Repeat epic unlikely, UNC-NC State meet in tourney with more on the line
Posted May 18, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina and North Carolina State played five times a year ago. A diamond buzz in the Triangle reached a fever pitch in their third meeting, however, in the ACC tournament – even before the teams squared off in Omaha.
Over the course of 18 innings, spanning more than six hours, in front of 11,392 fans at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the Heels and Pack participated in a modern-day epic. The game came to a close just before 2 a.m. and when it was all said and done, UNC walked off the field as 2-1 winners of quite possibly the greatest baseball game ever played in the state, let alone the series’ history.
Fast forward 360 days.
The teams will again meet in the ACC tournament -- this time in Greensboro and this time as underachieving clubs just trying to make pool play in the newly expanded ACC.
NC State, which excited their fanbase before the season started with notions of a ‘parade in Raleigh,’ seemingly did everything they could to miss the ACC tournament. They lost five of their first six conference series’ including getting swept in three straight. At 13-17 in ACC play, the Pack have wandered in as the No. 10 seed.
UNC took the middle-ground approach this year. They were swept at Duke but got a home sweep against lowly Virginia Tech. Every other conference series went 2-1 one way or the other. Those kinds of results left a Tar Heels team with sky-high expectations at 15-15 in conference play and the No. 7 seed.
Now, throw the past three and a half months out the window. Every pitch of every inning of every game is suddenly meaningless. Tuesday morning at 11 a.m. is all that matters to the blue- and red-clad rivals.
Neither is a lock for the NCAA tournament.
NC State, entering the week at No. 59 in the RPI, undoubtedly has more work to do than UNC (47) to earn an at-large bid, making Tuesday a must-win. But UNC is facing just as tough of a task. They are bouncing on the same tourney bubble and could certainly use the win just to be a 3-seed in a tough southern region.
Then comes the question of match-ups. Do the teams bump up their Friday starters to win a play-in game? Do they battle with mid-week starters to keep rhythm and trust their bats?
Personally, I do not think there is room in the NCAA field for both teams, making Tuesday’s game pivotal. And this time, if they play 18 innings, the game should be finishing up right as the 9-to-5ers leave the office.
Blue Devils Dancing?
Duke is the grass-and-dirt version of a conundrum.
At 16-14 in conference play, and with 32 wins on the year, Duke has earned their way to the No. 4 seed in the ACC. Conventional wisdom would say that is an automatic NCAA tourney bid coming from in the nation’s third toughest conference (behind the SEC and Big 12). After all, the ACC typically gets 6-plus teams into the field.
Not so fast.
Because of a lackluster non-conference schedule, the Blue Devils entered last week at No. 84 in the nation in RPI – behind other North Carolina schools UNC, High Point (51), Western Carolina (57), NC State, Campbell (70) and East Carolina (71).
That puts Duke – the fourth best team in the third toughest conference – only seventh best in their own state, according to the RPI.
Simply put, 0-3 in the tourney will not get the Devils into a regional. Two wins are almost certainly needed – preferably over No. 5 Clemson and No. 1 Miami.
How Many Will Get In?
I have seen forecasts that have five ACC teams making the field and I have seen as many as eight.
Entering the final week, seven ACC teams were in the top-50 in the national RPI. All 10 that made the conference tournament field reside in the top-90. That said, let’s look logically.
Virginia, Miami and Florida State are locks – and will all likely host. But that’s just three.
Maryland (31) and Georgia Tech (34) are likely in. All they need is one tourney win, in my opinion. That’s five.
Then the next grouping has Clemson (46), UNC, NC State and Duke. I have to believe that these four teams will battle for two spots at the most. And at best, they will be No. 3 seeds in undesirable regions.
Wake Forest: I’m sorry, you will have to win-out to have a chance.
This leaves me to believe six or seven teams will make the field and one of the Triangle three will be watching.
Hope to see everyone in Greensboro. Here’s the schedule:
Tuesday, May 20
Game 1: #7 North Carolina vs. #10 NC State, 11 a.m.
Game 2: #8 Wake Forest vs. #9 Georgia Tech, 3 p.m.
Wednesday, May 21
#4 Duke vs. #5 Clemson, 11 a.m.
#1 Miami vs. Game 2 Winner, 3 p.m.
#2 Florida State vs. Game 1 Winner, 7 p.m.
Thursday, May 22
#3 Virginia vs. #6 Maryland, 11 a.m.
#4 Duke vs. Game 2 Winner, 3 p.m.
#1 Miami vs. #5 Clemson, 7 p.m.
Friday, May 23
#2 Florida State vs. #6 Maryland, 11 a.m.
#5 Clemson vs. Game 2 Winner, 3 p.m.
#3 Virginia vs. Game 1 Winner, 7 p.m.
Saturday, May 24
#1 Miami vs. #4 Duke, 11 a.m.
#6 Maryland vs. Game 1 Winner, 3 p.m.
#2 Florida State vs. #3 Virginia, 7 p.m.
Sunday, May 25
ACC Championship, 1 p.m. (ESPN2)