We are seven games left into the regular season. It’s amazing how quickly time can pass, but here we are staring March in the face. With the NCAA’s release of their top-16 seeds this past weekend, it’s time for us to start looking not only at the games Carolina plays, but what those games mean for the postseason. Each Sunday from here on out, we’ll update where Carolina stands both for the ACC and NCAA. We’re just doing this one at midweek because of the quick turnaround from Saturday to Monday this past weekend.
The goal, besides winning the ACC Regular season, of the conference season is to try to put yourself in for the double bye position. As I noted last year, a double bye isn’t a guarantee of a trip to the semifinals. There still have only been two 1-2-3-4 semifinals in ACC Tournament history, as the sixth-seeded Tar Heels broke up that grouping last year. That said, the obvious implication is that when you have to win four games in four days you further risk injury to important players, and the sheer fatigue lessons the chances of a team winning the title.
Last year at this time, seeding scenarios were all over the place. Carolina was 8-5 after thirteen games, and ultimately lost too many games to too many teams when the tiebreakers were put into place. This year, things are a little less jumbled.
ACC Standings after 2/12
OK, first the good news: Carolina can’t finish last. Mathematically the worst they can do at this point is finish 9-9. With Pitt’s loss to BC on Tuesday they already have ten losses on the season, and they had the tiebreaker anyway. Thanks to the Miami sweep they also can’t finish next-to-last as they have that tiebreaker.
Beyond that, every other seed from thirteen all the way up to one is technically in play. Each win, of course, will eliminate the worst-case scenario, and if you really wanted to dig and see which teams plays which, you probably can figure some on the bottom will end up with more than nine losses. With that said, we will just focus on the double bye and worry about the lower seeds if things take a turn.
Despite the loss on Monday to UVA, Carolina is still in a good position for a 1-4 seed. The easiest solution is that if they win out and UVA does as well, Carolina would be the two seed thanks to the fact that UVA has the tiebreaker. They are also two losses clear of Louisville, a team they split against, and the Wahoos have to play Louisville twice before the season is over. There’s a decent chance Louisville falls back in the pack a little here, especially if they can't gather themselves from last night’s horrific loss.
Checking out the other teams that can sneak into the top four, you have Syracuse at 8-3, Virginia Tech at 7-4, and Florida State at 7-4. Carolina faces two of those three still, both at home, and already have the win against Virginia Tech. With a one-game lead on Syracuse and two games on the Hokies and Florida State, chances are pretty good the Tar Heels can stay near the top.
What it all boils down to is a major difference between last year and this year. Last year, Carolina had to get hot, hope for some help, and ultimately didn’t bank enough wins to where they could avoid the double bye in the end. Would having an extra day off have given them more rest for Virginia in the Tournament Final? It probably wouldn’t have hurt as the Cavaliers managed to extend their lead late, effectively ending any hope for a win.
In the end, there’s a lot less scoreboard watching in terms of ACC standings this year. If you get a winning record in these last seven, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll end up with that double bye.
Much like last year, Duke, UVA, and UNC are all fighting each other for the closest opening round site. This year, however, a wild card has been thrown in: Tennessee.
Here’s the full list of Tournament sites this year, but for our purposes here are the four we need to concern ourselves with:
Thursday, March 21st & Saturday March 23rd: Hartford, CT & Jacksonville, FL
Friday March 22nd & Sunday March 24th: Columbia, SC & Columbus, OH
Last year’s team showed that playing closer to home isn’t necessarily a guarantee that you’ll end up moving on to the Regionals, but the obvious goal is still to play as close to home as possible so that your fans can fill the arena on a day trip instead of having to try to fly out at the last second. The further you are from home, the more chance that a neutral court turns into a road game, as your fans can’t pick up the extra tickets that start floating around after four teams lose, and that becomes on intangible you have to fight against.
Columbia is the closest location for all four teams mentioned above, and only two can get those spots. So, the higher you’re ranked in the seed line, the closer you get to home. Based on the first sixteen released, Duke and Tennessee get first dibs on Columbia. Virginia is next highest, and by about 40 miles Columbus, OH is the next closest location to Charlottesville. For Carolina, however, the next closest location is Jacksonville, FL.
What would it take to get Carolina to Columbia? Pretty simple: finish ahead of two of these three; Duke, Virginia, and Tennessee in the NCAA’s final seed list. The good news there is that Carolina can get some help from old foe, Kentucky. From their perspective, Columbus, OH is the closest site to Lexington, so even if they end up overtaking the Volunteers in the SEC they aren’t a contender for the Columbia spot. The loss against Virginia on Monday hurts in their effort to finish ahead of them.
It’s also worth mentioning at this time the NCAA has a new metric they are using to help determine what seed everyone has. Before the season, the NCAA announced that they were getting rid of the RPI and replacing it with a metric they called the NET, or the NCAA Evaluation Tool.
Yeah, they probably started with some cute acronym since it was a basketball tool and then did some wordplay to make sure they got the result they wanted. I mean, if you want to be technical about it, it should be the NCAAET but that wouldn’t be cute now, would it?
Anyway, the NCAA explains the tool here. In essence, this formula analyzes your wins and loses, where those games were played, how strong your schedule was, and how much you won by up to ten points. They also are factoring in a team’s offensive and defensive efficiency rankings.
The NCAA updates the rankings daily based on games played, and then takes those rankings to make a team sheet similar to what they did last year. Yes, it’s a return to the quadrant system. Just so that you know what all the numbers mean:
- Q1 win: 1-30 In NET at home, 1-50 in NET neutral, 1-75 away
- Q2 win: 31-75 in NET at home, 51-100 in NET neutral, 76-135 away
- Q3 win: 76-160 in NET at home, 101-200 in NET neutral, 136-240 away
- Q4 win: 161+ in NET at home, 201+ in NET neutral, 241+ away
The good news for Carolina in this metric is that all of their losses are in Q1, with a record of 5-5 right now. Carolina also has four Q1 games left: the two Duke games, FSU at home, and Clemson on the road, and so they have a real shot and making a good impression.
The problem: the teams ahead of them have better team sheets. Duke is 7-1 in Q1 games and are also undefeated in every other quadrant, UVA is 6-2 in Q1 — also undefeated everywhere else, and Tennessee is 4-1 with no losses in the other quadrants. Carolina has played the most Q1 games of the group but they’ve also taken the most losses, so they’ll need to finish hot and keep their other quadrants clean to even have a shot to sneak there.
So if you were to put odds on where Carolina would go, Jacksonville is an overwhelming favorite. The only reason we bring Hartford into this discussion is if these last seven games see the Tar Heels really slide and two teams overtake them to get top billing in Jacksonville.
That’s where things stand with four weeks to go. We’ll keep updating scenarios each weekend from here till March.