Fresh off a 79-53 win at Syracuse Monday night, the Virginia Cavaliers all but clinched the No. 1 seed in the 2019 ACC Tournament. Tony Bennett’s squad is one of four teams with a double-bye in the bracket, along with North Carolina, Duke and Florida State.
Against the Orange, Virginia (27-2, 15-2 ACC) proved just how dangerous of a team it can be. Down two at halftime, the Cavaliers dominated Syracuse in the second half, outscoring them by 28 points and holding Syracuse to just 19 points in 20 minutes.
On the offensive side of the ball, Virginia was also deadly with its three best players carrying the load. De’Andre Hunter, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome combined for 62 points, and Guy hit a career-high eight 3-pointers. Those three players have carried the way all season long, totaling 43.9 points per game.
Virginia’s scoring efficiency should scare teams in March. The Cavaliers hit 41.4 percent of their 3-point shots, the only team in the ACC that hits more than 40 percent. Add in the fact that Virginia possesses the No. 1 scoring defense in the country at 54.1 points per game, and the Cavaliers should be the favorite to repeat as ACC Tournament champion next week in Charlotte. Here are the four other teams that could make some noise in next week's ACC Tournament.
When Zion Williamson (21.6 points per game) is playing, the Blue Devils are possibly the most talented team in the country. First-years R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish can light it up on the perimeter and scored a combined 60 points against UNC when the two teams met on Feb. 20.
Granted, Williamson missed all but 36 seconds of that game after his shoe broke, and he sprained his knee, but Barrett and Reddish have proven why they were top-three recruits coming into this season. Blessed with a 6-foot-7 athletic frame, Barrett leads the ACC in scoring at 23.3 points per game. Reddish, while not the most consistent shooter, has scored 15 or more points seven times in his last 10 games.
Not to mention the Blue Devils also have Tre Jones, perhaps the best defensive player in the ACC, who held first-year Coby White to nine points on 3 of 14 shooting in UNC’s win on Feb. 20.
The big question mark here is Williamson's health, but the forward should return against UNC on Saturday, setting the stage for the teams to meet again next week in the ACC Tournament semifinals.
Florida State (24-6, 12-5 ACC)
There are very few teams playing better right now than Leonard Hamilton’s squad. Winners of 11 of their last 12 games, the Seminoles clinched the final double-bye in the ACC Tournament with a 73-64 overtime win over Virginia Tech Tuesday night in Tallahassee. Not only did the Seminoles defeat another ranked opponent in a crucial game, but they overcame a 14-point halftime deficit to boost their resume with Selection Sunday less than two weeks away.
Florida State is an unusual team in that its leading scorer has not started a single game this season. Mfiondu Kabengele, a sophomore forward, averages a team-high 13.3 points to go along with 5.6 rebounds. He’s one of eight Florida State players who averages more than six points a game and 15 minutes a game. Florida State has one of the more impressive wins in conference play this season when it knocked off Syracuse on the road by 18 points on Feb. 5.
The Seminoles are long and athletic and force their opponents to play an ugly style of basketball, something that did not affect UNC when the two teams played on Feb. 23. North Carolina won, 77-59, despite hitting just 42.6 percent of its shots. The Seminoles will likely battle it out with Virginia Tech for a spot in the tournament semifinals.
Virginia Tech (22-7, 11-6 ACC)
Buzz Williams has done wonders in Blacksburg since taking over for the 2014-2015 season. He has the Hokies on the verge of a third straight NCAA Tournament berth, even without star player Justin Robinson. Robinson, the team's point guard and third-leading scorer, has not played due to an injury since a win over Miami on Jan. 30. In that time, the Hokies have gone 5-4, but they beat then-No. 3 Duke at home on Feb. 26.
Even with Robinson out of the lineup, Virginia Tech has multiple scoring options. Guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker has blossomed as a sophomore, averaging a team-high 16.5 points per game. Kerry Blackshear Jr. is a strong stretch forward who can stroke it from deep (38.8 percent) and, as a team, Virginia Tech shoots almost 40 percent from 3-point range.
The Hokies play with plenty of energy and are one of the best defensive teams in the country (61.9 opponent points per game). With Robinson expected to return soon, they have a good shot of making it to the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in Williams' tenure.
Louisville (19-11, 10-7 ACC)
Chris Mack's team is a hard one to figure out. Is this the same bunch that blew out North Carolina by 21 points on Jan. 12 at the Smith Center, or the one that lost at Pittsburgh and at Boston College?
The Cardinals are led by forward Jordan Nwora, one of the best players in the ACC. Nwora is one of the most improved players in the country, having increased his points per game from 5.7 to 17.2 between his first-year and sophomore seasons. He's also the team's leading rebounder at 7.7 per game. Like Florida State, Louisville is a long team that likes to play an uglier style of basketball and holds its opponents to just 40.9 percent shooting from the field.
Louisville has slipped recently and is locked into the No. 7 seed in the ACC Tournament, but this is the same Cardinals team that rode a six-game ACC winning streak during the first half of conference play. Don't be surprised if Louisville makes a run next week.
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