly chalk bracket, two teams that both rely on 3-point shooting come face-to-face. The Hokies beat Notre Dame in January by six points, made two more 3-pointers and received massive 20-plus-point outings from Justyn Mutts and Nahiem Alleyne. I really liked this Hokies team in the preseason, so it pained me to see them endure their early struggles. However, Virginia Tech has won nine of their last 11 games and if they can hold a prolific shooting Irish squad in check, I think the Hokies can take another step towards the 2022 ACC Tournament title game.
Virginia Tech 75, Notre Dame 74
No. 3 UNC vs No. 6 Virginia
The Tar Heels will be riding high from both the win over Duke and the five-game winning streak they are currently enjoying. UNC handled the Cavaliers 74-58 in the pair’s only meeting and I think it’ll be a similar affair. I picked the Tar Heels to win the ACC regular season in Davis’ first year at the helm, and while they came up just a game short, this is a team that is very hot and no longer worried about making the Big Dance, as an at-large bid seems squared away. Caleb Love and R.J. Davis will create problems for the Cavaliers, but I think Armando Bacot is where the game truly gets separated – he’s just too good.
UNC 76, Virginia 65
No. 1 Duke vs No. 5 Wake Forest
In a slate of predictions which has featured a lot of chalk and minimal upsets, this is where I think March really becomes March. It’s always hard to beat a team three times in the same season and such a reality will rear its ugly head against the Blue Devils in this matchup. Krzyzewski has only seen a single half of Demon Deacon basketball, ailed by illness in both games. Duke was able to sweep the regular season series, winning both contests by 12 and two points, respectively. The Blue Devils do have more talent, but I think Wake Forest can taste the upset and Alondes Williams goes for a big game en route to an upset over Duke – which will also bump the latter team to the 3-seed line in the NCAA Tournament.
Wake Forest 79, Duke 77
No. 3 UNC vs No. 7 Virginia Tech
The Tar Heels won both regular season matchups and if the aforementioned three-game rationale applies, we could very well have another upset on our hands. However, I think the dream Cinderella run for the Hokies stops right it here and UNC gets the trifecta of victories in this second semifinal bout. It would be three games in three days for the Hokies at this point and I just think that’s too much, especially against a North Carolina team that will want to run. The Bacot vs Aluma round three match will be fun, but Love and Davis give the Hokie backcourt fits as UNC moves onto the 2022 ACC Tournament title game.
UNC 75, Virginia Tech 67
2022 ACC Tournament Title Game Prediction
No. 3 UNC vs No. 5 Wake Forest
North Carolina vs Wake Forest, we’re bringing back the mid-to-late 1990s ACC Tournament battles between these two schools. Randolph Childress and Tim Duncan are no longer on the floor for the Demon Deacons, but Steve Forbes does have Alondes Williams and Jake LaRavia. UNC will be without Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace and Vince Carter, but they too have talent in Armando Bacot, Caleb Love and Brady Manek. This would be an incredibly fun and high-scoring affair, something fitting for an ACC season that hasn’t been all too exciting. In the latest episode of Jimmer Range, I picked Wake Forest to win the 2022 ACC Tournament and I will hold firm with that prediction here.
Wake Forest 85, UNC 81
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