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With nine teams in the hunt, Maryland has ingredients to be ACC Champion

It's hard to believe the ACC regular season is now behind us and the 2000 ACC Tournament kicks off tomorrow night in Charlotte. For many reasons, in my four years at Virginia, this tournament is the one I've been looking forward to most.

For one thing, it's absolutely wonderful the Cavaliers are playing on Friday instead of Thursday this year, and, most importantly, they are not playing Duke in the first round.

But more than just that, this tournament looks like it could be a real contest, with NCAA Tournament berths on the line for several teams. Virginia still needs a win in the Conference Tournament to seal its NCAA fate, and if NC State makes waves this weekend, strange things might happen on Selection Sunday for the ACC.

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  • The matchups look good for this weekend, and while I've been around long enough to know anything can happen in ACC basketball, I'm going to try to venture a guess about how this weekend will shape up for the nine teams in the Tournament.

    GAME 1: Florida State vs. Georgia Tech

    Florida State is a good team, and they've got their share of talented players in Damous Anderson, Delvon Arrington and Ron Hale. Especially after the humiliating 70-51 loss to NC State Sunday, when Hale was scoreless, I think the Seminoles will come out determined and take this one from the Yellow Jackets.

    GAME 2: Duke vs. Clemson

    This game is a no-brainer. Duke's beaten Clemson twice this year by an average of 24 points. Duke can breeze through this game and go back to the hotel to rest up for the remainder of the weekend.

    GAME 3: North Carolina vs. Wake Forest

    In theory, the game between the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds should be the closest game, but in reality, North Carolina should win this game without much difficulty. Finishing fourth in the ACC for the first time in over 30 years doesn't make Heels fans very happy, so Carolina will start with an opening-round victory and convince everyone that they deserve to be in the NCAA Tournament.

    GAME 4: Maryland vs. Florida State

    Maryland scares me. They have a number of talented players, including Terence Morris, Lonny Baxter, Steve Blake and Tahj Holden. Plus the Terps will benefit from Florida State's fatigue because the Seminoles will have played the night before. Assuming Maryland stays out of foul trouble, it should be able to knock off the 'Noles in convincing fashion.

    GAME 5: Virginia vs. NC State

    Honestly, this is the game that scares me the most. Both teams have a lot to gain from winning a game or two in the tournament, but they also have a lot to lose. The outcome might come down to which Virginia team shows up. If it's the squad with the intensity and heart that upset Maryland, Virginia will come out with a win. But if the Cavs come out slowly and struggle, like they did against Wake Forest and Florida State, expect the Wolfpack to exploit the Cavaliers' woes. But Virginia has come too far to give up without a fight, so I think the Cavs will be victorious. But expect this game to be a good one, possibly in overtime.

    SEMIFINAL 1: Virginia vs. Maryland

    Although I hate to say it, I think the Terps will win this rematch. The Cavs only emerged with a two-point overtime victory after Maryland's entire front line had fouled out of the game. At a neutral site, Maryland will come out strong and advance to the finals.

    SEMIFINAL 2: Duke vs. North Carolina

    Duke vs. Carolina is a classic rivalry, and their matchups always manage to be close. Duke will win for the third time this year, but it'll be a tight game. The mystique behind playing the game has worn off for both teams this season, and with Duke freshman Mike Dunleavy probably sitting on the bench recovering from mono, this game could wear out Shane Battier, Chris Carrawell and Jason Williams.

    FINALS: Duke vs. Maryland

    Without a doubt, Maryland will take home the banner. Duke is a great team, but three games in four days is rough, especially when Battier and Carrawell are going to play about 40 minutes a game. While Maryland isn't the deepest team, it has enough depth to be able to sit its key players. This should be another close game, but in the end, Duke's not going to take back-to-back ACC tourney crowns.

    There you have it. These predictions seem reasonable now, but the ACC this season has shocked me enough to realize that this year any team has a reasonable shot at winning any game. But, as I've said all season, that's what makes ACC basketball great.


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