And thus ended the regular season.
Obviously this season went down the stretch with more clarity than last season which saw UNC in the position that should things fall the wrong way they could drop from 1st to 5th and end up playing on Thursday. This was not the case as UNC and Duke rose to the top followed by Clemson and Virginia Tech who played a one point thriller do decide third place on Sunday. The rest of the standing shook out in a fairly lackluster manner and this is what it looks like heading to Charlotte:
1. North Carolina(29-2 overall, 14-2 in the ACC)
The crucial moment on this journey to the ACC Regular Season title was the stretch of seven days starting with the first Duke game and ending with a one point at Virginia. During that seven days, UNC lost to Duke without Ty Lawson, lost the first 37 minutes by eleven against Clemson before taking care of matters during the final 13 and struggled with multiple ailments to top an improving Virginia team. Sitting at 6-2 in the ACC following the loss to Duke, the Heels ran off eight straight and finished with an 8-0 mark on the road in a conference that eats road teams for breakfast.
2. Duke(26-4, 13-3)
Duke looked every bit the part UNC was supposed to be playing running out to a 10-0 ACC start that had folks talking about the Devils going 16-0. Funny thing happened on the way to collecting on that conversation, Duke became mortal. Down the stretch Duke followed the 10-0 start with a 3-3 finish which could have just as easily been 2-4 had NCSU played better in the final minutes of the game in Raleigh.
3. Clemson(22-8, 10-6)
When Clemson beat Virginia Tech to clinch third in the ACC, the fans stormed the floor. For beating an unranked Hokies in basketball. And finishing 3rd. We really need to come up with some standards for this sort of thing. Clemson grabs the third seed and finishes 10-6 which is somewhat of a minor miracle for a Tiger basketball team. Clemson has played like the third best team for most of the ACC season and scared UNC enough I am relieved to see them on the other side of the bracket.
4. Virginia Tech(18-12, 9-7)
The argument for Mike Krzyzewski as coach of the year is somehow predicated on the notion that Duke has done better than expected. A quick glance at the preseason poll shows Duke finishing exactly where everyone thought they would. Virginia Tec(and Miami for that matter) exceeded expectations so far I would think Seth Greenberg is you leading candidate for ACC Coach of the Year. Miami's Frank Haith also gets some love but Greenberg lost two senior guards and somehow sat nine seconds from finishing 3rd in the ACC with 10 wins on Sunday. Yeah, I understand Krzyzewski worked out an offensive style that made his team really good for the first ten games of conference play but the end result was as predicted and I tend to favor rewarding coaches who overcame more to get to the upper tier of the conference. The Hokies get the day off Thursday and await the Miami-NCSU winner.
5. Miami(21-9, 8-8)
Like Greenberg, Frank Haith deserves a lot of credit from not only bring Miami up to 5th from a predicted 12th place finish but also basically doing it with personnel that finished in the cellar last season. Miami started off 2-6 in the ACC and finished up 6-2 and really should have closed the deal against FSU on Saturday. Regardless, Miami is in good position to get to the NCAA Tournament but cannot afford a loss to NCSU on Thursday.
6. Maryland(18-13, 8-8)
The Terps went to Duke on February 13th at 6-3 in the ACC and a win over #1 UNC in their pocket. Unfortunately for Gary Williams' crew the wheels came off as they went 2-5 over their final seven ACC games which included blowing a 20 point lead to Clemson on Senior Night and then allowing Sean Singletary to go hog wild on his. At 18-13, Maryland's NCAA Tournament hopes hang by a thread. When Saturday morning gets here, Maryland needs to be on a bus heading to Bobcats Arena and not the airport or else they are NIT bound.
7. Georgia Tech(14-16, 7-9)
GT is an enigma. They played a brutal non-conference slate but at the same time lost to a few teams they never should have lost to in the first place. In the end 7-9 in the ACC is not a horrible record but since they are two games under .500 they would need to advance all the way to the ACC Championship to get NIT eligible and win the whole thing to go to the Big Dance. And don't say it is not possible because this is Georgia Tech we are talking about here. For some reason the Jackets love the ACC Tournament.
8. Wake Forest(17-12, 7-9)
When Wake beat Duke they looked like a team full of promise and potential. Well they still are but it will be next season before the Deacs have a chance to fully realize it. As it turns out, winning versus Duke had a lot to do with Duke being due a loss and also the Demon Deacons playing at home which had been very good to them. They still strike me as a dangerous team but since the tournament is not being played in Winston-Salem their chances dim quite a bit.
9. Florida State(18-13, 7-9)
Thug basketball. They cannot lose soon enough for my taste and given the risk of injury in playing the Seminoles I think I would rather UNC take their chances with Wake Forest on Friday.
10. Virginia(15-14, 5-11)
There is no way of knowing how dangerous UVa is heading into the NCAA Tournament. Sean Singletary could very well go Randolph Childress on everyone and carry the Cavs like he did on Sunday in beating Maryland. UVa has so many close losses this season the could just as easily be in the middle of the conference. It is possible they could assemble an NCSU like run to the ACC title game.
11. Boston College(4-12, 13-16)
BC was just too inconsistent all season long to really get their act together. This was true even before ACC play started and when it did they went from scoring 112 on Wake Forest and the beating Miami to losing 12 of their final 13 games. The second loss to UNC was a microcosm of their season with them playing so well in the first half then getting crushed in the 2nd. At any rate playing MD on Thursday will just be plain ugly as far as basketball goes and yes it is the final game on Thursday which means for the dedicated media members and bloggers we will be fighting sleep and boredom waiting to close out our coverage of the day.
12. NC State(15-15, 4-12)
The Wolfpack was picked for 3rd place mainly because we were also so darn impressed with how they closed out last season. In the end we looked like investors after the Dot Com Bust who ignored some basic premises in handing investment capital to those really neat tech companies. In this case the basic rule most folks ignored was the fact NCSU had to break in a new point guard and typicially when that happens to schools not named UNC and Duke there are more growing pains than can be tolerated and still finish 3rd in the conference. On top of that, the team lacked heart in far too many games losing early to New Orleans and at East Carolina before winning several games against a bunch of weak sisters whom they should have crushed by 50 but did not. The ship was righted to some extent with a 4-4 mark in ACC play but that turns out to be the last time NCSU won a game. It has been ugly to the point the fan base is in full meltdown mode and I almost feel sorry for the(since they are a rival, by rule I am unable to be full sympathetic for them but only consider it while not actually feeling it.) Now sitting at 15-15, NCSU basically plays Miami for the chance to stay at .500 and hopefully extend the season into the NIT. The Wolfpack players and coaches are spinning a positive message that everyone is "0-0" at this point. This might be true, but the personnel did not change so I expect the results will not change all that much either.
Thursday, March 13th
#8 Wake vs #9 FSU, Noon, Raycom/LF
#5 Miami vs #12 NCSU, 2:30 PM, Raycom/LF
#7 GT vs #10 UVa, 7:00 PM, ESPN2
#6 MD vs #11 BC, 9:30 PM, Raycom/LF
Friday, March 14th
#1 UNC vs Wake/FSU, Noon, Raycom/LF or ESPN2
#4 Virginia Tech vs Miami/NCSU, 2:30 PM, Raycom/LF or ESPN2
#2 Duke vs GT/UVa, 7:00 PM, Raycom/LF or ESPN2
#3 Clemson vs MD/BC, 9:30 PM, Raycom/LF or ESPN2
Saturday, March 15th
Semifinal #1, 1:30 PM, Raycom/LF or ESPN
Semifinal #2, 4:00 PM, Raycom/LF or ESPN
Sunday, March 16th
ACC Championship, 1:00 PM, Raycom/LF or ESPN