Sorting through ACC tournament traffic
Posted February 12
Updated February 13
The 61st ACC men’s basketball tournament is exactly one month away, March 12-16, Greensboro Coliseum, and you can bet it’s going to be the most frantic ever.
With 15 members, there will be three games on Wednesday, 1 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., but the top four seeds won’t actually play until Friday’s quarterfinals begin at noon.
Fans will find the litany of tiebreaking rules bewildering and even controversial since the varying degrees of schedule difficulty likely will wind up with one or two weaker teams tied or maybe even ahead of obviously stronger rivals in the final standings.
After Tuesday, when N.C. State’s defeated Wake Forest and Notre Dame stopped Clemson, seven teams have four, five or six wins. There’s little reason to believe the final standings on March 9 will display a lot more separation. There could be any number of teams at 10-8, 9-9 or 8-10.
But at least for now, some of the picture is coming into fairly clear focus.
Three teams, Virginia Tech (1-10 in league play), Boston College (2-8) and Miami (2-8), are but certain to be involved in the Wednesday opening-round mix.
If it started today, before tonight’s Duke-UNC, Boston College-Georgia Tech and Syracuse-Pitt games, those first-round pairings would be more or less set.
Virginia (15th seed) would face No. 10 Wake Forest (4-7). Boston College (No. 14) would play No. 11 Notre Dame (4-8) and No. 12 Georgia Tech (3-8) would play No. 13 Miami.
By the same token, those valuable top four seeds would be set with Syracuse (10-0), Virginia (11-1), Duke (8-3) and Pitt (8-3) all idle until Friday.
UNC (6-4 and No. 5 entering the Duke test) would play on Thursday in the 2 p.m. second-round game against the winner of Georgia Tech and Miami. Keep in mind that Miami defeated the Tar Heels 63-57 on Jan 8 in Chapel Hill.
Late night, late night
After Tuesday’s one-sided win, the Wolfpack improved to 6-5 and moved into a tie with Clemson for No. 6 but that’s potentially a good news/bad news situation.
With remaining games at Syracuse, Clemson (Feb.18) and Pitt (March 3), the Pack has a more difficult schedule than the Tigers. But if State could win the Feb. 18, it would have the first tiebreaker over the Tigers if the pecking order ends as it stands today.
However, the opening game for the 6th seed is no bargain since it probably will not even begin until 9:30 (or later) on Thursday night against the winner of the Wednesday Nos. 11 versus 14 game. Then the winner of last game on Thursday gets the same tip time on Friday against the No. 3 seed.
The 7th seed would get the 7 p.m. Thursday/Friday slots, a starting time most coaches and players find much more preferable to 9:30 in post-season settings.
New pressure points
Historically, the ACC’s Saturday semifinals have produced great sports theater and some of the most compelling games in college hoops history.
It’s likely that No. 1 regional seeds will at stake in one of the games this season, as usual.
But in reality, the new format with its likely stable of NCAA bubble teams and/or bubble hopefuls will put more pressure on the Nos. 5 through 9 seeds in the Thursday games. Any sort of Thursday loss by those five teams could be a deal buster on the NCAA front.
The 5th seed, particularly if it’s UNC this season, probably would survive a Thursday “bad loss” but that would be about as deep as the NCAA cushion goes. A Thursday loss by the Nos. 6-9 seeds easily could result in a punched ticket to the NIT.