The normally highly regarded Atlantic Coast Conference endured what looks to be something of an off year. Of course, even in a down year the ACC remains the cream of the crop, with five of its nine programs ranked in the NSCAA Top 25.
And the top two seeds of the tournament are also two of the best teams in the nation. No. 4 North Carolina enters as the first seed by virtue of a victory over No. 3 Maryland earlier this year. While the Terps and Tar Heels enter as the clear favorites, none of the other teams can truly be counted out.
North Carolina – The Tar Heels have done extremely well this year, especially considering the number of injuries that they’ve had to deal with. UNC was bolstered by the return of senior midfielder Michael Farfan in a win against Clemson last week. To fulfill their billing as top seed, the Heels will need some consistent scoring from someone up front.
[inline_node:322930]Maryland – One of the hottest teams in the nation, the streaking Terps have won 10 games in a row and boast the best attack in the country with 49 goals in 17 games. The health of the defense could be the make-or-break for Maryland, with defenders Ethan White and London Woodberry both recovering from injuries. Maryland will count on the ability of their high-flying attack to outscore their opposition. Led by Jason Herrick and Casey Townsend on offense, the Terps will be a tough out in the tournament.
The Dark Horses
Duke – It’s been a bumpy ride for Duke in 2010. The Blue Devils do have some young talent. Forward Ryan Finley has scored early often, and midfielder/defender Andrew Wenger and midfielder Cole Grossman provide support. If one of those three can step up, Duke becomes an even bigger threat.
Virginia – A poor in-conference record shouldn’t detract from the danger of the defending champions. They may have some kinks to work out, but with a solid foundation of Greg Monaco in defense and Diego Restrepo in goal, combined with Will Bates up front, the Cavaliers are quite capable of making a run. Junior attacker Brian Ownby, who is struggling with another injury, will only be able to play limited minutes.
Wake Forest – Losing four talented players last year to MLS – Ike Opara, Austin da Luz, Zack Schilawski and Corben Bone – proved to be too much to recover from for the Demon Deacons. And despite a strong record in ACC play, a loss in the quarterfinals against Virginia would leave the Deacons (8-8-2) below .500 overall, and out of the NCAA tournament. From the first kick, they’ll be playing for their postseason lives.
Players to Watch
GK Zac MacMath, Maryland
The outstanding US. youth ‘keeper has eight shutouts in his last 10 games, and is peaking at the right time. He’ll need to be solid and steady in the Maryland goal, and could prove critical if it comes to penalty kicks.
F Charlie Rugg, Boston College
BC’s leading scorer has his work cut out for him in tournament time, but the sophomore forward from Massachusetts could make a name for himself on the ACC’s biggest stage. Rugg’s eight goals includes two game-winners, proving he has the ability to score in the clutch.
F Ryan Finley, Duke
This swift, speedy attacker is the nation’s leading scorer and a threat to any defense he goes up against. Problem is, Duke relies on him and senior midfielder Cole Grossman a shade too much. If Finley catches fire this tournament, the Blue Devils will be hard to stop.
M Michael Farfan, North Carolina
[inline_node:322927]Injuries have slowed what was a promising senior season for Farfan, but he’s healthy and will be available for the Tar Heels. With the injuries suffered up front, a lot of the offensive responsibilities will fall to him and the midfield.
F Will Bates, Virginia
A strong sophomore season for Bates saw him lead the Cavaliers in goals with eight. As UVA continues to piece together their midfield, a lethal Bates will be a huge asset in crunch time.
No. 8 North Carolina State vs. No. 9 Virginia Tech, 1 p.m. ET
No. 2 Maryland vs. No. 7 Clemson, noon ET
No. 3 Wake Forest vs. No. 6 Virginia, 2:30 p.m. ET
No. 1 North Carolina vs. NC State-Va. Tech winner, 5:30 p.m. ET
No. 4 Duke vs. No. 5 Boston College, 8 p.m. ET
Friday, 5:30 and 8 p.m.
Sunday, 1 p.m.