After ending the regular season on a high note, North Carolina Tar Heels baseball are now headed to Charlotte for the ACC Tournament. While the good run in recent weeks has seemingly steadied the Heels in the NCAA Tournament conversation, it probably wouldn’t hurt them to pick up a win or two this week.
The format for the tournament is that 12 teams have qualified, and they have been divided into four pools of three teams. The winners of each pool advance on and then those four winners form a four-team bracket to play for the title. UNC got the #8 seed and have been placed in Pool A along with #1 seed Virginia Tech and #12 seed Clemson.
The Heels will begin their run tonight when they face Clemson at 7 PM ET. The two teams did not meet in the regular season, as the Tigers finished the season with a 35-21 record, going 13-16 in ACC play.
Clemson are another team seemingly around the NCAA Tournament bubble, as D1Baseball.com currently projects them as the last team in. They ended the regular season on a good note, sweeping Boston College, but they had been playing around .500 ball in the weeks before that.
The Tigers are led by infielder Max Wagner who tied for the ACC lead in home runs with 26, winning the ACC Player of the Year Award. That will be something to watch against UNC pitching, who allowed 73 home runs on the season, tied for the second most of any ACC team. On the pitching front, Clemson isn’t the strongest, allowing over five runs per game on average. However, UNC may get matched up against the Tigers’ Mack Anglin, who made the All-ACC third team.
Carolina’s second game will then be played Friday night at 7 PM ET when they’ll take on the top seed, Virginia Tech. This will almost certainly go down as the best season in Hokies’ baseball history, as they have only 10 prior NCAA Tournament bids. This year, they’ve gone 40-11 and are currently projected as the #2 national seed by D1Baseball.com.
Tech feature a deep lineup, with five positions players making an All-ACC team. They have six different players who reached double digit home runs and their .975 OPS as a team is the best in the conference. Hokies’ pitcher Drue Hackenberg led the conference in ERA at 2.44 in 85 innings, making the All-ACC first team. UNC might not have to face him with that game being the second one for both teams, but another VT starting pitcher, Griffin Green, is also pretty good, making the All-ACC third team.
One quirk of the ACC Tournament format is that UNC must win both games to advance. If all three teams in a pool finish 1-1, the tiebreaker is that the highest seed automatically advances. If the Heels drop their first game to Clemson, they would already be mathematically eliminated, even if they go on and knock off Virginia Tech.
Should Carolina go 2-0 and advance, they would play the winner of Pool D (either Notre Dame, Virginia, or Florida State) in the semifinal, Saturday at 1 PM ET. The championship game will be on Sunday at 12 PM ET. UNC’s and the rest of the pool play games will air on ACC Network Extra and various regional sports networks (check your local listings). The semifinals will be on ACC Network, with the championship game airing on ESPN2.
The Tar Heels have been playing very well as of late, let’s hope they can keep that going this week in Charlotte.