With the ACC Tournament approaching, conference seeding is starting to take form. Once again, the ACC has four Top 25 teams; however, in the tournament, every team is a legitimate threat to win. Here are how the best teams have performed over the past week and why they can win the tournament.
The hottest team in the ACC currently, the Hokies are coming off huge victories against North Carolina teams. Last week, they dominated the Duke Blue Devils from the opening tip. Last month, they lost to Duke by 11 points and Elizabeth Kitley was held only four points.
The February rematch was a completely different story. Virginia Tech jumped out to a 23-11 lead and Kitley had 10 points in the first quarter, almost outsourcing the entire Blue Devil team by herself.
Kitley scored 20-plus points in all three games last week including a game-winning buzzer-beater against the North Carolina Tar Heels on Thursday. With the Hokies currently riding a seven-game winning streak, they are the hottest team in the ACC, and their star player is having the best stretch of her season. The timing is perfect for the Hokies to make an ACC Tournament run.
No. 11 Duke Blue Devils (23-4 record, 1st in ACC)
If the ACC Tournament started today the Blue Devils would be the No. 1 seed. The biggest reason for that has been their exceptional defense. Not only do the Blue Devils have the best defensive rating in the ACC, leading the next-best team by an entire six points, but they have the third-best defensive rating in all of college basketball.
The Blue Devils have only given up more than 70 points two times this season, which is an impressive feat. They will certainly be a threat to any team in the conference with how swarming their defense is. The biggest question mark is where their offensive contributions will come from on a daily basis. The Blue Devils don’t have a reliable No. 1 scoring option and have only the ninth-best offense in the conference, which is below average.
Fortunately, the Blue Devils have a pretty favorable side of the bracket so far, but a matchup with a team that plays much faster, scores more efficiently and can defend pretty well could pose problems for the Duke. Until that happens, expect low-scoring matchups anytime the blue and white take the court.
The most well-rounded team in the ACC is Notre Dame. The Irish boast the best net rating in the entire conference, while being Top 2 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The Irish are currently riding a five-game winning streak, including a huge overtime win against the Louisville Cardinals.
Given that the Irish are the most well-rounded team in the conference, it is no surprise they are one of the favorites to win the tournament. There aren’t too many concerns about this team; however, Louisville did a great job stressing Notre Dame’s frontcourt in the pick and roll.
Louisville’s guards were content with the drop coverage scheme the Irish were playing and late in the fourth quarter, Louisville ran many off-ball screens that resulted in easy looks. The Irish did win the game thanks to an Olivia Miles buzzer-beater; however, teams with an offense centered around off-ball movement could pose a problem for the Irish in the future. The Irish will face off against Louisville again on Sunday.
Perhaps last week’s matchup was just an off night. After all, the Irish earned the No. 2 seed for a reason. Their dominance on both sides of the ball is something no other team in the conference can boast.
Enough has already been said about Ta’Niya Latson’s exceptional play this season, but not much has been said about how surprising the Seminoles have played this year. Almost nobody predicted them to be this good. Latson is a huge part of that, but what separates the Seminoles from every other team in the ACC is how fast they play.
Latson has an unstoppable motor on offense and defense and that carries over to the rest of the group. Florida State is relentless at attacking the rim, which explains why they lead the conference in free throw attempts per game and are Top 3 in free throw rate.
In Thursday’s nail-biter win against Wake Forest, the Seminoles attempted 31 free throws. It helps that they make them at a very efficient clip. The Seminoles attempt a lot of threes as well, which could make for an interesting tournament run for them. Their futuristic style of basketball led by one of the best scorers in the country could be the perfect recipe for a Cinderella tournament run in March.
Louisville Cardinals (21-9, 4th in ACC)
Louisville hasn’t lived up to expectations this year. After last year’s Final Four appearance, expectations were higher for the team entering this season. A large roster turnover is one of the biggest explanations for the sudden reversal of fortunes, but there are still many positives to take away from Louisville as we enter the month of March.
Over the past month, Louisville has played really well, going 6-1 in the last seven games, with the one loss being a buzzer-beater to Notre Dame. Perhaps the most encouraging part of the entire stretch has been how they’ve won these games. Some required valiant scoring efforts and some required hard-fought defense to win. Being able to win games in many different ways is critical, and the Cardinals seem to have figured that out.
On top of that, they still have perhaps the tournament’s biggest wild card: Hailey Van Lith. Van Lith is averaging just under 20 points a game and is no stranger to performing well on the biggest stage. Louisville should be encouraged to know they will enter almost any tournament game having arguably the conference’s best offensive player on their team. It may not seem like a big deal now, but when the lights are brightest, Van Lith is a great option to have.