For at least a third straight year, the Atlantic Coast Conference is the class of college basketball.
In 2016, the league sent seven teams to the tournament— and pretty much ran the show. Only Pitt lost on the first weekend, as Carolina, Virginia, Duke, Miami, Notre Dame, and Syracuse reached the Sweet 16. In the Elite Eight, a whole half of the bracket was ACC teams. Carolina beat Notre Dame, and Syracuse upset Virginia to reach the Final Four. After smoking Syracuse, Carolina reached the finals...and...we know how that ended.
Last year, the conference rode that momentum and sent nine teams dancing. Despite having six teams boast top-5 seeds, only one— your national champion North Carolina Tar Heels— even made the second weekend. It was ugly, too: #3 seed Florida State got dropped by #11 Xavier, 91-66. #5 Virginia managed 39 points in a 24-point loss to #4 Florida. Duke lost to South Carolina, lol.
Much in the way bowl performance shouldn’t frame the narrative for football conference superiority, tournament performance is pretty random as well. The ACC enters the final three weeks of conference play in strong position.
According to Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology (as of this writing, updated last on 2/16), the league should match the output from last year, getting nine teams in. Of those, only N.C. State falls under the “last X in”...and they’re slated to secure entry to the round of 64. With a road win at Wake Forest under their belts, their resume is solidifying a bid.
Can the ACC get the elusive 10th team in? Can they challenge the Big East’s record of 11 from 2011, when UConn won the worst NCAA Tournament in recent memory (besides 2010)?
Mortal, Stone Cold Locks
Virginia: The Hoos are 24-2, 13-1, and have all but locked up a #1 in their quest to FINALLY reach a Final Four. At this point, its amazing that they haven’t. Their last four regular season opponents have won a combined 18 ACC games— 14 of which come from Louisville and Notre Dame.
Duke: Beat Clemson on the road without Marvin Bagley on Sunday, and that’s just great. They’ve won three straight without Bagley, and finish with three of four at home. A strong finish probably has them playing as a two-seed.
Clemson: Now losers of two straight, Clemson is sitting at 9-5 in the league— but consecutive losses have the Tigers reeling (as some sage THB writers predicted). A Wednesday night trip to Virginia Tech is no joke, but Georgia Tech, Florida State, and Syracuse to close out should be fairly manageable.
North Carolina: The Heels are good, they’re peaking, and people on this site write great stuff about them. Read it. Win two of the final three, and we’re looking at a 2-seed for Carolina.
Probably fine, barring a total collapse:
Miami: The U is 7-7 in conference play, disappointing for a team ranked in the preseason top 10. They’re still a dangerous team, but are losers of three straight (including a road loss to BC and home defeat to Syracuse) and are...well, in the midst of a total collapse. Tonight’s trip to Notre Dame is HUGE for both squads, and home games vs. Boston College and Virginia Tech are massive. Lunardi still has them on the 6 line, so apparently I’m missing something great about their resume.
Louisville: Finishes @ Duke, @ Virginia Tech, Virginia, @ N.C. State. That’s not ideal. The Cards are 18-9 (8-6) after their home loss to Carolina on Saturday night, and probably needs to win...one? For the good of the conference, they need to win their home game against Virginia and secure a berth with a notable win.
Florida State: We’re #TALKINBOUTTHENOLES here, and the Noles just struggled to beat Pitt at home and improve to 8-7 in conference. Had they lost, they would have had a tough time getting back to .500— and yes, I drafted this assuming they’d dispatch the Panthers easily.
Virginia Tech: The win at UVA put the Hokies in a great position, as they also boast a blowout win against UNC. They’re 8-6 in league play as of right now, and have the next three at home. Those three? Against Clemson, Louisville, and Duke. Then a trip to Miami. Their closing stretch is borderline absurd, and they are in the “barring epic collapse” category because an epic collapse is entirely possible.
N.C. State: The road win at Wake on Saturday was a biggie, getting the Pack to 8-6 in conference and 18-9 overall. Their trio of wins against Arizona, Duke, and Carolina makes them a pretty safe bet to earn a bid, from where I sit. They close with three home games against BC, Florida State, and Louisville sandwiching a trip to Atlanta. 2-2 in those four gets them to 10 wins in-conference and should make them a lock.
Outside looking in:
Syracuse: The Cuse is on Lunardi’s “First Four Out”, and with good reason. They can’t seem to get out of their own way. They’ve split their last six games with road wins at Louisville and Miami...and losses to Georgia Tech and N.C. State. Their closing stretch is BRUTAL— home against UNC, at Duke, at BC, home against Clemson. A win against anyone besides BC immediately becomes the best on their resume, and the Orange probably need to win 3 of 4 if they want to be safe.
Notre Dame: This one is awkward. Matt Farrell poured in 37 points on 10-of-12 three-point shooting to smoke Boston College on Saturday, and Bonzie Colson is having an MRI today to determine if he can get back to practice. It seems unlikely that he’ll play for at least two more games, but the Irish have a chance to get back in the hunt without him— their next three games are home vs. Miami on Monday, at Wake next Saturday, then home against Pitt. Three wins, and 19-11 (9-8) with a trip to Virginia looming seems like a tourney resume. They’ll have to get win #20 (and perhaps more, to be safe) with Colson back in the lineup in the ACC Tournament, but they have a real shot to make a late run.
My prediction is that the committee will find spots for 9 ACC teams for a second straight year. Either Virginia Tech, Florida State, Miami, or N.C. State collapses, and Notre Dame brings Colson back and gets the benefit of the doubt from the selection committee. How many do you think will make it? Comment below.