The University of North Carolina will look to defend their title this week as they kick off the ACC Tournament quarterfinals against arch-rivals Duke (7pm, ESPN3.com).
All four tournament quarterfinals kick off tonight, with North Carolina and Maryland the heavy favorites to meet in a rematch of the 2011 final (won by North Carolina).
Maryland defeated North Carolina during the regular season, but a poor finish to the regular season has the Terps looking vulnerable heading into the tournament.
While North Carolina and Maryland are expected to reach the final, Wake Forest showed in their regular season victor against Maryland that they have a real chance of shaking things up. The Demon Deacons have the attack to score goals on anybody, though they haven’t had the most consistent of seasons.
Here is a closer look at tonight’s ACC quarterfinals:
(#1) Maryland vs. (#9) Virginia Tech, 7pm
The Terps handled the Hokies in their Sept. 21st meeting, posting a 2-0 victory. Patrick Mullins and John Stertzer lead an attack that attacks with speed and skill. Virginia Tech will be hard-pressed to slow Maryland down, even though the Terps haven’t been scoring a ton of goals in recent weeks.
(#2) North Carolina vs. (#7) Duke, 7pm
This might seem like a mismatch given North Carolina’s strong run of form, but Duke is much better than their 8-7-2 record would indicate. The Blue Devils pushed the Tar Heels to overtime in their lone meeting of the year, falling in overtime after going down to nine men. Goalkeeper James Belshaw and centerback Sebastian Ibeagha are two of the best players in the nation at their positions and will give Duke a chance.
For the Tar Heels, it is the midfield magic created by Danny Garcia and Mikey Lopez that makes North Carolina go, and Robbie Lovejoy has helped provide a boost since returning from injury. Ultimately, the Tar Heels have too much firepower for Duke to stop.
(#3) Wake Forest vs. (#6) Virginia, 7pm
Sean Okoli and Luca Gimenez lead a dangerous Wake attack against a Virginia side that needs to make a run in the ACC Tournament to help their NCAA Tournament chances.
Senior forward Will Bates leads the UVA offense, and will test a Wake Forest defense that hasn’t posted a shutout in seven matches. That said, the Demon Deacons have some quality defenders in Anthony Arena and Jared Watts.
(#4) Clemson vs. (#5) Boston College, 7pm
Led by goalkeeper Charlie Rugg, midfielder Kyle Bekker and goalkeeper Justin Luthy, Boston College has the talent to cause some problems in the semifinals, but must first dispose of an underdog Clemson side that will be depending on Austin Savage to lead their upset bid.
If the favorites go through to the semifinals, the UNC-Wake Forest clash will be a fun one to watch. North Carolina’s defense is tough enough to stop Wake’s attack (as evidenced by the scoreless draw they played to during the season), but the Tar Heels attack is playing better now than the last time those teams met.
Maryland will be heavily favored against either Boston College or Clemson, though Clemson managed a draw against the Terrapins just a week ago. The Terps dismantled BC during the season, 4-0.
If form holds there, we should see the seemingly inevitable Maryland-North Carolina final. Maryland outplayed UNC when these teams met during the season, winning in overtime, but both teams have seen their form head in different directions since that result. The Terps have been on a slide, while North Carolina has gotten stronger and stronger as the season has gone on. Maryland will be favored to win, but look for the Tar Heels to exact some revenge for their regular-season loss, and defend their ACC title.
What do you see happening in the ACC Tournament? Which players are you looking forward to watch play? See any surprises happening?
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