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The Board Is Set, The Pieces Are Moving

The last week of the basketball regular season is upon us and UNC enters the week tied with Duke atop the ACC standings. Yes, we have all seen this movie before and yes, it is going to drive our friends in Raleigh absolutely nuts. If we are not already in gravy territory, we will be next week should UNC prevail in the two games left on the schedule. For the record, let's take a look at the different scenarios which could govern how UNC finishes in the standings and is seeded for the ACC Tournament.

Scenario: UNC beats FSU and Duke OR Duke loses to Clemson and UNC
Result: UNC wins the ACC regular season

The simplest path is win out. And yes this was an absolute pipe dream two months ago. Roy Williams said on Monday he wasn't worried about his team looking ahead. These Tar Heels might be immature in some ways but in terms of focusing on the next game they handle that fine. FSU is without Chris Singleton and given Singleton was in foul trouble when these two played in Chapel Hill, you could argue nothing has changed in the match-up. The difference is FSU has had time to adjust to Singleton's loss. Still, without Singleton, FSU's leading scorer is averaging less than double digits. Assuming UNC takes care of business and Duke beats Clemson, a pair of 13-2 teams will meet on Saturday night for all the marbles. If UNC and Duke both lose on Wednesday night then it still comes down to winner takes all for the ACC regular season crown. After the first game in Durham, UNC was the early pick to win the second game. It will be interesting to see if that is still the case.

Scenario: UNC loses to FSU, Duke beats Clemson, UNC beats Duke
Result: UNC and Duke tie for first, UNC gets #1 seed in ACC Tournament

There are no tiebreakers in terms of who finishes first. If both UNC and Duke are 13-3 and UNC beats Duke on Saturday night then they share first place. There is a tiebreaker for the ACC Tournament however. Since UNC and Duke would be tied and they split the head-to-head series, the tiebreaker is determined by each team's winning percentage versus the next best record in the league. Based on how the season plays out that could be either FSU, Virginia Tech or both. UNC wins the tiebreaker no matter what by virtue of Duke being winless versus both FSU and Virginia Tech. At worst UNC will be 1-1 versus FSU, 1-0 versus Virginia Tech and 2-1 versus both. In that case UNC will be the #1 seed in Greensboro and play in the noon game on Friday.

Scenario: UNC beats FSU, Duke loses to Clemson, Duke beats UNC
Result: UNC and Duke tie for first, Duke gets #1 seed in ACC Tournament, UNC is #2.

In this case both teams would be 13-3 in the ACC and Duke would win the tiebreaker via a season sweep of the Tar Heels.

Scenario: UNC loses to FSU and Duke, FSU beats UNC and NCSU
Result: UNC is the #3 seed at the ACC Tournament. Duke #1, FSU #2

UNC and FSU would both be tied at 12-4 in the ACC and would have split the season series. According to tiebreaker rules each team's record versus Duke comes into play. FSU is 1-0 versus Duke, UNC would be 0-2 handing the Seminoles the #2 seed in the ACC Tournament. UNC cannot drop lower than #3 since Virginia Tech has five losses already.

Other items of interest

  • UNC PG Kendall Marshall is presently the ACC leader in assists for all games and ACC games. Marshall has been leading in conference games for awhile but trailed Duke's Nolan Smith in the assists per game category for all games played. Larry Drew's departure and Smith being back to SG has both increased Marshall's assists and decreased Smith's closing the gap. At present Marshall has 149 assists in 28 games or 5.32 apg. Smith has 150 assists in 29 games or 5.17. Why is this important? For one, it would be nice to see Marshall lead the ACC in assists as a freshman. However there is a spoiler element to this. No one has ever led the ACC in both scoring and assists. Smith was on track to be the first until Marshall got cooking and it would be nice to keep it that way.
  • This is not going to be resolved this week but it should be noted. John Henson has blocked 90 shots this season. The UNC single season record is 120 by Brendan Haywood in 2001. It is possible Henson could catch Haywood if he either (1) keeps blocking 5-6 shots per game like he is right now(not likely) or (2) gets at least 8-10 more games(dicey.) Henson will make a run at Haywood but I doubt he gets there. He is four blocks away from being 2nd on the season blocks list. For the record, Haywood averaged 3.6 bpg in 2001. Henson's average right now is 3.2.
  • If UNC finishes first in the ACC either by tie or outright, Roy Williams has to be given serious consideration for ACC Coach of the Year. Not only has he dealt with a complete change of personnel, a young team and players like Will Graves and Larry Drew leaving the program but UNC was in deep water earlier in the season. Roy kept a steady hand on the wheel and now is in contention. For some reason, there is a push for Mike Krzyzewski to be COY based on the loss of Kyrie Irving. That would probably be more credible had Duke not returned Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler or if Duke was not 26-3.