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March 12, 2009The 56th annual Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament begins today at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta with No. 8-seeded Virginia Tech playing No. 9-seeded Miami at noon on Raycom regional television.
"Going into the tournament, winning three out of four, we feel pretty good," Miami coach Frank Haith said.
The very fact the loser must go home after one day will add to the drama, Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg said.
"Both teams are playing to stay alive, and when you're in that situation, you will see tremendous intensity," Greenberg said.
No. 1-ranked and top-seeded North Carolina will play the winner of today's opening game between the Hokies (17-13) and the Hurricanes (18-11) at noon on Friday in a game that will be televised locally on Raycom and nationally on ESPN.
Because of an injured big toe on his right foot, ACC player of the year and Carolina point guard Ty Lawson may not play in that game.
The Tar Heels (27-3) defeated both teams in the regular season. UNC beat Miami twice, with the game at Miami being a hard-fought contest. Carolina played Virginia Tech once. The two played in Blacksburg, Va., in a another battle of a match, with UNC edging the Hokies 86-78.
UNC defeated Miami in Florida 69-65 in a game Coach Roy Williams described as one the Tar Heels had to grind it out and win ugly. UNC cruised to an 82-65 victory in the earlier game played at the Smith Center.
Both Virginia Tech and Miami will try to keep the score lower and control tempo, so expect the score of today's game to be in the 60s or 70s. The Hurricanes average 73.8 points per game and play a lot of zone defense.
Virginia Tech averages even fewer points at 71.6 points per game and will play some zone as well as man-to-man.
The two played once this season, and Virginia Tech won in Coral Gables, Fla., 88-83, but the score is deceiving because the game went into overtime.
Miami is led by All-ACC first-team selection Jack McClinton, who is one of the top professional prospects in the league because of his ability to get his own shot without needing screens. On many nights, McClinton is an extraordinary shooter.
He hit a shot against Duke to force overtime, falling out of bounds with two defenders draped over him. He scored 35 points in the game at Coral Gables, Fla, with Lawson matching him three-pointer for three-pointer down the stretch in a thrilling shoot-out at the end.
"He might be the best clutch shooter in the league this past year," Greenberg said of McClinton.
Unfortunately, McClinton has been injured, so that has affected him of late.
"He sprained his [right] knee and it just like an ankle sprain: It needs some time to get better," Haith said. "He's getting better each day."
Until he got hurt, Haith said McClinton developing a more all-around game on offense has made him an even better scorer.
"He's been able to drive the ball better," Haith said. "He's a better finisher. Adding that to his game is making him doubly tough to guard."
McClinton is third in the league in scoring at 19.7 points per game. Virginia Tech's A.D. Vassallo is fifth at 18.8 and the Hokies' Malcolm Delaney is sixth at 18.2.
Miami is second in the league in field-goal percentage defense at .382, one of only three teams holdings opponents to less than 40-percent shooting. The Hokies play solid defense as well, however. They are sixth in the league in field-goal percent defense at .414 percent, one spot behind the Tar Heels, who have held teams to 41.2-percent shooting.
Virginia Tech defeated Miami 63-49 last year in the quarterfinals, as neither team had to play on Thursday a year ago. The Hokies then lost 68-66 to North Carolina on a last-second shot by All-American Tyler Hansbrough in the semifinals.
Greenberg said the experience will help his team, but by no means guarantee a victory.
"I think it helps you," Greenberg said. "We're playing the same team we played last year also. There is such a fine line between winning and losing in this league."