Bubble Watch 2: Which ACC Teams Need a Conference Tournament Boost?

Rich Barnes

With the college basketball regular season complete and conference tournaments already underway, it’s time to take another look at how the ACC could fare on Selection Sunday.

Following up on our discussion from last month, my CNYcentral.com colleague and fellow basketball aficionado Alex Dunbar engaged me in a bit of back and forth regarding the NCAA Tournament prospects of each ACC squad as the conference tournament is set to get underway on Wednesday.

Jeremy: Let's start off by agreeing that the bottom six of the league standings - Miami, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, Boston College, and Virginia Tech - have zero chance of making the NCAA Tournament unless they win the ACC Tournament. None at all. Zero, zip, zilch, nada. And I don’t think they would let VA Tech in even if they did win the ACC.

Alex: Agreed - if any one of them makes the tournament, it would be a college basketball miracle.

Syracuse (27-4, RPI #9*)

Alex: This one was a lot easier three weeks ago. If the tournament started today, I think SU gets a #2 seed. They could get into #1 seed conversation with an ACC Tournament championship but would need help (translation: a collapse) from other top teams. A #3 seed is still very possible depending on what happens Friday night.

Jeremy: Agreed. So much of the #1 seed conversation will revolve around what the other top teams do in their respective tournaments. You'd think Florida and Wichita State are near-locks, but the other two #1s are up for grabs, especially with the news Monday night that Kansas’s Joel Embiid may miss both the Big 12 Tournament and the first weekend of the NCAAs with his lingering back injury. However, a #2 seed for SU seems likely, unless they absolutely steamroll their way to the ACC title.

Virginia (25-5, RPI #12)

Jeremy: For all the flak Virginia takes about their strength of schedule – admittedly from myself included - they ended up with a very respectable 33. By comparison, Syracuse's SOS is 62. I think winning the ACC regular season will mean something to the committee, even if UVA didn't have to play SU, Duke, Pitt or UNC twice in the regular season. Seriously, how does that happen? Anyway, I think the Hoos are a 3 seed now, and could get to a 2 if they win the ACC Tourney.

Alex: I was too hard on UVA in our last chat (and heard about it from the entire 434 area code). This time around, I was ready to talk about Virginia having a chance at a #1 seed... until they lost to Maryland. UVA still looks like a solid #2 seed to me. No bad losses, a bunch of quality wins and a big win over Syracuse.

Duke (24-7, RPI #8)

Alex: I was ready to make a #1 seed case for Duke too... until they lost to Wake Forest and UNC. Duke, UVA and Syracuse are all pretty close and the #2 lines are getting crowded. Somebody will get pushed to a #3 and if I had to make a call today (essentially what this article is all about) I would guess it is the Blue Devils.

Jeremy: Yeah, even if Duke wins the ACC Tournament I don't think they'll make it to #1. The Wake Forest loss really hurt, much in the same way that Boston College hurt SU's chances at a 1 (and Georgia Tech then maimed them). I don't think losing to UNC hurts as much, because the Tar Heels are a good team and Duke got that win back the other day. Could the ACC get three #2 seeds? You're right, probably not... but it would be interesting to see.

North Carolina (23-8, RPI #21)

Jeremy: The Heels have finally become the team we thought they could be - but that doesn't mean they're without some major flaws. As they went on their 12-game win streak I think a lot of people were willing to forgive those 'bad' losses to Belmont and UAB and highlight the big wins over Louisville, Kentucky, and Michigan State. I'll include myself among them. They had a tough schedule and are on a roll, their loss to Duke notwithstanding. I'd be comfortable with them as a 5 seed, maybe a 4 if they make some noise this week.

Alex: North Carolina's season looks like a bad sports movie script. Unpredictable start to the season mixing great wins (Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky) with full blown meltdown losses (UAB, Belmont) followed up by a mid season disaster (three straight losses) and then a 12 game winning streak to close out the season. I'll give the Tar Heels a #4 right now. A #3 is possible if they win the ACC Tournament because anything is possible. UNC is the poster child for why non-sports fans always win the office bracket pool.

Pittsburgh (23-8 RPI #47)

Alex: I'm not convinced that Pitt makes the tournament. They have one RPI top 50 win (a neutral site win over #45 Stanford, which looks worse every week) and only six RPI top 100 wins. Pitt needs at least two ACC tournament wins to feel safe. I genuinely feel bad for Pitt fans right now. They thought they had something special going on and it fell apart faster than a Dan Snyder owned team.

Jeremy: Ouch. I think the Panthers are in. I think they're clearly the fifth best team in the ACC, and remember they were a play or two away from beating both Syracuse and Virginia. They have several 'good losses', but dropping late-season games to NC State and Florida State didn't help. I think winning a game or two in the ACC Tourney can only help, but even if they don't I'd feel good about them as a 10 or 11 seed.

Clemson (19-11, #79 RPI)

Jeremy: The Tigers are the very definition of a bubble team. I don't think they need to win the ACC Tournament to make the NCAAs, but they need an extremely deep run, plus some other bubble teams to crap the bed. And let's be frank, it won't be easy getting past the ACC semifinals. If the season ended today I may have them squeak in, but they'd be playing in Dayton on Tuesday as a 13 seed or something like that.

Alex: Clemson fans can look forward to replaying the final thirty seconds of that Pitt loss in their minds for the next five years while they wait for another NCAA tournament chance. What a disaster. I'm watching World War Z right now and the movie version of Earth looks less depressing than watching that game with Tigers fans. Anyway, Clemson has a chance to play their way in but anyone who feels confident about it is crazy or has a strong attachment to South Carolina. Quality football program though (I felt like I needed to say something nice).

Jeremy: That's the problem. You're too nice of a guy. You're still scarred from your experience with those Virginia fans.

Florida State (18-12, RPI #59)

Alex: They need to win at least two games, possibly three, but Florida State has an intriguing chance at sneaking in. They have a soft but respectable RPI number, only one bad loss (Miami) and two big time wins (VCU and UMass at neutral sites.) There is a strong case to be made against them, but the Seminoles would be a dangerous #12 seed if they can pull it off. This is not a bad team.

Jeremy: Florida State is the type of tough, defensive-minded, muck it up team I wouldn't want to play in a one-game situation. They have a couple of good losses in addition to their wins, losing to Michigan by a deuce in overtime and by one at Florida. However, I think you're right. They could get in if they make an ACC Tourney run. But do we think they're going to get past the quarterfinals? Probably not.

North Carolina State (18-12, RPI #72)

Jeremy: What a difference a single play makes. If State doesn't turn the ball over at the end of the Syracuse game, and if they hold on to beat the Orange, how much different does their resume look? They also lost to UNC in overtime a couple of weeks ago. That may have been the real death blow to their NCAA Tourney chances.

Alex: N.C. State had chances, they were right there and couldn't take care of the ball in the final seconds of big games. I was surprised to read that they have the #31 strength of schedule - just looking at it, I would have thought it was a lot worse. They have a few decent wins over fellow bubble teams (Pitt, Florida State, Maryland) but it just isn't enough right now.

Maryland (17-14, RPI #77)

Alex: The Terps’ win over Virginia convinced me to include them in this column but now I'm having second thoughts. Maryland has a total of four RPI top #100 wins and before Virginia, a neutral site win over Providence (#54) was the most impressive. That's awful. Even getting to the championship game might not be enough for Maryland. I apologize to Jeremy and anyone who read this for wasting all of our time with Maryland and those goofy state flag inspired uniforms they wear now.

Jeremy: You should apologize. I wanted to lump them in with the sluggish six, but nooo, you insisted we give them a separate write-up. Well, here’s my write-up on Maryland: I have as good of a chance of starting for the Celtics next year as the Terrapins have of making the NCAA Tournament. Enjoy the Big Ten, Terps fans. We hardly knew ye.

*RPI stats provided by RealTimeRPI.com

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