Hog Blog: Gearing up for ACC tourney

(Mike Hogewood will serve as host for the ACC Network’s coverage of the 2013 ACC Tournament this week in Greensboro, N.C. He checks in from the Tar Heel state to offer his thoughts on the all-conference teams and the early matchups.)

With the All-ACC teams being released Monday, what were your thoughts on the players who were recognized?

I think the First Team with Shane Larkin (Miami), Erick Green (Virginia Tech), Joe Harris (Virginia), Richard Howell (N.C. State) and Mason Plumlee (Duke) was pretty good. It comes as no surprise that the North Carolina schools are so well represented on the first and second teams, but Larkin and Kenny Kadji of Miami both had great years and both had to be there right at the top.

Reggie Bullock has had a great season at North Carolina, but you can make an argument on whether or not he deserved to be there on the second team, but overall I thought the picks were good. I was really surprised to see nobody from Maryland — Terrapins’ center Alex Len had a really good year — made either of the top two teams.

Who would be your top choices for Player of the Year and Coach of the Year honors?

Because Miami has done something they have never done before, those awards have to go to Miami.

The Player of the Year was Mason Plumlee’s to lose, but he did not stand out above the others down the stretch. If you base it solely on performance, Erick Green is the best player in the league. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s the ACC’s top player. He’s impossible to stop. Everybody tries to stop him and nobody can do it. He’s the only guy on the Hokies’ roster that can score. You put two guys on him and you don’t stop him — he’s the best player in the league.

But then you go back and say, ‘OK, who is the Most Valuable Player?’ There is a difference. And when you’re talking about players in this league you have to distinguish the difference there. And I think the MVP of the league is Shane Larkin for what he does at both ends of the floor for his Miami team: as a point guard leading the Hurricanes’ offense and then as, perhaps, the best defensive guard in the league. He’s my pick.

Jim Larranaga has to be the top coach, though, because he made people in Miami believe that they can win in basketball. He made these seniors believe they can go to the NCAA Tournament when they’ve never been there before. He made Miami’s Board of Trustees believe that winning basketball was possible there. He made the students believe that going to a game at Miami in basketball was a worthwhile thing to do.

He is changing the mindset of people concerning basketball at Miami — that’s deserving, in my mind, of Coach of the Year honors. That’s not to mention the fact that he’s one heck of a coach, too. But the fact that he’s changing the culture in so many different areas, that’s an amazing accomplishment.

What first-round matchups are you looking forward to in the ACC tourney?

I really think the first game of the day on Thursday (Georgia Tech-Boston College) is going to be the best. Those two teams played just last weekend and it was a two-point game. The Yellow Jackets and Eagles are two teams led by coaches who are building programs and are on the right track. Steve Donahue (Boston College) and Brian Gregory (Georgia Tech) are doing it the right way.

Believe it or not, when you wonder who the hot team is entering the ACC Tournament, it is Duke, a team that just knocked off North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and Boston College. The Eagles have won three straight games. It should be an interesting game to watch.

Side note: NC State has to be kicking itself that it’s even playing on Thursday. The Wolfpack came within a shot or two of earning a first-round bye, but a Virginia win against Maryland means NC State will square off against Virginia Tech on the opening day. NC State has just made enough mistakes down the stretch that they have to win that first game against the Hokies — seeding in the NCAA Tournament is on the line.

What does the ACC Tournament mean to the conference?

If you’ve ever been to an NCAA Tournament game, this has as much of a Final Four atmosphere as any conference can provide. It doesn’t have the mystique it did when I was a kid — back when the winner went to the NCAAs and nobody else did — but it’s still special. Now, though, there are a lot of teams that have lost in this tournament and have gone on to the national championship. Different coaches have different approaches to the event, but for ACC fans this is one of the great college basketball events.

Personally, I’m excited about it because I dreamed as a kid just to go to the NCAA Tournament someday. Little did I ever imagine that I would get an opportunity to host every game for the ACC Network. I used to watch the games on TV and then go out in the driveway and pretend I was one of the players — Wake Forest’s Paul Long and North Carolina’s Larry Miller were personal favorites. People used to get out of school to watch this tournament. When you grow up in the state of North Carolina, this is a big deal.

Hosting this weekend’s 60th anniversary of the tournament will undoubtedly be a thrill and an honor.