ACC Tournament Primer: Everything you need to know about the 2023 ACC Tournament
The ACC Tournament begins on Tuesday at Greensboro Coliseum.
The previous 2 incarnations have resulted in big upsets. Georgia Tech captured the 2021 ACC Tournament and Virginia Tech won last year’s edition. Both teams arrived at the ACC Tournament needing to win a championship to secure a berth in the NCAA Tournament, and both succeeded in becoming big-league bid thieves.
Will the 2023 ACC Tournament follow suit? Or will order be restored and a pretournament favorite win the crown for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic?
Here’s Saturday Road’s comprehensive primer for what promises to be a fun week.
(15) Louisville Cardinals (4-27, 2-18)
KenPom Efficiency Rankings: Team Rank 284; Offensive Efficiency 254; Defensive Efficiency is 300.
Best Player: Senior guard El Ellis, 17.8 points, 4.4 assists per game
Outlook: The Cardinals have played better basketball down the stretch, upsetting Clemson and pushing a top-10 Virginia team in February. El Ellis is a walking bucket, and his 17.8 points per game ranks 2nd in the ACC. He’s good enough to get hot and help the Cardinals win a game, but a team that hasn’t won 2 consecutive games all season isn’t going to make it to Thursday’s quarterfinals.
Prediction: One and done.
(14) Notre Dame Fighting Irish (11-20, 3-17)
KenPom: Team is 169; Offense 101; Defense 262
Best Player: Graduate forward Nate Laszewski, 14 points, 7.2 rebounds per game
Outlook: The Fighting Irish returned 4 key contributors and 3 starters from a team that reached the 2nd Round of last year’s NCAA Tournament and promptly went 3-17 in the ACC. That’s why Mike Brey is coaching his final game(s) for Notre Dame in Greensboro this week, barring a miracle. Nate Laszewski and Dane Goodwin, two of the team’s 4 seniors, have played well down the stretch, and a win over Pitt may give Notre Dame fans hope. The Fighting Irish have dropped 8 games this season by 5 points or less, including 6 such games in February and early March. Notre Dame’s inability to get stops, and the resulting inability to win close games, won’t change this week.
Prediction: One and done.
(13) Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (14-17, 6-14)
KenPom: Team is 164; Offense 198; Defense 141.
Best Player: Senior forward Javon Franklin, 9.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists per game
Outlook: Like Louisville, Georgia Tech played better down the stretch. They also were bad enough to lose 9 ACC games in a row at one point this season. They can’t score — a consistent issue in the Josh Pastner era — and this year the usually stout defense has been leakier than usual. Pastner has reached just 1 NCAA Tournament in his tenure in Atlanta and time may be running out. Miles Kelly is the Ramblin’ Wreck’s lone scorer and he could go on a heater and help them win a game in Greensboro, but it’s difficult to see it lasting beyond Wednesday’s second round.
Prediction: 1st-round win, and a loss to Pittsburgh.
(12) Florida State Seminoles (9-22, 7-13)
KenPom: Team is 212; Offense 170; Defense 246.
Best Player: Sophomore guard Matthew Cleveland, 14 points, 7.6 rebounds per game
364 days after Matthew Cleveland’s buzzer beater to beat Virginia last year, Matthew Cleveland heaves up a prayer to beat Miami pic.twitter.com/7mhXewSdit
— The Field of 68 (@TheFieldOf68) February 25, 2023
Outlook: Decimated by injuries and suspensions before the season reached December, Florida State grinded their way to a 5-4 start in league play anyway. The wheels came off afterward, though, as FSU dropped 11 of its final 13 games in league play. They did beat the hated Hurricanes in Coral Gables, orchestrating the largest comeback in ACC basketball history in the process. But Leonard Hamilton’s defensive culture, which helped this program win more games from 2011-2020 than any ACC programs other than Virginia and North Carolina, has crumbled. The Seminoles rank 246th in KenPom defensive efficiency, and that number is even worse in league play, ranking 259th, per Bart Torvik. Is this Hamilton’s last hurrah? If it is the end, what a tremendous job he’s done in Tallahassee taking this program from parochial afterthought to perennial NCAA Tournament team.
Prediction: One and done.
(11) Virginia Tech Hokies (18-13, 8-12)
KenPom: Team is 76; Offense 33; Defense 12
Best Player: Senior forward Justyn Mutts, 12.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists per game
Outlook: The Hokies won the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn last year from the 8 seed, and with the bulk of that team on the floor this week, should be viewed as a threat to repeat. That’s strange to say, given Mike Young’s team was one of the nation’s most disappointing teams in the regular season, but the talent is there for another run. Virginia Tech’s quality wins reflect how dangerous they can be, as the Hokies have beaten Virginia, Duke and North Carolina this season. Mutts will be Mutts, and he’s one of the best players in the ACC. The key to a repeat is his help, specifically the play of sharpshooting guard Hunter Cattoor. Virginia Tech went 1-4 without Cattoor earlier this season, and he gives the Hokies an ACC best 42.5% 3-point shooter when he’s healthy and on the floor.
Prediction: Two and through, with a loss to NC State in the second round.
(10) Boston College Eagles (15-16, 9-11)
KenPom: Team is 172; Offense 247; Defense 110
Best Player: Senior guard Makai Ashton-Langford, 12.1 points, 2.8 assists per game
Outlook: The Eagles have taken a nice jump in Year 2 under Earl Grant, defeating 4 ranked teams in the regular season for the first time since a run to the Elite 8 in 1994. Computers don’t love the Eagles, who sit in the bottom third of the country in offensive efficiency. But the team has defended at a top 50 level in February, per Bart Torvik, and with Makai Ashton-Langford, who does a little of everything, and a quality big in Quentin Post, who averages 16 points, 6 rebounds, and a block a game, the Eagles have good balance and have been playing their best basketball down the stretch. Boston College enters the ACC Tournament having won 3 of its past 4 games.
Prediction: Two and through, with a loss to North Carolina in the second round.
(9) Wake Forest Demon Deacons (18-13, 10-10)
KenPom: Team is 90; Offense 52, Defense 152
Best Player: Graduate guard Tyree Appleby, 18.8 points, 6.3 assists, 1.7 steals per game
Serious Question if Tyree Appleby becomes first player in ACC history to lead in points and assists, how is he not ACC POTY?
— Sam Hunt (@Sam_8784) February 27, 2023
Outlook: For the second consecutive season, Wake Forest may feature the ACC Player of the Year and still miss the NCAA Tournament. Tyree Appleby became the first player in league history to lead the conference in points and assists per game in a single season. The Florida transfer was a walking bucket who helped the Demon Deacons remain in the top 50 in offensive efficiency nearly the entire season. The inability to get stops — and a handful of heartbreaking losses at home — are the reason Wake will need to win the ACC Tournament to return to the Big Dance for the first time since 2017. Stranger things have happened, and the Wake Forest team that routed North Carolina, beat Duke and pushed the Blue Devils in the rematch at Cameron Indoor can play with anyone, but the Demon Deacons aren’t quite good enough defensively to win 4 straight games.
Prediction: Two and through, with a loss to 1 seed in the quarterfinals.
(8) Syracuse Orange
KenPom: Team is 122; Offense 80; Defense 192
Best Player: Freshman guard Judah Mintz, 16.2 points, 4.5 assists per game
Outlook: Jim Boeheim’s team looked like a sleeper to get involved in the NCAA bubble conversation when they upset NC State in the JMA Wireless Dome on Valentine’s Day. They proceeded to lose their next 3 games. The culprit this season is the same as last: Boeheim just doesn’t have the length and athleticism he needs to make his 2-3 zone effective. No team in the Power 6 has been as miserable defensively over the past month, per Bart Torvik, and the Orange sit a dire 192nd in KenPom Defensive Efficiency as the postseason begins. That should spell a short stint in March for Syracuse, which is a shame because true freshman Judah Mintz is a blossoming star.
Prediction: One and done.
(7) North Carolina Tar Heels (19-12, 11-9)
KenPom: Team is 47; Offense is 67, Defense is 44
Best Player: Senior center Armando Bacot, 16.5 points, 10.8 rebounds per game
Outlook: North Carolina is a staggering 1-9 in Quad 1 games. They didn’t earn their lone Quad 1 win until they clipped a struggling Virginia team in Chapel Hill on Feb. 25. They are on pace to be the worst 3-point shooting North Carolina team in history (31%). As a result of their poor shooting, they don’t score at an elite level (67th nationally in KenPom offensive efficiency). They lack the ability to space the floor like last year’s national finalist because Pete Nance, it turns out, isn’t Brady Manek (Saturday Road tried to tell y’all this in late October, but we digress). And yet … this is still North Carolina. They were the preseason No. 1, have one of the nation’s best players in center Armando Bacot, have a microwave oven of a guard who loves the big stage in Caleb Love, and Nance has played his best basketball in a Carolina jersey over the past 2 weeks.
Is it all coming together? It better. The Tar Heels backed themselves into a corner after a 62-57 home loss to Duke on Saturday night. Many think the Tar Heels must win the ACC Tournament to play in the Big Dance. Saturday Road thinks a run to the final will do, but any confidence that occurs is rooted in hope, not what we’ve seen from the Tar Heels over the past month.
Prediction: Championship Saturday, but no automatic bid. Selection Sunday will be a bundle of nerves for the Tar Heels.
(6) NC State Wolfpack (22-9, 12-8)
KenPom: Team is 52; Offense 35, Defense 78
Best Player: Sophomore guard Terquavion Smith, 17.3 points, 4.5 assists, 1.5 steals per game
Unassisted made threes leaderboard
1) Terquavion Smith, 41
2) Emoni Bates, 37
3) Brandin Podziemski, 34
4) Adam Flagler, 32
5) Keyonte George, 27
6) Marcus Sasser, 25
7) Tucker DeVries, 21
8) Brandon Miller, 19
8) Jett Howard, 19
10) Jalen Pickett, 18
11) Maxwell Lewis, 17
— Brian (@BrianJNBA) March 4, 2023
Outlook: Kevin Keatts did one of the better coaching jobs in college basketball this season, turning a team that finished last in the ACC a season ago into a NCAA Tournament bound squad with 22 wins. This is a balanced offensive attack, with the slashing and create your own look ability of Terquavion Smith, the shooting of Casey Morsell, a solid point guard in Jarkel Joiner, and an offensively dynamic big in DJ Burns Jr. The Wolfpack aren’t great defensively, but Morsell and Smith are plus defenders, giving NC State the ability to slow teams that are heavily reliant on quality perimeter shooting and guard play. They will be a tough out in both Greensboro and March Madness.
Prediction: They’ll fall in Semifinal Friday against rival UNC, but Greensboro Coliseum will be rocking.
(5) Pittsburgh Panthers (21-10, 14-6)
KenPom: Team is 65; Offense 31, Defense 105
Best Player: Junior forward Blake Hinson, 16.1 points, 6.3 rebounds per game
Outlook: Is Pitt’s close to the season a concern? That’s the question we have as Pitt, a lock for the NCAA Tournament, heads to Greensboro for the ACC Tournament. The Panthers dropped their final 2 games and 3 of their past 5. They lost the double bye when Duke won at North Carolina on Saturday night. Is the late season swoon a sign that teams have figured Pitt out or that the Panthers, one of college basketball’s most surprising success stories in 2022-23, have run out of steam? Or is just a rough stretch of late-season road games? Pitt isn’t great defensively, but they are a solid interior team, ranked in the top 100 in rebounding and 2-point defense on the season. They also take care of the basketball (47th in turnover rate), a prerequisite to winning in March. As long as there is gas left in the tank, Jeff Capel III’s team is dangerous.
Prediction: Two and through, thanks to a brutal matchup against Duke in the quarterfinals.
(4) Duke Blue Devils (23-8, 14-6)
KenPom: Team is 31; Offense 64; Defense 28
Best Player: Freshman forward Kyle Filipowski, 15 points, 9.2 rebounds per game
Kyle Filipowski with a big double-double in Duke’s win over UNC.
😈 22 PTS
😈 13 REB
😈 1 STL
😈 1 BLK@kylefilipowski @DukeMBB pic.twitter.com/cXjVw9Phbo
— SLAM University (@slam_university) March 5, 2023
Outlook: Duke is playing some of the best basketball in the country of late. The emergence of Dariq Whitehead as a legitimate scoring threat has improved Duke offensively and the athletic, gumby-like freshman has also made the Blue Devils better defensively on the wing. Throw in the continued improvement of Dereck Lively II as a rim protector, the steady leadership of guard Jeremy Roach, and the ACC’s most efficient player, per KenPom, in Filipowski, and you see a Duke team that even without Coach K looks like … well, Duke.
Prediction: ACC champion.
(3) Clemson Tigers (22-9, 14-6)
KenPom: Team is 67; Offense 74, Defense 64
Best Player: Junior forward PJ Hall, 15.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.2 blocks per game
Outlook: Clemson needs at least one and perhaps 2 wins in Greensboro to feel optimistic on Selection Sunday. That’s what happens when you lose to the likes of South Carolina, Loyola-Chicago and lowly Louisville during the regular season. Those blots on Clemson’s resume may end up being too much to overcome, which is a shame, really, because there’s star power on this team with PJ Hall and Hunter Tyson in the frontcourt and Brevin Galloway having the best year of his career in the backcourt. The Tigers have a pair of signature wins, defeating Duke and dominating NC State in Raleigh just 2 weeks ago. They have looked like an NCAA Tournament team at times, but the consistency has been lacking. Will the Tigers profile as it is be enough on Selection Sunday?
Prediction: One and done, and the NIT.
(2) Virginia Cavaliers (23-6, 15-5)
KenPom: Team is 37; Offense 73, Defense 33
Best Player: Graduate guard Kihei Clark, 11.1 points, 5.7 assists, 1.3 steals per game
Outlook: Virginia struggles to score, which cost them 2 games down the stretch of the season. They do share the ball — Clark is 19th nationally in assist rate, per KenPom, and the team ranks 2nd nationally in that category. But they struggle to hit shots, which makes them a vulnerable team because they play low possession basketball games. They don’t defend at an elite level, at least by their own program standards, ranking a very good, but not great, 33rd in the country in defensive efficiency. Ryan Dunn and Isaac McKneely have offered huge freshman contributions down the stretch, and their ability to help the team get buckets off the bench could define this team’s ceiling in March.
Prediction: One and done. Will this hurt their seed on Selection Sunday?
(1) Miami Hurricanes (24-6, 15-5)
KenPom: Team is 38; Offense 13, Defense 121
Best Player: Junior guard Isaiah Wong, 15.9 points, 1.4 steals per game
Outlook: The ACC regular-season champions (via head-to-head tiebreakers), the Hurricanes have a legitimate shot at sending Jim Larrañaga to his second Final Four if they can keep big man Norchad Omier out of foul trouble. The Hurricanes are at +19 per 100 possessions with Omier on the floor. They are a pedestrian +2 with him in foul trouble and off of it. Why is Omier so vital? Omier, who averages 14.1 points and 10 rebounds a game, gives the Hurricanes the balance last year’s Elite 8 team sorely lacked. His post presence complements one of college basketball’s best groups of guards and wings, led by Wong, Kansas State transfer Nijel Pack and the emergence of do-it-all wing Jordan Miller.
There is no obvious choice for ACC Player of the Year
As of right now, I plan on voting for Miami's Jordan Miller
Below I explain why I think he deserves it over his teammate Isaiah Wong, WF's Tyree Appleby and others
Welcoming discussion on this, comment below what you think pic.twitter.com/LlUIIhpetc
— Christian Odjakjian (@OdjHoops) March 4, 2023
Miller may be the most improved player in the ACC this season. He’s been the most efficient player in ACC league play, per Bart Torvik, and his 15.1 points and 6 rebounds a game don’t do justice to all he offers the Hurricanes. He’s the best defender on a team that can struggle to guard at times, but is better on defense than last year’s Elite 8 group. The Hurricanes are a threat to win the program’s second ACC Championship (2013).
Prediction: Semifinal Friday, where they’ll fall to Duke.