Late January typically means two things: arctic blasts of cold air surging into the lower 48 and NCAA Tournament implications heating up in basketball games around the country. This year is no exception and with that I bring you the first installment of the ACC Selection Sunday Outlook. Like last season, I’ll be breaking down which teams have locked up bids, which teams have work to do, and which teams are only playing for pride. Updates will come every 7-10 days at first and then gaining in frequency as we get closer to March 17.
***Author’s note: Starting this year the NCAA has “eliminated” the RPI and is now using an efficiency based rating system referred to as NET. Much has been written about the NET’s faults, most notably that it uses raw efficiency instead of adjusting for the relative strength of the opponent. Nonetheless, it’s still an improvement from the RPI and will be the primary tool used by the NCAA selection committee, and it’s the only metric that will be used to determine the win quadrants for each team.
While NET is the primary tool, additional data points will be listed on the team sheets presented to selection committee members during their deliberations. This includes, but is not limited to, KenPom rankings and a team’s SOS as determined by the old school RPI (now you see why I put eliminated in quotation marks...). Accordingly, in parentheses next to each team I have included their current NET rank, KenPom rank, and SOS rank, in that order. Also, within each tier teams are listed in descending order of their latest NET rank.
###Author’s note number 2: Six of the seven teams listed in the top three tiers of my initial breakdown last year made the Dance—Louisville being the only team to fall down to the NIT. Conversely, three of the five teams listed in the “outside looking in” tier—Syracuse, NC State, and Virginia Tech—did enough work to eventually earn a bid. So while the near locks are pretty well set, there’s still plenty of movement to come around the bubble.
%%%Author’s note number 3: This was written prior to FSU’s matchup against Miami on Sunday.
Essentially locks: UVA (NET: 1; KP: 1; RPI SOS: 55), Duke (4; 2; 6)
UVA and Duke might very well be the two best teams in the country. Both would probably make the tournament even if they lost every remaining game and the odds of them losing every remaining game is infinitesimal. In fact, they square off in Charlottesville on February 9, so one of these two is assured to win again. At this point the biggest question for the Cavaliers and Blue Devils is whether both can end up as 1 seeds?
In darn good shape: UNC (9; 8, 11); Virginia Tech (10; 9; 101)
The Tar Heels and Hokies could both make an argument to be in the next tier up, but for now let’s keep them here. Unlike the previous two, neither team could afford to lose out and still make the Dance. That said, it would be shocking if either team missed out on March Madness.
UNC has sterling computer numbers, a win over Gonzaga, and nothing remotely close to a bad loss.
Virginia Tech has a sub-par SOS for an ACC team, which may end up knocking them down a seed line or two, but at 16-3 with neutral court wins over Purdue and Washington they are just a few wins away from locking up a bid.
More likely than not to make it, but lots of work left: Louisville (11; 14; 3), NCSU (30; 32; 267), FSU (35; 30; 20), Syracuse (49; 36; 36)
This is where things start to get squishy.
Louisville’s computer numbers suggest a team that should be in the next tier up. But fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice and shame on me. Last year Louisville looked golden at this time too and proceeded to lose 7 of their last 10 and didn’t even earn a 1 seed in the NIT. The wins over Michigan State and @UNC are fantastic, and there isn’t really a bad loss on the docket. Still, a brutal upcoming schedule (@Wake, UNC, @VT, @FSU, Duke) is telling me to be conservative on the 15-5 Cardinals.
NC State is the poster child for what’s wrong with the NET. If the RPI were used one more year, it’s quite possible the Wolfpack would be left out all together. Their atrocious OOC schedule (seriously, it’s the third worst in the entire country) has their old school RPI rank at 107th. Yet here they sit at 30th in NET. Why? Because they beat the snot out of all those putrid teams, puffing up their raw efficiency numbers. However, the SOS number is still going to be a giant red flag on their resume and will cause the committee to dig a little deeper. In doing so, they’ll see that right now NCSU has exactly one win of consequence—a home victory over a good-not-great Auburn team. As such, State will need a higher number of wins than your average ACC team in order to really feel safe on Selection Sunday. A home game against UVA this coming Tuesday presents them with an enormous opportunity...
Florida State is the opposite of NCSU. Leonard Hamilton’s squad spent the better part of 5 years (2003-2008) missing out on the NCAA Tourney due to a schedule that didn’t take advantage of the easily manipulated RPI. So it’s only fitting that the year the ‘Noles finally have a schedule tailor-made for the useless ratings index, the NCAA introduces a new ranking system that is holding FSU’s numbers back. Florida State has a collection of impressive OOC wins, with Purdue and LSU being the most notable. However, the tough schedule didn’t lend itself to blowouts and FSU’s raw efficiency numbers aren’t as impressive to the NET as say, NC State’s. Add in a couple injuries and you have a team that’s in a more precarious situation that it should be considering it’s OOC performance. Unlike the Wolfpack, the Seminoles probably only need 8 ACC wins to make the Dance, but at 2-4 in league play the margin for error isn’t overly large.
Syracuse had a petty poor non-conference performance, saved only by a road win over Ohio State. But the Orange have taken advantage of a relatively easy opening ACC slate—and added a MONSTER win in Cameron Indoor Stadium—to put themselves on better footing. Still, the perennial bubble team has quite a bit more work to do in order to make up for losses against Old Dominion and Georgia Tech.
On the outside looking in: Clemson (59; 51; 24), Pittsburgh (61; 65; 62), Georgia Tech (90; 76; 86), Notre Dame (91; 82; 69), Boston College (120; 107; 74)
Realistically, only Clemson and Pitt have a legitimate chance of earning an at-large bid. That said, as unlikely as it might be, the other three teams listed have enough meat on their resume to at least warrant inclusion in this tier...for now.
Poor Clemson. This week saw the Tigers blow a halftime lead against FSU in Tallahassee and then choke away a 6 point lead with 19 seconds remaining against NCSU in Raleigh. Brutal. Win even one of those and they are probably a tier up. As it is, Clemson sits at 1-5 in ACC play and needs to start winning immediately. A home date with Pitt on Tuesday is their next chance.
Speaking of Pitt, what a turnaround in Jeff Capel’s first year. After going 0-18 in ACC play last season, just being mentioned in the bubble discussion is a significant step forward. The OOC schedule was largely worthless (and included an atrocious loss to Niagara), but home wins over Louisville and FSU have at least cracked a window. The Panthers are in all likelihood headed to the NIT, but pull off a win over a devastated Clemson team on Tuesday and something might be cooking.
Georgia Tech has wins on the road against Arkansas and Syracuse, but not much else.
Notre Dame started off the season 6-1, but injuries and youth have them reeling. They likely won’t even finish .500 on the season.
Boston College did standard Boston College things in the non-con, finding ways to lose against teams like Hartford (for the second time in three years) and IUPUI. But Ky Bowman is a complete stud and any team with him wearing their uniform always has a chance. Winners of two straight, the Eagles welcome Syracuse to Chestnut Hill this Wednesday. That’s a winnable game and would put them at 3-4 in ACC play.
Auto-bid or bust: Miami (103; 94; 45), Wake Forest (185; 168; 75)
These teams have virtually no chance at dancing unless they win the ACC Tournament. In fact, the biggest way these teams will impact Selection Sunday is their ability to give bad losses to teams on the bubble or fighting for seed position (looking at you, NC State). Moving forward, I won’t be spending much time on this tier, but for this first time I’ll give a little mention.
Miami is what happens when a team cheats, loses players to eligibility, and then has eligible players get hurt. NBA draft picks like Lonnie Walker and Bruce Brown got Miami to the NCAAT the last three seasons, but Jim Larranaga’s team won’t even make the NIT this season.
Wake Forest sneaked into the NCAAT as an 11 seed two years ago on the back of NBA big man John Collins, but Danny Manning’s squad underachieved greatly last season and looks even worse this year. This is year five for the coach hailed as the next big thing on Tobacco Road and one has to wonder how many more years he’ll get.