Four weeks from today, the ACC Tournament will be over and we all will be sitting on the edge of our seat to see what bracket Carolina will be shipped to. It’s unreal to think the season is melting away at this pace, but the regular season will be over before you know it. The Tar Heels just have six more games to play before packing up and heading to Charlotte.
Thus, it’s time for your weekly check in of what UNC needs to be in the best position for both postseason tournaments.
Not much has changed since we checked in on the conference on Wednesday. With their 10th win Carolina has locked up a winning record in the conference. While not officially official, Carolina has basically locked up at least one bye for the conference tournament so we only need to look at the top nine.
ACC Standings 2/17
With UVA having the tiebreaker against Carolina, if both teams were to finish with the same record the Wahoos would get the higher seed. Right now that means Carolina would be the third seed in the ACC Tournament.
The good news is that Carolina still has a solid two-game lead over the pack of teams with four losses, and that pack gives them some wiggle room with the goal of achieving the double bye. Carolina has a 2-1 record so far against that pack with games against FSU and Syracuse left. Syracuse and Louisville also still have to face off, and Florida State still has to play Virginia Tech, plus Louisville has two games against Virginia left. Needless to say, with plenty of games left there’s time for that pack to break apart.
As I mentioned on Wednesday, the situation Carolina is in for the double bye is worlds better than what they faced last year at this time. Thanks to their great start, they’ve already built up a number of tiebreakers over teams that could potentially finish in fourth, and they’ve given themselves an opportunity to virtually wrap up that double bye well before they were in that position last year. Then it’s just a matter of improving your position and seeing if you can grab a share of the regular season title.
Let’s not kid ourselves, though, the remaining schedule for Carolina is not easy at all. They have Duke twice, Florida State, Syracuse, Clemson, and Boston College. The ACC didn’t do UNC any favors to try and build excitement for March, but at least they’ve taken care of business so far.
This time next week we should be in a better position to zero in on where they could land, as they’ll have the first Duke game and FSU behind them. We’ll start digging into more specific scenarios then.
Carolina’s loss to UVA on Monday was so big when it came to seeding, both in the ACC and in the NCAA. With there only being one meeting against Virginia, it was a huge opportunity missed to end up in their preferred destination: Columbia, SC.
As mentioned before, four teams are fighting for two spots in Columbia: Duke, UVA, Tennessee, and UNC. Up until Saturday, it looked like Duke and Tennessee had the inside track for those spots, but then the Volunteers got eaten alive by Kentucky.
The problem the Volunteers face is that they have a relatively weak schedule. All you have to do is look at their team sheet to see how precarious their top seed is. They only have six games in the top quadrant, and they are 4-2 there. UVA is 7-2, Duke is 7-1, and Carolina is 5-5. The SEC isn’t exactly strong this year, so they needed any Q1 win they could get, and their failure to really show up against Kentucky has to be a major strike against them in the “eye test” portion.
The good news for Tennessee is they’ll get one more chance to recover against the Wildcats in two weeks, and probably another shot in the SEC Tournament since the conference is so top heavy. But, let’s just assume that the past week’s results have shifted the Wahoos back to Columbia. What does UNC need to do to take that other spot?
I think we all know the answer.
Carolina has at least four Q1 games left: at Duke, hosting FSU, at Clemson, and hosting Duke. Syracuse will be a solid Q2 game, and BC is a borderline Q2 at this point and the Clemson game will likely stay a Q1 game as they are in the mid 40’s now and the game is on the road. Thus a 5-5 record could potentially turn into a 9-5 record prior to the ACC Tournament. Going on a run, beating Duke twice, and winning nine Q1 games is a pretty good resume to claim a high two seed/low one seed and grab the other spot.
If you’re reading this and shaking your head about how unlikely this is to happen, I’d say two things: “you’re right” and “there’s still a lot of basketball to play.” Despite getting a sixth seed in the ACC Tournament last year, the Heels managed to elbow out Duke for the second spot in Charlotte. They did that mostly by taking two out of three from the Devils, and if they see Duke three times this year it likely means they’ll have gotten revenge against Virginia.
The other thing to remember when seedings come out: The NCAA isn’t going to put two teams from the same conference in the top 16. Going into the weekend, most folks would have said that Duke had the 1 in the East, Tennessee had the 1 in the South, and Virginia had the 1 in the Midwest. With the loss against Kentucky, the Wildcats will slide up to a one seed, but does that move them right into Tennessee’s spot in the South or does UVA get the South? This has a direct effect on where UNC goes, because they can’t be in the same region with Duke or UVA as a one seed.
With four weeks to go, even though the scenarios seem pretty simple, there’s still a lot to sort out. We’ll check in again next weekend and see what, if anything, has changed.