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ACC Weekend: It's big boy time

ACC Coach of the Year Tony Bennett has to guide Virginia through the minefield of the ACC Tournament. (Source: ACC Coach of the Year Tony Bennett has to guide Virginia through the minefield of the ACC Tournament. (Source:
Marcus Paige (5) and North Carolina will make the NCAA tournament, but some style points this weekend can't hurt, especially for seeding. (Source: UNC Athletics) Marcus Paige (5) and North Carolina will make the NCAA tournament, but some style points this weekend can't hurt, especially for seeding. (Source: UNC Athletics)

(RNN) - The top four seeds in the ACC Tournament tip off Friday, beginning a weekend that will help fill in the color-by-numbers picture that is otherwise known as March Madness.

To say the next few days could prove unpredictable is a mighty understatement.

The two hottest teams in the league (North Carolina, Virginia) both ended the regular season with losses.

Health could prove Syracuse's saving grace, and Duke's shot at a conference title might come down to pure circumstance.

Here is what to expect and what's at stake for the top four seeds in the ACC Tournament. Tipoff for all games is eastern time.

No. 1 Virginia - Heavy is the head…

Thirteen-game conference winning streak, possible No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, best defensive team in the nation and all that jazz.

That's nice, but…

It's a different season now, and the Cavaliers (25-6, 16-2 ACC) have some questions to answer. First, if the selection committee was picking this very minute, would this team truly deserve a top seed?

Answer: Absolutely. The resume the Wahoos have posted thus far is considerable in that they ran right through one of the best conferences in the country. Not to mention they did it with far less explosive talent than any other team in consideration for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Another question: If Virginia doesn't win the ACC Tournament, does it still deserve a No. 1 seed?

Answer: Absolutely not. Teams with great defenses and shoddy offenses are a great story if they go deep in the tournament, but they don't deserve a fast track to the Final Four. Considering Wichita State is an undefeated conference champion, Florida is likely No. 1 overall no matter what happens and there are more attractive options both outside and within the Cavs' own conference, they pretty much have to be the last team standing this weekend.

They face Florida State at noon.

No. 2 Syracuse - It's as simple as…

Jerami Grant. If tasked to make a short list (heck, even a long list) of ACC players whose presence directly impacts their teams, this guy would pop into very few people's minds. Yet, losses in two of the three games in which he either didn't finish or didn't play due to a back injury prove the value of an enforcer - a guy whose primary job is to get rebounds and clog the paint.

Let's not forget he also contributes 12 points each night to a team that, despite its stellar record before his injury, is not exactly a scoring machine at 68 points per game.

Grant had 16 points and eight rebounds in a 16-point win against FSU in the regular season finale, if that means anything. Here's a hint: it does.

The Orange (27-4, 14-4) play NC State at 7 p.m.

No. 3 Duke: The giant killers…

A team that is usually head and shoulders above everyone else could pull off legitimate upsets in a league it has owned for the past two decades. Think about that for a minute.

ACC Weekend has frequently pointed out the flaws in Duke's game, and not merely out of traditional Duke hatred.

It's only because no one else seems to notice this is an incomplete team, specifically the poll voters.

However, the Blue Devils' weakness can quickly turn into the biggest advantage any team holds in this tournament. Duke's lack of frontcourt beef was a constant source of embarrassment this season, even in games it won. But with 14 games packed into four days, a guard-heavy rotation is an asset for a team with a first-round bye.

Duke (24-7, 13-5) can literally run opponents off the floor, and fresh legs mean outside shots are more likely to fall.

Maybe coach Mike Krzyzewski had that in the back of his mind all along.

The Blue Devils play Clemson at 9 p.m.

No. 4 North Carolina - The comeback kids…

With thorough respect to the job Tony Bennett has done this year, how is Roy Williams not the ACC Coach of the Year? At the very least, he should have gotten far more than six votes (Bennett got 68).

The job he did cleaning up the hot mess his team was devolving into was nothing short of spectacular. We won't rehash it. You know what happened. But just in case you don't, here ya go.

The feel-good story of the Tar Heels' turnaround didn't end with the loss to Duke, which broke a 12-game winning streak, but it might come to a halt soon. Pitt is not an ideal matchup for North Carolina (23-8, 13-5).

The Panthers (24-8, 11-7) are one of the few teams in the conference that can challenge UNC in the paint. And who knows when the free throw monster will rear its ugly head again and gobble up the Heels' easy points, costing them a game?

UNC plays Pitt at 2 p.m.

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