What to watch at ACC tournament

A year ago, Florida State loosened Tobacco Road's grip on the ACC tournament trophy, becoming the first team not named "Duke" or "North Carolina" to win the event since 2004.

The question, entering Thursday's opening-round games in Greensboro, N.C.: Might another Florida school -- this time Miami -- continue the trend?

The Hurricanes, who joined the league in 2004-05, have never advanced to the title game. But then again, they also never had won the regular-season title and earned the No. 1 seed, so things could be a bit different this time around.

As usual, there will be plenty of subplots, from Virginia's weird NCAA tournament résumé, to Duke's ever-strengthening momentum since the return of Ryan Kelly, to whether any team (NC State this year, perhaps?) will ever be able to win four games in four days to take the automatic bid.

Here are a few things to watch:

Top three storylines

Will Michael Snaer hit another buzzer-beater? Or four?

Considering the Florida State senior guard has made a quartet of game winners in ACC play this season (versus Clemson, Maryland and Virginia, at Georgia Tech) and six in his past two seasons (Duke, Virginia Tech last year), why not bury at least another one in his final league tournament?

FSU has won three of four games entering the tourney, but at 17-14, the Noles will have to win the whole thing to advance to the NCAAs. Which means getting some big play(s) from Mr. Clutch.

What does Virginia need to do to make the NCAA tournament?

There really isn't a more baffling bubble team than the Cavs, who boast quality wins over Duke, NC State, UNC and Wisconsin -- but also have seven losses to teams outside of the RPI top 100, including to three CAA teams (George Mason, Delaware and Old Dominion) and to four of the ACC's worst (Georgia Tech, Boston College, Wake Forest, Clemson).

At least UVa, led by first-team All-ACC player Joe Harris, held on to beat Maryland in overtime during its regular-season finale. But ESPN's Joe Lunardi had the Cavs as a No. 12 seed as of Tuesday's Bracketology, which means there's not much wiggle room. A quarterfinal victory over NC State/Virginia Tech is a must -- at least.

Can we get another Duke-Miami rematch? Please?

Perhaps it would be hard to match the Hurricanes' frantic rally on March 2 from 10 points down with two minutes left; or the spectacle of Kelly's career-high 36 points after missing 13 games with a foot injury; or the intensity of the Blue Devils' three-point win after being blown out by 27 at UM just two months before.

But it would be fun to watch 'em try for another instant classic in Sunday's championship game. Duke enters the tournament with a three-game winning streak coinciding with Kelly's return; Miami, meanwhile, has lost three of five after opening the ACC season with 13 straight victories.

Five players to watch

Erick Green, Virginia Tech: The senior guard became the first ACC player since South Carolina's Grady Wallace in 1956-57 to lead the nation in scoring, averaging 25.4 points on 48.2 percent shooting this season. Only twice in league play did he fail to score at least 20 points, and although his team won only four ACC games, he was named the league's Player of the Year on Monday.

Richard Howell, NC State: Few would have expected, at the beginning of the season, that the Wolfpack big man would be such a big factor -- but he is. He leads the ACC in rebounding (10.6 per game), is averaging 12.7 PPG, and beat out formerly more heralded teammates C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown for first-team All-ACC honors. Keep an eye on the way the senior battles in the lane; it's fun.

P.J. Hairston, UNC: Despite an ugly loss to Duke in the regular-season finale, going small has paid big dividends for the Tar Heels, and the sophomore wing-turned-power-forward has been the catalyst. The 6-foot-5 Hairston averaged 17.1 PPG during UNC's 6-1 finish, giving his team more scoring, confidence and speed in the starting lineup.

Seth Curry, Duke: Imagine the numbers if this guy actually practiced more than once a week. Despite a shin injury that has kept him mostly a spectator during workouts, the Blue Devils' senior guard has averaged 17.1 points on 46.5 percent shooting -- including back-to-back 20-point games to end the regular season. He said recently that he's feeling good, which could be a bad sign for foes.

Shane Larkin, Miami: The son of MLB great Barry Larkin has become a star in his own right, averaging 13.7 points and 4.4 assists to lead the Hurricanes to the ACC regular-season title. He defends, he shoots; Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski even described the sophomore's game as "magical" earlier this season. Will the guard feel as though he has something to prove after finishing runner-up in the ACC POY balloting?

Around the tournament

Hottest team: Duke. The second-seeded Blue Devils are now 3-0 with Kelly back, and they have yet to lose a game when he's in the starting lineup this season. Krzyzewski said after his team blew out UNC on Saturday that his team is still working on its chemistry, but it's looking awful close to being back in full force.

Coldest team: Clemson. The Tigers have lost six straight entering Thursday's first-round matchup with Florida State -- and that's with senior forward Devin Booker averaging 16.5 PPG during that stretch. FSU swept the season series by a combined eight points in January.

Sleeper pick: Virginia. The fourth-seeded Cavs didn't make things easy on themselves, following their home upset of then-third-ranked Duke with last-second losses at Boston College and FSU (before that overtime survival against Maryland). But if they can continue their hallmark of making things difficult for their opponents -- defense, defense, defense -- they could make things interesting. Especially if they can get Harris back on an offensive tear.

Potential upset victim: UNC. Coach Roy Williams has said he's going to stick with his four-guard starting lineup, but which team will show up? Will it be the discombobulated, soft-looking squad that took questionable shots in the blowout loss to Duke? Or the aggressive, fast, sharpshooting team that won six straight and looked like a Top-25 team before that?

Best first-round matchup: Um, er … frankly, the first day doesn't look all that thrilling. But fifth-seeded NC State vs. No. 12 seed Virginia Tech could get interesting, if Green gets some help from his Hokies teammates. That's what happened in February, when Jarell Eddie and Marshall Wood also scored in double figures to push the game to overtime; the Wolfpack eventually won by four.

Best potential quarterfinal: Virginia-NC State. The Cavs, who won the only regular-season game between these two by three points, need a win to boost their slippery NCAA tournament résumé. The fifth-seeded Wolfpack, which lost its chance at a Thursday bye with a final-game loss at FSU, need to boost momentum. Defense versus offense, and the winner likely gets another shot at Miami in the semifinals.

Pick: Duke. The Blue Devils have won the ACC tournament in 10 of the past 14 seasons -- and half of those came after they didn't win the regular-season title. Plus, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Duke boasts a .917 winning percentage in neutral-site games over the past four seasons. Add in the Kelly factor -- the Devils are 18-0 this season when the senior in the starting lineup -- and they have to be the favorite in this tournament. (And maybe the one after this, as well.)