With three weeks to go before Selection Sunday, clear lines of demarcation have emerged. The ACC appears all but guaranteed to receive at least six invitations to the Big Dance, but the potential is out there for up to nine. The ACC Tournament is shaping up to be a doozy.
***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 #2: This was written PRIOR to Sunday’s game between NC State and Wake Forest.
Locks: Virginia (NET: 2; KP: 1; RPI SOS: 18), Duke (3; 3; 2), North Carolina (6; 6; 4), Virginia Tech (12; 11; 72), Louisville (22; 19; 3), Florida State (24; 17; 33)
Florida State and Virginia Tech both join the lock tier after each went 1-1 on the week. Both teams have a 21-6 record and while neither have an elite strength of schedule, both have multiple quality wins that place them in a position where they could earn an at-large bid even if they lose out. Florida State, in particular, is in strong shape as the Seminoles are one of just 20 teams with at least five Quadrant 1 wins.
Louisville won’t miss the tourney, but after four losses in their last five games the Cardinals seed is almost surely going to be worse than a few weeks ago when they sat on the 4 line in the NCAA’s mid-season bracket reveal.
Also of note, UNC is playing its best basketball of the season and is starting to put together the type of profile that will have them in the conversation for a 1 seed...perhaps even taking Duke’s place if the Tar Heels sweep the Blue Devils.
In darn good shape: No ACC teams currently fit in this tier
More likely than not to make it, but lots of work left: Syracuse (44; 39; 22)
Syracuse had a solid week, smashing Louisville in the Carrier Dome and then losing a hard fought battle against Duke—a team the Orange already beat on the road. This resulted in an across-the-board rise in their computer numbers and assures them at least a .500 record in ACC play. However, ‘Cuse can’t relax just yet. The Orange already have one Q3 loss (at home against Georgia Tech) and UConn—having lost their leading scorer to a season ending injury—is teetering on the brink of becoming a Q3 loss as well. That means Syracuse cannot afford to lose at Wake Forest on Saturday...unless of course they win at UNC on Tuesday. All in all, the Orange are in pretty good position to receive an at-large bid, but they probably need two more wins (including the ACC Tournament) to really feel secure.
Squarely on the bubble: North Carolina State (32; 36; 144), Clemson (43; 34; 38)
NC State avoided disaster by defeating Boston College in overtime at home. They’ll have to do that again Sunday evening against Wake Forest, as a home loss (and a sweep!?) to the Demon Deacons would be an enormous blow to a resume that already features the second worst non-conference strength of schedule in the entire country. Despite a solid NET score thanks to some early season drubbings, NC State’s biggest issue continues to be the fact that they are just 1-7 in Q1 games and there is only one opportunity to improve on that mark left in the season—at FSU on Saturday, March 2. So for now, the Wolfpack will just have to continue to hold serve against the bottom tier teams and hope they can pull off the road upset against the Seminoles.
In our last installment, we talked about Clemson needing to go no worse than 4-2 in their final six games in order to put themselves in position where only one win in the ACCT might be enough. Since then, the Tigers were dominated at home by FSU and then finally stopped their three-game skid with a double-digit win over Boston College. No real harm in that week, but the FSU loss was certainly a missed opportunity. This leaves Clemson with two road games against bottom tier teams (Pitt and Notre Dame) sandwiched around a home game against UNC, and then a season-ended home game against Syracuse. Going 3-1 in that stretch isn’t impossible, but the Tigers’ will have to play some of their best basketball of the season to pull it off.
Minor miracle needed: No teams currently fit into this category, as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish lost both their home games last week to fall to 13-14 on the season and into auto-bid or bust territory.
Auto-bid or bust: Miami, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech, Boston College, Wake Forest
Boston College fought valiantly against NC State, but alas they lost both their road games this week to fall back to .500 on the season. The only way any of these teams will impact Selection Sunday is by upsetting teams in the tiers above them. For a team like FSU, losing to a team like Wake would hurt their seed but not prevent them from earning an at-large bid. For a team like NC State or Clemson...you better avoid the landmines.