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ACC Tournament: Five things to remember going in

By Andrew Carter
Raleigh News & Observer
ATLANTA — North Carolina State’s 70-58 win against Virginia Tech on Sunday night brought an end to one of the most memorable ACC regular seasons in recent memory. The past two months have brought improbable rallies, game-winning shots at the buzzer and results that, at times, defied logic or explanation.
The ACC tournament begins Thursday in Atlanta, and if it mirrors the regular season, it will end with North Carolina and Duke playing for the championship on Sunday — but not before some wild moments and surprises.
Leading into the ACC tournament, here are five things the regular season taught us:
1It hasn’t been an easy road, but North Carolina (27-4, 14-2) is right where most expected the Tar Heels to be.
Entering the season, UNC was a clear No. 1., and a favorite to win the national championship. By mid-January, the Tar Heels became a forgotten team after losses to UNLV and Kentucky. Then a 90-57 defeat at Florida State on Jan. 14 really called into question its legitimacy as a national-title contender.
Since then, UNC has rebounded, and developed into the team many suspected it would be. The Heels’ 88-70 victory at Duke on Saturday night was its most complete performance of the season, and it will enter the ACC tournament as the No. 1 seed with a chance to secure a top seed in the NCAA tournament.
2For the first time in a while, North Carolina State (20-11, 9-7) is headed in the right direction. There have been some lean times in recent years for the Wolfpack, but in his first season as head coach, Mark Gottfried has made N.C. State respectable, and there’s plenty of evidence that this is only the beginning. N.C. State still has an outside chance to make the NCAA tournament, but whether it does or not, there are reasons for optimism. The Pack’s nine ACC wins are their most since ending the 2005-06 season with 10.
3Florida State (21-9, 12-4) continues to solidify itself as a top-tier team in the conference. Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton has built a year-in, year-out contender, and victories this season against UNC and Duke moved FSU closer to where Hamilton believes it can be. FSU finished 12-4 in the conference for the first time since the 1992-93 season. Since 2006-07, the Seminoles have the third-most ACC wins, right behind the top two teams Duke and North Carolina.
4The future of the conference appears strong. The ACC has been perceived nationally as being “down” in recent seasons, but several of the league’s more recent coaching hires appear to have their programs headed in positive directions.
In his second season, Boston College coach Steve Donahue led a team bereft of talent and experience to four ACC wins, including one at home against Florida State. Also in his second season, Brad Brownell coached Clemson to an 8-8 league finish — an impressive feat given the Tigers’ woes in November and December during the non-conference portion of their schedule.
In his third season, Virginia coach Tony Bennett has the Cavaliers poised to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007. And in his first season, Miami coach Jim Larranaga guided the Hurricanes to a school-record nine ACC wins.
5Wake Forest (13-17, 4-12) continues to fall behind. It has been a long time since the likes of Tim Duncan, Chris Paul and Josh Howard played at Wake Forest, and those times seem even more distant given Wake’s continual struggles. The Deacons entered the season amid minimal expectations and, in that regard, they didn’t disappoint.
The good news — if there is any — is that with its 13 regular-season wins, Wake already has won five more games than it did a season ago. The bad news is that the Deacons’ 21 combined victories of the past two seasons are their fewest since winning 22 games from 1985 through 1987.

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