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UNC Basketball: Where things stand with four weeks to go in ACC play

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A weekly check in of both the ACC standings and NCAA possibilities.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Four weeks from today, the NCAA will announce the 68 teams to make the 2018 Tournament. As a fan, right about now is when I would really start paying attention to two things: the ACC Standings and the multitude of brackets that start coming out. Part of it is a genuine curiosity in where Carolina will end up, and part of it is selfishly trying to plan on how to watch the Heels play.

I also know I’m not the only one.

So, starting today and going each week until Selection Sunday, we’re going to reset where things are. First, we’ll take a look at where things stand in the ACC, what seeds are still possible, and what the team has left in front of them. Then we’ll take a peek at where UNC is in the NCAA landscape. The last two of these will focus solely on the NCAA as the ACC regular season will be done.

ACC Seeding

As I mentioned, I really haven’t paid much attention to the standings until now simply because with fifteen teams and eighteen games, so much can change in a short amount of time. As of today, however, Carolina has only five conference games left and scenarios are starting to come into focus.

The main goal isn’t rocket science: get a top-4 seed. With a 1-4 seed, you don’t have to play your first game until day three. Falling below a four-seed generally isn’t good news if you want to make it to the title game, let alone win it. 2006 is the first year that the ACC went to three days with a full field, which is twelve tournaments. In those twelve tournaments, only four teams seeded fifth or worse have made a title game. One team, that team in Durham that Carolina beat on Thursday, has won a title, and they did it as a fifth-seed.

Now, a sub-fourth-seed isn’t a death sentence for your tournament hopes. There have only been two 1-2-3-4 semifinals in the 12+ ACC-team history. There have been more semifinals that have contained two teams under a fifth-seed, three, and even one that had a 1-12-7-11 in 2010. Most people would consider making to the semis a successful tournament, especially when it’s your third game. The double-bye seed that has the toughest time advancing is actually the fourth-seed. That seed is only 5-7 in the quarterfinals, likely because they are playing a team very close in talent to them who have the advantage of getting a game under their belts.

Still, with the NCAA Tournament coming, the less your team can play while improving your resume, the better. So here are the ACC Standings as we go into today:

ACC Standings After 2/10

Team Record
Team Record
Virginia 12-1
Clemson 9-3
Duke 7-4
UNC 8-5
Miami 7-5
Virginia Tech 7-5
Louisville 7-5
NC State 6-6
Syracuse 5-6
Florida State 6-7
Notre Dame 5-7
Boston College 5-7
Georgia Tech 4-7
Wake Forest 2-10
Pittsburgh 0-12

What does that mean for Carolina’s ACC seeding?

1 Seed: Not Happening. I mean, UVa could lose every game from here, as could Clemson, and Carolina completely win out, but let’s just give this one to the Wahoos and move on.

2 Seed: Here’s where things get interesting. Carolina is two games in the loss column behind Clemson for the second-seed. The Tigers are entering their off-weekend now, but have FSU, Duke, VT, GT, FSU, and Syracuse to end the season. Carolina has to hope they lose at least twice and win out to just force a tie and go into the tiebreakers, and hope one of those wins are against VT, or VT loses another time along the way, or...

Let’s not get too deep in the weeds here. The 2-seed is absolutely in play but the Heels need help.

3 seed: This seed is obviously in play also, and Carolina has a great chance to land here with a little help. Even if Carolina sweeps, Clemson still has a game they can lose and still hold on to the spot ahead of them. Again, VT winning out complicates matters, but VT has two games against Duke. So, if they lose just once Carolina can end up here. If VT wins out and Carolina does as well, the Devils will sit with seven conference losses, which means a...

4 seed: Carolina currently sits all alone here going into today, but Louisville can join them today with a win against Pitt, and both Miami and VT are just one win behind. Carolina plays two of those three teams still, and with VT having those two Duke games left plus Clemson, Louisville, and Miami, Carolina winning out guarantees them at least this spot.

So, a double-bye is not only in play, but Carolina is in full control of it.

All of this “top four” talk aside, it’s contingent on Carolina sweeping their final schedule, which we all know is a tough ask. A loss along the way increases their need for help to keep that double-bye, not to mention keep them from tumbling down. In this wacky season, Notre Dame currently sits in twelfth with only two more losses than Carolina, so any number of seeds are still possible for the Tar Heels.

Next week at this time Carolina will only have three conference games left, and the possible seed scenarios will be easier to parse out. It’s good to know, though, that Carolina controls the double bye at this point.

NCAA Tournament Seeding

If the goal of the ACC is to make sure you get fourth or above, the goal going into Selection Sunday is to end up with a high enough seed that you get to play in the first and second-round pod closest to home. This year, that pod goal is Charlotte.

We can have another post for another time debunking the “Carolina has to play in North Carolina to win” myth, but there are obvious advantages to playing closer to home. This year, since Carolina has the game against Davidson in Charlotte they also have some familiarity with the court, which helps.

The problem is that there is only room for two ACC schools in Charlotte, and UVa has a hammer lock on one of the spots, so the margin of error is thin for Carolina to play at Cable Company Arena.

The other part of this discussion is that Carolina would need to be a top-16 seed in order to get preferential placement from the committee. After that, it’s anything goes.

I’m not going to spend a ton of time speculating on seeds or linking the various brackets out there because we are going to know exactly where the NCAA thinks Carolina sits at 12:30 this afternoon on CBS. The NCAA is once again doing a top-16 reveal one month prior to Selection Sunday.

Before the show, though, it’s worth mentioning that the Selection Committee has outlined their process for selection, and it’s a lot more complicated than, “Look at their RPI and if they pass the ‘eye test.’” There’s some speculation that the committee is trying to ween itself away from the RPI and incorporate more analytics, including KenPom and the BPI from ESPN. Also worth noting, when scouting a team they build a “team sheet” that breaks down all of this stuff. Here is the one that takes into account all the games played before February 9th (Duke game is included, State is not).

The team sheet still ranks everyone by the RPI, as the sheets haven’t taken into account KenPom, BPI, and the others, but it’s still a very constructive look at UNC going into today. You’ll notice four columns at the end, dividing the record into “quadrants.” This is important to note for close calls, as it not only takes into account how you did against top teams, but accounts for playing on the road and neutral courts. The breakdown is like this (all rankings are based on RPI):

Q1: home 1-30 record + neutral 1-50 record + road 1-75 record

Q2: home 31-75 + neutral 51-100 + road 76-135

Q3: home 76-160 + neutral 101-200 + road 136-240

Q4: home 161(+) + neutral 201(+) + road 241(+)

So, clearly, you want to have more numbers in the higher quadrants and those quadrants to have good records.

Carolina’s resume is a good one. Tenth in the RPI and BPI, eleventh in KenPom, a strength of schedule that is third in the RPI and first in the BPI, and their quadrant records are as follows: Q1: 6-5, Q2: 4-1, Q3: 6-1, Q4: 3-0. That’s right, that Wofford loss doesn’t even go in Q4, and the NC State win qualifies as a Q1 win since State is 61st in the RPI and the game was on the road. Of the top 10, only Kansas (9), Villanova (9) and Virginia (7) have more. Kansas is the only other team in the top 10 to have a Q3 loss, however.

UNC has games left against Notre Dame at home (76 in RPI as of this writing, which is a Q3 game but the FSU win hasn’t been factored in), on the road against Louisville (43, Q1), then Syracuse (36, Q1), at home against Miami (19, Q1), and on the road against Duke (3, Q1). Thus, if Carolina were to win out they would have a Q1 record of 10-5, and their Q3 goes up to 7-1. In this wacky season, it’s not crazy to think they could jump to a two-seed with a shot at the one with a sweep of the ACC Tournament.

In short, Carolina has to take care of business for the rest of the season. As unstable as the rest of college basketball has been and as lumped up as the ACC is, Carolina enters the home stretch in excellent position. We’ll check in next week to see how this has changed.

***2/11 AM update

I won’t update this post to reflect what the NCAA says, but I did want to acknowledge that going into today the “team sheet” has changed.

As I alluded to, the Notre Dame win over FSU yesterday improved their standing in the RPI from 76 to 70. Why is this important? Because UNC’s road win there turns from a Q2 win to a Q1 win, and tomorrow’s game becomes a Q2 game. So, as of now, Carolina has four Q1’s and a Q2 left. Shoutout to the N&O’s Joe Giglio for doing this in his famous Yellow Pad form:

We’ll know soon how this translates into UNC’s seed, but again, the final statement is the same: take care of business and you won’t need help to achieve your goals.