- Andy Katz, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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The much-maligned ACC still has a shot to send two teams -- the last two NCAA champions in Duke and North Carolina -- to the Final Four in Houston.
Duke could still be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament if the Blue Devils win the ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C.
North Carolina could be as high as a No. 2 if the Tar Heels win the event.
As many as four other teams -- Florida State, Clemson, Boston College and Virginia Tech -- enter the week with a legitimate shot to play themselves into the NCAA field. The chances all of them make it are unlikely, but it's not implausible that the ACC could send six teams to the Dance.
Yes. It is compared with past ACC seasons when the league had a plethora of top-25 teams and wasn't mired in mediocrity behind the top two. But comparing this season with past seasons is pointless. The ACC, relative to this season, will still get its share -- possibly half its membership -- into the NCAA tournament. That's ultimately all that matters to the league. If a conference can get two top-line seeds in a pair of national champs, and four other bids, then it can certainly claim it had quite a season.
What's at stake?
A No. 1 seed for Duke. ESPN.com Bracketologist Joe Lunardi has the Blue Devils as his fourth No. 1 seed. But Lunardi is basing that on the assumption that there won't be another taker or that Duke wins the ACC tournament. If Duke does win the league tourney, then it would be hard to pass the Devils up for a No. 1 seed, even though they didn't win the ACC regular-season title. That's in large part due to the lack of other candidates. Now, if Notre Dame wins the Big East tournament, things could change.
A No. 2 seed for North Carolina. The Tar Heels can make a strong case for a No. 2 if they win the ACC tournament. UNC would be on quite a roll, winning 15 of 16 games, which includes at least one victory over Duke.
Winner of Virginia-Miami in the 8-versus-9 game
The Cavaliers closed the regular season with back-to-back wins: a 14-point road victory at Maryland and an 11-point win over NC State. Tony Bennett's club, playing without its best player (Mike Scott) and coping with other assorted injuries, finished 7-9 in the ACC to tie Maryland for seventh place. Virginia also swept Virginia Tech, was within two possessions of beating North Carolina at home and led Duke by six at the half at Cameron.
Miami has been erratic this season, but it still has the talent with guards Malcolm Grant, Durand Scott and improving big man Reggie Johnson to cause some fits. The Hurricanes handled Maryland by 14 points on March 2, and they had North Carolina beat at home until Harrison Barnes hit the game-winning 3-pointer.
Of course, the bracket isn't kind to UVa or Miami since the winner faces the Tar Heels. But both of these teams gave UNC problems before succumbing in the final possessions. Whoever wins this game won't be an easy out for North Carolina, even as well as the Heels are playing.
The game with the most on the line
Clemson versus Boston College in the quarterfinals
Let's assume BC puts Wake Forest out of its misery by ending the Demon Deacons' dreadful season on Thursday. That sets up a 4-versus-5 matchup that could have NCAA tournament ramifications on Friday. If it's not a deal-breaker for a bid, it will certainly affect seeding. Boston College and Clemson have both picked up solid wins, but neither team was able to get on a roll this season. The Eagles have one player who can take over a game, though, and that's Reggie Jackson. Clemson will rely more on the sum of its parts to advance under coach Brad Brownell.
The coaches who could be in their last ACC tournament
Sidney Lowe is well aware that this could be his last week as NC State's head coach. He was given a reprieve last year by former athletic director Lee Fowler in part because he had such a strong recruiting class. But injuries and inconsistent play have led to a 10th-seed in the ACC tournament with no momentum. The change in athletic directors from Fowler to former Maryland AD Debbie Yow doesn't help, either. If the Wolfpack lose to Maryland in the quarterfinals, then a decision on Lowe's status could be made by the end of the weekend. Somehow winning the ACC tournament may be the only way Lowe keeps his job, and that would seem improbable to say the least.
Meanwhile, Georgia Tech will have to decide on the future of Paul Hewitt, and if that's the case, the Yellow Jackets will owe him millions. That decision will probably be made after the season -- which should be later this week. But Georgia Tech is more than talented enough to pull off a first-round upset and send Virginia Tech to the NIT. The Hokies, who have dropped two straight to Boston College and at Clemson since beating Duke on Feb. 26, can't afford to give the NCAA tournament selection committee a reason to keep them out of the field. Losing to the Jackets would certainly give the committee pause.
The most-anticipated player in the field
Chris Singleton. Florida State hopes Singleton will play after missing the past five games with a broken right foot. If he is available, then the Seminoles' chances change dramatically. They should have taken out North Carolina but lost on the final possession last week. If Singleton plays -- and plays up to his standards -- then FSU is a threat to knock off Duke again and advance to the final potentially against Carolina. The return of Singleton would also help the Noles' seeding in the NCAA tournament, which is likely in flux without knowing if he'll play in the tourney.
Stars on display
Harrison Barnes, North Carolina: The Tar Heels freshman makes 3s, runs the floor extremely well and is playing like a lottery pick.
Kendall Marshall, North Carolina: He's dropping dimes at will and while he's still making some mistakes, he has made Carolina run the way Roy Williams wants on a consistent basis.
Nolan Smith, Duke: Smith has been the most consistent player in the ACC throughout the season. He took control of the point guard position once Kyrie Irving got hurt. He's a game-changer who can score in bunches and lead Duke to a conference title.
Kyle Singler, Duke: Singler hasn't been able to go on a monster streak this season. He has had games and moments where he looked as elite as he did a season ago. But he still hasn't been counted on as a difference-maker this season.
I will be surprised if
it's not a Duke-UNC final.
I won't be surprised if
BC's Reggie Jackson goes for 30 in a game.
Maryland's Jordan Williams has one, if not two, double-doubles.
• North Carolina wins.
• Clemson beats BC for a bid.
• Virginia Tech loses to Georgia Tech and plays its way out of the NCAA field.
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Duke and North Carolina aren't the only teams who have plenty to play for when the ACC tournament tips off on Thursday.