Tobacco Road mayhem: ACC tips off 60th annual tournament

Mar. 13, 2013 @ 10:23 PM

As the 60th annual ACC Tournament opens Thursday, the suspense and tension for just one automatic berth is long gone.But not all participants will be free-wheeling. There’s plenty at stake, whether it’s the NCAA bubble or coaches’ jobs. And Sunday, there will be an automatic bid handed out.

It’s the last year of the 12-team format. When the league convenes here next March, a fifth day will be necessary for the additions of Notre Dame, Syracuse and Pittsburgh.

Thursday's games begin with eighth-seeded Boston College and ninth-seeded Georgia Tech at noon, followed by fifth-seeded N.C. State and 12th-seeded Virginia Tech. In the evening session, seventh-seeded Maryland and 10th-seeded Wake Forest tangle at 7, followed by sixth-seeded Florida State and 11th-seeded Clemson.

Waiting for those winners on Friday, respectively, are top-seeded Miami, fourth-seeded Virginia, second-seeded Duke and third-seeded North Carolina.

Nationally second-ranked Duke is 18-0 when Ryan Kelly plays, and a Saturday semifinal meeting with the Tar Heels (22-9) could be in the offing. Duke (27-4) also is in play for one of the highest national top seeds.

“We’d like to play them again,” Duke senior Mason Plumlee said after winning in Chapel Hill last Saturday, referencing the spirit of competition that makes the rivalry unique. “It’ll be like a home game for them in Greensboro anyway.”

As for Kelly’s presence, point guard Quinn Cook said, “We’re getting the feel back, but he was out two months, so it’s not going to just happen overnight.”

The Blue Devils have won 10 of the last 14 tournaments. Ninth-ranked Miami (24-6) is top-seeded for the first time and bidding to become only the third non-North Carolina team to win the event in the last 20 years.

The ACC had 40 games this season decided by five points or less.

“I do think it’s open,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “You look at the top four or five seeds, are they clearly better than the rest of us? Maybe not, but they have the talent and the upperclassmen to get it done here this weekend.”

Maryland (20-11) and Virginia (21-10) have circulated on NCAA projections as bubble teams the last few weeks, and the Terrapins are further out than in after losing three of four.

The Cavaliers got a big lift by defeating Duke one game before Kelly returned, then lost next time out. The Terps also own a win over Duke without Kelly, but have lost four of six since.

Though secure for Selection Sunday, a solid showing wouldn’t hurt seeding for the Wolfpack (22-9).

“It’s crunch time,” Wolfpack senior Scott Wood said. “If we’re not ready to play now, we’re not working hard enough.”

Embattled Wake Forest head coach Jeff Bzdelik might be coaching his last game and arguably has the ACC’s hottest coaching seat. The Deacs (13-17) are 33-58 in his tenure, including 1-25 in ACC road games and 4-25 in February and March games. He came from Colorado, where his teams were 1-22 in league road games — a 2-47 total.

A critical ad appearing in the student newspaper Old Gold & Black has drawn national attention. There’s also a website encouraging a change in leadership. Athletics director Ron Wellman stopped fan call-ins to Bzdelik’s radio show this season.

Brad Brownell’s Tigers (13-17) were a middle of the pack preseason pick but ended up next-to-last. Fans are chattering about his job security as well.

With the first tip today at noon, all of them have a chance to reach the Big Dance. There may be more than one bid coming to the league, but the automatic still goes to the champion.

Contact the writer at awooten@hendersondispatch.com.