This Maryland duo is leading the ACC in scoring and rebounding and the Terps are now a lock in the 2013 NCAA tournament.
There are a lot of wild cards in this year's ACC tournament. Sure, Duke dominated the regular season at 17-1 and finished three games ahead of the nearest competitor, but they did most of that with Chelsea Gray at the helm. Gray is now an unpaid but highly vociferous assistant coach, making it her personal mission to channel her energy and savvy into frosh Alexis Jones. Still, Duke has looked highly shaky at times, especially on the boards. Teams like UNC and Maryland feel like they have a real shot at knocking off Duke, while regular season underachievers Georgia Tech and NC State lurk as potential dark horse teams. For those latter two squads, winning the ACC tournament is the only way they'll be playing in the NCAA tourney.
Indeed, there's not much at stake other than championship pride and NCAA seeding for the top five seeds. Duke is all but locked into a No. 2 seed, though whether it will be in Norfolk or Spokane remains to be seen. Maryland and UNC are likely to be 3 and 4 seeds, respectively, with a run to the title potentially moving them up the s-curve. Florida State will be a 6 seed, and Miami just needs to beat last place Virginia Tech for the second game in a row to assure themselves of an NCAA bid and a likely 10 seed. Even the ACC's bottom-tier teams have pushed some teams to the limit this year. Boston College has the shooting to pull an upset; Virginia Tech has a great one-two punch in Monet Tellier and Uju Ugota; Clemson plays ferocious defense; and Wake Forest has the high scoring backcourt of Lakevia Boykin and Chelsea Douglas. As always, the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina will be one of the best-run, best-attended and most exciting of the nation's postseason events. Let's take a closer look at the brackets.
Duke went 17-1 in the conference and won the ACC regular season title. (Photo by Joh Gardiner, Duke Photography)
First Round, March 7th, 2013
Game 1: #5 Miami (20-9, 11-7 ACC) vs #12 Virginia Tech (10-19, 4-14 ACC) 11am, TV: RSN
Key Match-Up: Morgan Stroman (Miami) vs Uju Ugoka (VT). Stroman is one of the best defenders in the league, and she'll need to limit the productivity of the Hokie rookie. The only chance VT has to win is if Ugoka has a huge game.
Potential X-Factor: Alyssa Fenyn (VT). The senior has been on a shooting tear of late. If she can balance the fairly reliable scoring of wing Monet Tellier, the Hokies could make this an interesting game.
Prediction: Miami has been shaky at the offensive end this year, but their defense has been excellent. I don't see VT having enough ammo to give the Canes a real battle, especially if 6-6 Pepper Wilson continues her recent solid play. The game will be close for a half as both teams adjust to the environment, but Miami will force a number of second-half turnovers and win comfortably.
Game 2: #8 NC State (15-15, 7-11 ACC) vs #9 Clemson (9-20, 5-13 ACC) Time: 2pm, TV: RSN
Key Match-Up: Kody Burke (NC State) vs Quinyotta Pettaway (Clemson). The lithe Pettaway is one of the more underrated players in the league, as she's productive on the boards no matter the opponent. Burke is a quick, powerful, shot-blocking forward who is sometimes inconsistent. Burke needs to make sure that Pettaway doesn't get easy baskets on stickbacks.
Potential X-Factor: Myisha Goodwin-Coleman (NC State). Briefly in coach Kellie Harper's doghouse, MGC is always a potential game-changer as a player, thanks to her long-range shooting ability. If she can keep her mistakes under control, I don't see anyone on Clemson's roster who could stop her.
Prediction: The Wolfpack Women have been the most erratic team in the league. Though close in many games, they've lost a number of late leads and have been blown out by several lesser opponents. Clemson is scrappy, but it's been a long season and their paper-thin roster won't be able to handle a motivated NC State's depth, size and shooting. A big run late in the first half will give N.C. State a working margin that will carry them through rough spots.
Georgia Tech's Ty Marshall is the second leading scorer in the ACC at 17.9 ppg and was just named to the First Team All-ACC. (photo courtesy of Georiga Tech Sports Information)
Game 3: #7 Georgia Tech (14-15, 7-11 ACC) vs #10 Wake Forest (12-18, 5-13 ACC) 6pm, TV: RSN
Key Match-Up: Ty Marshall (GT) vs Lakevia Boykin (WF). Marshall is one of the leading scorers in the ACC and has really come on strong on in recent weeks. Boykin is a streaky scorer who can put up 20 or 30 points on any given night. The team that wins will get a great performance from one of these players.
Potential X-Factor: Rebounding. The Jackets don't have any real low-post scoring threats, so they have turned to frosh jumping jack Roddreka Rogers, who has been racking up double-digit rebounding numbers of late. Wake needs center Sandra Garcia to commit to working hard on the boards, as well as slender but quick forward Dearica Hamby.
Prediction: This will be one of the most entertaining games of the tournament. Neither of these teams is going anywhere, but a win by Tech could get them into the WNIT. The game will come down to which set of guards is hottest from long range. Marshall will be the best player on the floor, so she should give Tech the edge late in the game.
Game 4: #6 Virginia (16-13, 8-10 ACC) vs #11 Boston College (11-18, 5-13 ACC) 2pm, TV: RSN
Key Match-Up: Wing Ataira Franklin (UVa) vs versatile forward Kristin Doherty (BC). Franklin is the one dependable scorer for Virginia, while Doherty is an accomplished stopper. Whoever gets the best of this matchup will go a long way in determining the ultimate outcome.
Potential X-Factor: Post defense. Virginia has a couple of rugged forwards in Sarah Imovbioh and Simone Egwu, while BC just has bulky but nimble Katie Zenevitch. Zenevitch could theoretically take those players outside if her jumper is falling, but the Eagles must prepare to get pounded on the boards.
Prediction: Virginia's guard play has been spotty because of injury, which makes this a much tighter matchup than the seeds might suggest. Freshman Faith Randolph's breakout game for Virginia in the regular season finale could be a sign that the Hoos could keep up with Boston College's array of shooters. The Eagles have little depth, but shooters like Kerri Shields and Nicole Boudreau give them a chance to knock out the Hoos. I see this as a tight game that Virginia will ultimately win at the foul line
Quarterfinals: March 8th, 2013
Game 5: #4 Florida State (21-8, 11-7 ACC) vs the winner of Game 1 (Miami-Virginia Tech) 11am, TV: RSN
Key Match-Up: Low-post scoring threat Chelsea Davis (FSU) vs 6-6 center Pepper Wilson (Miami). Assuming a Miami win, both teams will want to establish the paint as a way of opening things up for their guards. Both players aren't primary scoring threats, but both can put up double-doubles if they get the opportunity and finish hard.
Potential X-Factor: Perimeter shooting. FSU has more consistent weapons than Miami from long range, and Miami has to resist trying to match the Noles shot for shot. Instead, they need to find ways to get open looks for sharpshooter Stefanie Yderstrom and try to use their quick guards to attack the basket.
Prediction: Florida State has too many weapons for Miami. Unless Wilson rules the paint with a double-double and Yderstrom gets a lot of open looks, the Seminoles will overwhelm Miami sooner or later in this game with a barrage of threes and sneaky second-chance baskets by Natasha Howard.
Game 6: #1 Duke (27-2, 17-1 ACC) vs the winner of Game 2 (NC State-Clemson) 2pm, TV: RSN
Key Match-Up: Haley Peters (Duke) vs Kody Burke. Assuming and NC State win, Burke would need to be dominant in order for the Pack to beat Duke. That would include shutting down Peters, whose ability to take opponents outside makes her a difficult match-up.
Potential X-Factor: Offensive stagnation. Both teams often bog down on offense, coughing the ball up with bad passes or travels. The team that is crisper in the halfcourt will have a huge advantage.
Prediction: Duke remembers what happened last year when they underestimated a fired-up Wolfpack club. If State is focused and keeps their key players out of foul trouble, there's no reason why they can't keep this game close for forty minutes. I suspect that Tricia Liston will bail Duke out when State loses her on the perimeter a few times, getting back into the shooting groove she's been missing since Chelsea Gray went down.
Maryland's Alyssa Thomas is the top rebounder in the ACC averaging 10.3 per game (photo courtesty of Maryland Athletics)
Game 7: #2 Maryland (23-6, 14-4) vs the winner of Game 3 (Georgia Tech-Wake Forest) 6pm, TV: RSN
Key Match-Up: Alyssa Thomas (Maryland) vs Ty Marshall (GT). Assuming the Jackets win, this game will be a rematch of last year's ACC final duel between Thomas and Marshall, albeit one where the supporting casts of both teams has been gutted. Both teams need their stars to be great.
Potential X-Factor: Rebounding. Georgia Tech takes a tremendous number of jump shots. If Maryland plays reasonable perimeter defense, they will crush the Jackets on the boards. if the Jackets can get some offensive rebounds, then they might be able to hang around.
Prediction: GT has a chance against Maryland because of their deep bench and array of long-range shooters. Throw in Marshall as a catalyst, and the Terps will have to work hard for forty minutes. However, Georgia Tech will likely turn the ball over a lot, limiting their possessions. Maryland's edge in second chance points will propel them to victory.
Game 8: #3 North Carolina (26-5, 14-4 ACC) vs the winner of Game 4 (Virginia-BC) 8pm, TV: RSN
Key Match-Up: Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (UNC) vs China Crosby (UVa). Assuming a win by the Cavaliers, the size of Ruffin-Pratt could give the Heels a huge advantage against the Hoos, preventing Crosby from getting good looks or entry passes into the post.
Potential X-Factor: Post scoring. Waltiea Rolle and Xylina McDaniel are bigger and quicker than Sarah Imovbioh and Simone Egwu of Virginia. The latter duo is tough and physical, though inconsistent on defense (Imovbioh) or offense (Egwu). If Virginia can actually win the battle of points in the paint, they might have a chance.
Prediction: The Heels had little trouble with Virginia in the regular season, and a hobbled Hoo team won't challenge in the tournament.
Semifinals, Saturday, March 9th
Game 9: Winner of Game 5 vs Winner of Game 6 1pm, TV: RSN
Key Match-Up: If it's Duke vs Florida State, then the key matchup will once again be Elizabeth Williams vs Chelsea Davis. If Duke shuts down Davis again, then FSU will be forced to rely on its jump-shooting.
Potential X-Factor: Tricia Liston. She played poorly in the team's first meeting, but a good showing from her good make this an easy win.
Prediction: FSU would hang tough for about 30 minutes, but Alexis Jones will find ways to generate turnovers and get good looks for her teammates.
Game 10: Winner of Game 7 vs Winner of Game 8, 3:30 pm, TV: RSN
Key Match-Up: If it's UNC-Maryland, then it's Krista Gross of UNC vs Alyssa Thomas. The Heels had trouble with Thomas in both matchups; Gross needs to body her up and rebound misses.
Potential X-Factor: Turnovers. If UNC can hang on to the ball, they have the size to match up with the Terps, especially if they can get some long range shots to fall. UNC must have more possessions overall than Maryland if they're going to win.
Prediction: The Terps hang on in a brutal, physical battle featuring a combined 50 turnovers.
ACC Championship, Sunday March 10
Game 11: Winner of Game 9 and Game 10, 2pm, TV: ESPN2
Key Match-Up: If it's Duke and Maryland, then the key matchup is Richa Jackson (Duke) vs Alyssa Thomas (MD). Jackson has the size to body up to Thomas and is agile enough to keep up with her. If Thomas is reduced to being a jump shooter against Duke once again, it will be a long day for the Terps.
Potential X-Factor: Tianna Hawkins. After a terrible showing in Durham and an OK one in College Park, Hawkins would love another crack at Duke's post players.
Prediction: Maryland has the talent to win this game, but I'm not sure they'll have much gas left in the tank, especially if they wind up playing UNC in round two. I suspect Duke would pull away early in the second half and claim another ACC tournament title. Given the way they dominated the regular season, this isn't a bold prediction, but that's the way things are stacked. Still, with wild cards like NC State and Georgia Tech around, don't be surprised if Maryland winds up playing the Wolfpack or Florida State in the finals.