ACC tournament breakdown

March 11, 2014

Dez Wells and Maryland open the ACC tournament Thursday against Florida State. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Maryland looks to leave its mark as the Terps head into their final ACC tournament before moving to the Big Ten next season. A team outside the state of North Carolina has won two straight years. Will the trend continue as the tournament opens Wednesday in Greensboro, N.C.?

The Favorite — No. 3 Duke: The top six seeds all suffered a loss last week, so it’s not like any team is on a roll. With the tournament being held in Greensboro, the Blue Devils are the team to beat — despite being the No. 3 seed. Duke got off to a slow start in the ACC, but it has wins over Virginia, Syracuse, North Carolina and Pittsburgh. The Blue Devils have the league’s best player, freshman Jabari Parker, and most talented team.

The Sleeper — No. 8 Maryland: The Terps need to win the title to earn an NCAA tournament berth because their résumé isn’t good enough for an at-large bid. Maryland has proven it could play with any team in this league, just not necessarily beat them (the Terps have three losses to Syracuse, Duke and Pittsburgh by a combined eight points). But maybe Maryland has turned the corner with their season-finale overtime win over Virginia — the team the Terps will face if they advance to the quarterfinals.

Upset Special — No. 10 Miami over No. 7 N.C. State (second round): The Hurricanes first have to beat No. 15 Virginia Tech before a second-round matchup with T.J. Warren and the Wolfpack. Warren, the ACC’s leading scorer at 24.8 points a game, is coming off back-to-back 40-point performances. But Miami did a decent job against the sophomore in the Hurricanes’ 85-70 win over N.C. State on March 1 — holding Warren to 20 points on 8-for-18 shooting. If Miami can control Warren again, N.C. State is very beatable.

Best possible matchup — No. 2 Syracuse vs. No. 3 Duke (semifinals): The first meeting was an overtime thriller won by Syracuse in front of more than 35,000 fans at the Carrier Dome. Orange coach Jim Boeheim even said it could have been the best game ever played on Syracuse’s home court. Then there was the rematch won by Duke, in which Boeheim stormed on the court at Cameron Indoor to argue a block/charge call in the closing seconds — earning the Hall of Famer the first ejection of his career. Round 3, please.

Player to watch — Marcus Paige, North Carolina: The point guard runs the Tar Heels’ offense and has a knack for coming up big when his team needs him most. In a back-and-forth shootout with T.J. Warren, Paige scored 35 points (31 after halftime) to lead North Carolina to an overtime win over N.C. State. The sophomore also had 32 in an early-season win over Louisville and went for 24 in a season-finale loss to Duke. This could be the perfect stage for Paige to go off.

ACC final prediction: Duke 67, Virginia 59

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Michael Cunniff · March 11, 2014