By Marc Lawrence
PROJECTED FINAL FOUR:
Duke, Maryland, Virginia Tech, Clemson
THE WAY WE SEE IT:
DUKE will be looking to advance to the title game for the 11th time in 14 years (6-3-1 ATS playing for the cheese) and defend their ACC crown (beat FSU last year). The good news for the Blue Devils, as they added yet another ACC regular-season trophy to their mantelpiece, is that the top seed has appeared in the championship game in 14 of the last 19 years. The bad news is regular season champs have walked away with the title only six times. However, the Blue Devils' 6-0 ATS mark versus opponents off a double-digit win and their 6-2 ATS record versus conference foes off a SU win this season calls for a repeat performance and a probable No. 1 seed in the Big Dance. MARYLAND has been a dominant 8-1 ATS as conference favorites this season and an equally impressive 7-1 ATS as pick or favorites of les than 5 points in this event. While the Terps have bullied sub .690 opposition with a 14-0 SU and 9-1 ATS mark this season, keep in mind that they are just 9-7 SU and 8-8 ATS versus .690 or greater foes. VIRGINIA TECH is a perfect 4-0 ATS in this tourney over the last two years but Seth Greenberg's slumping Hokies are just 3-6 ATS as favorites of more than 5 points this season and 1-6 ATS as tourney favorites of more than 2 points. Keep a close eye on which role CLEMSON shows up in. The Tigers have been a solid 9-2 ATS as favorites 8 or more points this season but only 1-6 ATS when they arrive as dogs. Clemmie's one-and-done showing in three of the last four years in this tourney is also cause for concern.
THE SLEEPER: North Carolina
Heels enter this event red-faced and that could spell danger for other teams. For openers, our database informs us that defending national champions in conference tourneys are: 16-4 SU and 15-5 ATS against opponents off BB wins, 14-6 SU and ATS versus .633 or greater opposition and 11-3 SU and ATS versus No. 1, 2 or 3 seeds. Whew! We're not anxious to fade numbers like that, not with Roy Williams, who has NEVER been an underdog in a conference tournament game. You know what to do.
KEY TOURNAMENT BEST BET: Play On North Carolina as a dog
See ‘The Sleeper' writeup above and play accordingly. Remember, not only is UNC down this season but so, too, is the rest of the conference.