Congratulations, everyone, we made it to the last week of the ACC Regular Season! Three weeks ago, I don’t think any of us were as optimistic about this week as we are now. Yet here we are.
On the backs of their remarkable six-game winning streak, Carolina has gone from just hoping they can get a single bye to being in a comfortable spot regarding the double bye. They have also gone from being a middling seed in the NCAA’s to a borderline two with a chance for a top seed, depending on what happens above them.
You know what, I think Roy Williams can coach.
Today, as we’ve done the last couple of weeks, we will go through the scenarios for Carolina’s ACC seeding, and also take a peek at the NCAA Tournament landscape. On Friday, we’ll hone in for the last time on the ACC seeding going into the last games on Saturday. Then on Monday, we can look at what they need to do in the ACC Tournament to make their NCAA case stronger.
Let’s dig in, shall we?
ACC Seeding Scenarios
Based on results, we now only need concern ourselves with the top eight of the ACC.
ACC Top Eight after 2/25
Thanks to Carolina’s win over Syracuse, the Tar Heels mathematically clinched at least a top nine spot before the weekend began. It seems silly at this point with what we’ll talk about in a second, but thanks to how bunched up the conference is and their earlier losses, Carolina had to sweat that out for a little while.
As we start the last week, Carolina is third in the conference all by themselves, currently in the double bye position. They have a one game lead over both Clemson and NC State.
The math from last week has not changed. Should Carolina win out, they are the two seed with, at worst, a tie over the Devils and the sweep being the tiebreaker. They control the double bye, which is exactly the position you want to be in, and requires no further analysis.
Instead, let’s talk about the other possibilities.
Carolina Goes 1-1
If you saw this tweet from Inside Carolina yesterday, you were probably curious about the math:
#UNC’s magic number is down to one to clinch a double-bye in the ACC Tournament following Louisville’s win over Virginia Tech today. The Tar Heels own the tiebreaker over Clemson due to their win over Duke.— InsideCarolina (@InsideCarolina) February 24, 2018
Going 1-1 would give Carolina a 12-6 record. Should Clemson and State win out, it would give all three the same record, and those three are the only ones who can possibly have a 12-6 record.
We should all know by now that the way we break up a tie in a group of three or more in the ACC is the MINI CONFERENCE! However, that tiebreaker won’t work here because, in what is an oddity of a 15-team league with an 18-game schedule, all three played the other two teams twice. Their records? 2-2.
This is where we get to how Carolina got to 12-6. After the mini-conference tiebreaker, you start at the top of the conference and keep going through the teams until you find one where a team has a better record than the others, and the complications begin.
Now, the more likely scenario to everyone is if Carolina were to beat the Hurricanes on Tuesday and then lose to the Blue Devils. In this case you’d have NC State at 1-0 versus Duke, Carolina at 1-1, and Clemson at 0-1. The ACC looks at winning percentage, so NC State would be the three seed, Carolina would be the four, and Clemson would be the five. This means Carolina secures the double bye.
Now, flip that, and Carolina lose to Miami and win in Durham. Again, the ACC looks at percentage, which is a problem even though Carolina would be 2-0 versus the Devils. The ACC works to trim teams down before moving on to different tiebreakers, so Clemson would be cut from the group after Duke as they last their only meeting. It still secures a double bye, the question becomes “who is in sixth place?” Well, if it’s a tie, then it’s their combined ranking against that group. Thus, it’s possible that a combination would put Carolina at three and State at four, and there’s a combination that would put State at three and Carolina at four. We aren’t going to be able to sort that out until the end of this week. Should Carolina win on Tuesday, it’ll also be unnecessary to.
Those same tiebreakers work if either State or Clemson were to drop a game between now and next weekend. In that case, Carolina is tied with just a singular team, and they went 1-1 against both of them. Again, you look at the record against the Blue Devils. If it’s Clemson, it doesn't matter in what order the wins come because they’ll have a win over Duke whereas the Tigers don’t. If it’s State, Carolina is either the three or four depending on if the loss is Miami or Duke and whoever finishes below Clemson.
This is great news. All Carolina has to do is win once in their next two and they will be off till Thursday, and this assumes either NC State or Clemson have a clean week which is, by no means a guarantee when you look at their schedule. If both lose a game, then Carolina is locked into a three seed at 1-1. The easiest thing to say is Carolina’s magic number is 1, but as we are about to see, it’s not as easy as that.
Carolina goes 0-2
This is the disaster scenario to an extent, but we have to talk about it because it absolutely could happen. Going 0-2 would leave Carolina at 11-7. To better understand the discussion here, let’s map out the schedule of every team that could conceivably end up with seven losses.
Remaining ACC Games as of 2/25
|Clemson||vs FSU, @Syacuse|
|NC State||@GT, vs Louisville|
|Miami||@UNC, vs Virginia Tech|
|Virginia Tech||vs Duke, @Miami|
|Louisville||vs UVA, @NC State|
The problem with trying to project where Carolina would land is this huge mass of humanity below them. That said, there is an easy scenario to talk through: State and Clemson going undefeated through the rest of their schedule.
Since there are only eight teams with seven losses or less, we know Carolina can only fall as far as the eighth seed before anything. State winning out would also add an eighth loss to Louisville, so that keeps Carolina out of the 8/9 game altogether. Also, if you look at the above schedule, Miami and Virginia Tech play each other so one of them is guaranteed to have an eighth loss, so now Carolina is clear of seventh.
So, Carolina will either be fifth or sixth in this breakdown. Should it work out to where they tie with either Miami or VT then they’ll be sixth since they’ll have lost to either one. That said, is a scenario possible where Virginia Tech loses Monday for their eighth loss and then beats Miami to hand them their eighth? I’d say yes. Thus, process of elimination tells us that Carolina’s worst case scenario is sixth, but a likely landing spot appears to be fifth, even in the worst case.
Now, all this assumes, again, that Clemson and NC State make it unscathed this upcoming week. It’s completely possible that one or the other will go 1-1 this week. If both do, then look above to the tiebreakers if it’s just those three tied, but it may not be that simple.
As noted, one of Virginia Tech or Miami are guaranteed to get an 8th loss, but it’s absolutely possible for State, VT, Clemson, and Carolina to finish in a four-way tie for third, as it’s possible for State, Miami, Clemson, and Carolina to finish that way. Carolina would have a loss to each of those teams, so it probably doesn’t end too well for the Tar Heels in terms of the double bye.
Still, looking at those schedules it’s absolutely possible that more teams will fall below the seven-loss threshold, and enough may do so to where Carolina still comes out with a fourth seed, or even a third. By the time the Duke game happens, it’s completely possible that Carolina would have already sewn up a double bye regardless of the outcome, even by losing to Miami.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. One win secures two days of rest for the Heels, and while the fourth seed has proven to be fool’s gold to some extent, it should still be the goal of the team to play as few games as possible to try and win an ACC title.
Nothing has changed much in the battle for Charlotte. Duke keeps winning, as does Carolina, and Virginia has locked down one position in Charlotte.
A commenter brought up a great point last week: with one of the pod sites being in Pittsburgh, would UVA prefer to play there instead of in Charlotte when the distance is about the same? It would make sense, but it turns out that UVa has already told us what they would do, because they had this exact choice in 2015. That year, Virginia was a two seed, Villanova was a one seed in Pittsburgh and Duke had one of the Charlotte spots as a one seed. The Wahoos took Charlotte, and Notre Dame, as a three seed, ended up as the other team in the Steel City.
Thus, it’s fair to say that the Hoos would take the spot in Charlotte leaving one other for either Carolina or Duke to take. It’s been tough for Carolina to leap over the Devils as they keep winning, but there’s one bracketolgist out there who thinks Carolina stands above Duke right now. Now, this was before Duke’s win against Syracuse last night, but as that game was in Cameron it was only a Q2 win for them.
Regardless, you have to think that if Duke were to beat Carolina next week, the consensus would be that they would get preferential treatment for Charlotte. Next Saturday, then, becomes important as Carolina can not only can clench a double bye at minimum, but also a chance to have a major feather in their cap in taking the second Charlotte spot.
Carolina still is hanging around top-eight territory in RPI, KenPom, BPI, and Sagarin. You have to think that at this point it would take a near-catastrophe for Carolina to fall out of a top 16 seed. A top four ACC finish should be enough to guarantee that in the NCAA’s, regardless of how the ACC Tournament works out. Obviously, the more wins the team can add, the better they are. It’s also worth noting that with Clemson’s recent struggles, should Carolina fall short in their bid for Charlotte, Nashville will almost certainly be where they end up.
This time next week we should have a pretty clear picture of what Carolina will need to do in Brooklyn to play the next weekend in Charlotte. Hopefully, it’ll be in the afterglow of an eight-game winning streak.
*This article has been updated on Sunday 2/25 to reflect NC State’s win over Florida State and the effect it had on the scenarios, as well as to update the group tiebreak to reflect that per the ACC, 2-0 is the same as 1-0 and sweeping Duke does not give Carolina a 3 seed.