It’s been two weeks since the first installment of our ACC bubble watch and what a fortnight it was for FSU and Clemson (for you kids at home, “fortnight” was a word in our lexicon long before “fortnite” was an addictive video game). The Seminoles and Tigers both added four wins in that time, with the ‘Noles in particular beefing up their resume with two quad one wins in back to back victories over Syracuse and Louisville. As a result, both squads have moved up in our tiers. Meanwhile, NC State and Virginia Tech have taken some lumps recently as the brutal conference schedule grinds on. This, my friends, is exactly why we are conservative with the tiers in which we place teams.
***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 two: Now that we’re a third of the way into February, I’ve tweaked a few of the tiers:
A. “Essentially Locks” is now just “Locks”
2. “Squarely on the bubble” has been added
D. “On the outside looking in” is now “minor miracle needed”
Locks: Duke (NET: 2; KP: 1; RPI SOS: 2), Virginia (3; 3; 40), North Carolina (9; 8; 13)
Last time we asked the question of whether both Duke and UVA could earn 1 seeds and, at least in the NCAA’s Bracket Preview release, the answer appears to be yes. Duke, however, did take the upper hand in the race for the ACC Tournament 1 seed with a season sweep of the Cavaliers. But with a backloaded ACC schedule, this race feels far from over.
The North Carolina Tar Heels move up to lock status after exacting some revenge in Louisville and then holding on against Miami at home in a trap game. Two of the next three games for UNC are against their lock status companions, so the order in which these teams are listed could be switched up again in the next installment.
In darn good shape: Virginia Tech (14; 10; 81), Louisville (15; 13; 6), Florida State (25; 22; 27)
As noted above, UNC jumped up a tier into lock status. Nonetheless, this tier still grew by one with the addition of Louisville and FSU.
Virginia Tech has gone 2-2 since the last installment, which isn’t bad on its face. Unfortunately, the Hokies’ starting point guard, Justin Robinson, hurt his foot during that stretch and VT’s explosive offense has scored less than a point per possession in two of their three games without him. There’s no word on when Robinson will return (I’ve heard a rumor of as long as another three to four weeks) and uncertainty is never favored by the NCAA committee. At 18-5, the Hokies are still just a couple wins away from locking up a bid, but an already thin VT team could be looking at a much lower seed than they anticipated a couple weeks ago.
Louisville, winners of 7 of their last 9, were considered the hottest team in the ACC before the Cardinals ventured south to Tallahassee. Even with the loss to their old Metro Conference rival, UL is still in great shape to Dance. With only 17 wins, they can’t literally lose out. That said, outstanding computer numbers and wins over Michigan State, UNC, and Virginia Tech—the latter two on the road—have Chris Mack’s team in position for a top 5 seed.
After beating Louisville for their fifth straight ACC win, FSU moves up a tier and is probably only one or two more wins away from being bumped up to lock status. The Seminoles’ computer numbers aren’t quite as elite as UL’s, but the resume is filled with Q1 and Q2 wins. Terance Mann and company look poised to play in their third straight NCAA Tournament.
More likely than not to make it, but lots of work left: Syracuse (48; 42; 31)
After debuting as the most crowded tier, Syracuse is now all alone in the “more likely than not” category. UL and FSU moved on up to the east side, but the Orange are stuck paying the entire power bill because NCSU took a step down—more on that in a moment.
We noted last time that Syracuse had a petty poor non-conference performance, saved only by a road win over Ohio State. Well that win has only improved as the Buckeyes added three straight wins since the calendar turned to February. On top of that, Syracuse did what they need to do with a sweep of BC and a win over Pitt on the road. None of those wins are all that good in a vacuum, but the avoidance of adding any more bad losses is critical to Cuse’s resume. Now 8-3 in ACC play, there’s only one more chance to pick up a bad loss (@Wake on March 2) and getting to 10 or 11 league wins seems plausible. Oh and that win in Cameron Indoor just keeps looking better and better.
Squarely on the bubble: North Carolina State (35; 39; 183), Clemson (37; 31; 29)
When we last talked about NCSU they were 16-4 and owners of inflated NET numbers thanks to destroying crappy teams in the OOC. Since that time the Wolfpack have gone 1-3 and set back the sport decades with a 24 point display of ineptitude. Now, State is left with a resume that still includes just one win over a sure-fire at-large team (Auburn), has worse NET numbers thanks to their woeful inefficiency against VT, and that OOC SOS number glare grows brighter. Bracket Matrix has NC State as a 10 seed...and I think that’s possibly a line generous, as the committee has hammered teams for poor OOC schedules time and time again. With the road game against Duke on Saturday the 16th feeling like almost an impossibility, the home game against Syracuse this Wednesday becomes nearly must-win. After the Duke game, NCSU only has one more chance for a quality win, when they travel to Tallahassee on March 2nd.
Clemson looked left for dead a few weeks ago at 1-5 in ACC play, but the Tigers have won four straight and three of those victories were by double digits. This has improved their NET rank all the way into the upper-30s and their other computer numbers are even better. At 15-8 overall, the Tigers really just need to keep winning. This week sees them face Miami and Louisville both on the road—they’d do well to split those, before coming home to LittleJohn for a rematch against Florida State on Tuesday the 19th in what looks to have the makings of an all out war.
Minor miracle needed: Pittsburgh (92; 76; 70), Notre Dame (102; 94; 65)
Neither of these teams will Dance, but just to be safe let’s give them another week or so before we completely relegate them to auto-bid or bust status.
Pitt has made a remarkable turnaround in year one under Jeff Capel, but the inexperience is clearly catching up with them as the ACC grind wears on, having now lost seven consecutive games. Still, the Panthers own wins over Louisville and FSU, which is double the number of Quad 1 wins that NC State can claim on their resume. At 12-12, Pitt can essentially only lose one more game. But hey, anything is possible!
Notre Dame has a neutral court win over Purdue that is almost single-handedly keeping them in this tier. That is a darn good win. But like, Pitt, the Irish can probably only afford to lose one, mayyyybe two more games in league play. Up next is a road trip to Virginia...good luck!
Auto-bid or bust: Georgia Tech, Boston College, Miami, Wake Forest
All of these teams are at .500 or worse overall and likely won’t even be playing in the NIT, let alone the NCAA Tourney. The biggest impact they’ll have on Selection Sunday is impacting the seeds and/or bubbles of teams in the tiers above them.