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2021 ACC Tournament Primer: 4 Major Storylines as the scene returns to Greensboro

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost a since most of America went into lockdown at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. So much has changed since Florida State and Clemson walked off the court at the Greensboro Coliseum, following the cancellation of the 2020 ACC Tournament.

The 2020-21 season has been a grind to get through; that’s probably putting it mildly, too. In general, the last year has been a scary mess. We’re just lucky to even have basketball. It’s incredible what these athletes have gone through to even perform on these stages.

On the eve of the 2021 ACC Tournament for men’s basketball, a quick look at four important storylines.

Hosting a multi-team tournament during a pandemic

With the tournament back in Greensboro, it’s impossible to avoid reliving some of those dark memories from 2020, while also contemplating what exactly the ACC is attempting to pull off.

Fortunately, the ACC Women’s Tournament took place last week without a hitch. That’s reassuring. However, given how many games were postponed/canceled this season, there’s still some uneasiness. (With the NCAA Tournament right around the corner, what would happen if a team or two suffered a COVID-19 outbreak? These are uncharted waters.)

When Pittsburgh and Miami take the floor Tuesday afternoon (March 9), there will be a limited number of fans in attendance. A recent executive order from North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper permits large indoor arenas to now host events at 30 percent capacity. The Greensboro Coliseum seats over 23,500.

This means a limited number of fans in the arena. If you recall, the ACC announced on March 11, 2020 that no fans would be allowed in for games on March 12. So, almost exactly one year apart, fans will be back in the same building for the same event.

 

Bubble Watch at the ACC Tournament

As is tradition at this time of the sports calendar, we turn our attention over to the NCAA Tournament bubble. The ACC currently has five teams that are safely in the projected field: Virginia, Florida State, Clemson, Virginia Tech and North Carolina.

Current NET rankings of those teams:

    • No. 13 Virginia
    • No. 22 Florida State
    • No. 36 Clemson
    • No. 39 UNC
    • No. 42 Virginia Tech

According to Joe Lunardi of ESPN, Georgia Tech (No. 38 NET) and Louisville (No. 51 NET) are on the right side of the bubble — with a safe margin to their advantage, too. Lunardi’s latest Bracketology report has Georgia Tech and Louisville in the “Last Four Byes” category.

A rung or two further down the later, though, is Syracuse.

Syracuse ranks No. 50 in the NET; however, Jim Boeheim’s club is currently in the “First Four Out” group, per Lundari. Last week Syracuse defeated both North Carolina and Clemson — two solid wins. However, neither victory currently counts toward Syracuse’s Quad 1 record. Both of those wins came on Syracuse’s home floor against teams just outside the top 30 of the NET. (Yes, the system is far from perfect.)

Some fans of NC State and Duke may try to talk themselves into those teams threatening on the bubble. The odds, however, are incredibly long and outside the realm of realistic possibilities.

Duke, unfortunately, just missed out on some big resume-building opportunities late in the season. NC State picked up a solid Q1 win at UVA (Feb. 24), but it’s likely too little, too late; the Wolfpack are just 1-6 in Q1 games.

Short of winning the ACC Tournament, all teams like Syracuse, Duke and NC State can do is try to beef up their resume and get as close to the cut line as possible, and see what happens. Hypothetically: a random team(s) ahead of them could be hit with COVID-19 cases and have to miss the tournament. Thus opening up a spot in the field.

That’s a macabre thought, but you never know what will happen these days.

 

All quiet on the coaching front?

Conference tournament week marks an interesting point in the college hoops universe: a brief period of time between the end of the regular season, the NCAA Tournament and all of the postseason roster/coaching turnover.

In recent years, there have been plenty of fireworks when it comes to ACC programs making coaching changes around the tournament. For instance: during the 2018 ACC Tournament in Brooklyn, Pitt fired clipboard-smashing Kevin Stallings days after he lost to Notre Dame.

If not for the COVID-19 pandemic, Wake Forest likely would’ve moved on from Danny Manning right after the 2020 ACC Tournament. Instead, that transition awkwardly took place six weeks later at the end of April.

However, nothing along these lines seems in the cards for 2021. With Boston College’s midseason firing of Jim Christian, it’s logical to assume that 14 of the 15 remaining ACC head coaches will be back for the 2021-22 season. (Spare me all of the “Is Roy retiring???” speculation, too.)

Brad Brownell may have been on the hot seat at Clemson; his job security seemed to fluctuate wildly during the season. However, with the Tigers head back to March Madness, all’s well that ends well, right?

Of course, Boston College and first-year AD Patrick Kraft must fill their coaching vacancy. That’s a fairly notable opening and something to keep an eye on.

 

Can a North Carolina-based team win it in Greensboro?

For decades, Tobacco Road ACC teams have dominated this event in Greensboro. However, without the completion of the 2020 tournament, it’s been 10 years since a North Carolina team last won the ACC Tournament in Greensboro. Duke won back-to-back ACC titles at the Coliseum in 2010 and 2011.

When the ACC Tournament was held most recently in Greensboro (2013-15), all three championship teams came from out of state: Miami, Virginia and Notre Dame.

For whatever it’s worth, UNC actually has decent odds — third best — to win the tournament.

 

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