And down the stretch they come!
Let's talk turkey on how the standings will shake out at the top.
- UNC is in control of their own destiny. At 10-3, UNC can win out and take the ACC regular season with at least a two game lead since they would beat Duke in the process. Providing Duke wins their next two games(no a safe bet by the way) UNC can still win if they go 2-1 over the final eight days of the season assuming they beat Duke. UNC can also win going 2-1 with a loss to Duke if Clemson occupies the 3rd spot in the standings. Needless to say the easiest solution is "just win baby" and I fully expect the Heels to do just that.
- Duke's mini-revival predicated on tossing Greg Paulus under the bus and installing the new backcourt of Jon Scheyer and Elliot Williams has given them life in the race for the regular season. Well, UNC losing to Maryland gave them life while Clemson and FSU losing gave them great position on a 2nd place finish. Duke needs to win out if they want to finish first and depending on where Clemson finishes that would not be enough assuming UNC is 12-4 as well. I think the even money is on a Duke loss even before the game in Chapel Hill. If you are looking at the trap game potential, Duke faces more trouble in that respect that UNC does. Duke plays VT in Blacksburg(coming off a big road game and missing Nolan Smith) this weekend while the Heels should dispatch Georgia Tech at home. That means the Heels get a Hokie team potentially spent by playing Duke while Duke potentially spent from the game at Blacksburg has to deal with a physical FSU team. I like UNC's chances in that setup.
- Clemson still has not learned the most valuable lesson of all. If you want to be an ACC elite, you cannot lose a home game on the home stretch. The loss to Virginia Tech was damaging since Clemson owned the tiebreaker with Duke. It also hurt because they risk dropping to fourth since they play FSU in Tallahassee. A loss to the Seminoles puts them behind FSU by a de facto two games since FSU swept the Tigers. Clemson would need to beat Virginia and almost certainly knock off Wake Forest on the road to avoid dropping to fifth and playing in the ACC first round games.
- FSU has a tough finish but 2 of 3 are at home. FSU needs to win out and hope someone hands Wake Forest a loss along the way if they want to finish higher than the Deacs. FSU loses the tiebreaker with Wake since they lost in Winston-Salem. The win over Clemson would be huge for FSU is you are looking at things from a top four perspective and trying to avoid playing on Thursday.
- Wake, for all their troubles on the road is still hanging around, mainly because Clemson and FSU have not taken care of their end. The Deacs play two of the last three on the road. UVa has proven a dangerous place to play and Maryland is as well. Wake then closes with Clemson. One loss out of those three is not out of the question and Wake is trying to avoid the same fate as FSU and Clemson: The ACC first round game.
- Virginia Tech at 7-6 would have to beat Duke, UNC and FSU in succession for a ten win ACC finish. Not likely. 2-1 is possible. The better money is on 1-2 which puts the Hokies at 8-8 and on the bubble. They good news is they could improve their chances by winning their first round ACC Tournament game and then get a shot at one of the top four which would probably secure them an NCAA bid.
- Miami has to beat GT and NCSU to make 8-8 and then would at least need to win one ACC Tournament game possibly two for an NCAA bid. If the ACC Tournament started today, Miami would play Maryland for the right to take on UNC in the quarterfinals.
- Maryland has a doable final stretch if they play well. 9-7 with wins over UNC and Michigan State would put them in great position. An ACC Tournament win would probably seal it.
- NC State is NIT bound which is not bad considering. It does afford them a few more days of practice and competition to build towards next season with their younger players. NCSU will be dangerous in the NCAA Tournament. They always have been.
- UVa and Georgia Tech can play spoilers for everyone else...that is all they have to play for at this point.