Three #1 Seeds Still a Possibility as ACC Finishes League Play

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on March 7th, 2019

On the strength of a second-half long-range assault, Virginia bludgeoned Syracuse at the Carrier Dome Monday and all but ensured that the Cavaliers will repeat as regular season ACC champions. They are set to host Louisville this weekend to close the regular season, while co-leader North Carolina, which Virginia defeated in its lone meeting this year, will host a third-place Duke team likely to be without Zion Williamson for a fifth straight game.

These three teams were expected to carry the ACC flag heading into the campaign, and they collectively have done nothing to dispel those preseason expectations. All three remain very much alive for #1 seeds in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, with Virginia closest to lock territory. Duke, assuming Williamson suits up and acquits himself well in the ACC Tournament, seems comfortably entrenched on the top line too, while North Carolina has put itself in very good position to move up if it can complete the season sweep of Duke on Saturday.

The two outfits trailing the conference elite played an overtime thriller on Tuesday night, as Florida State protected its home floor in squeaking by a Justin Robinson-less Virginia Tech, and clinched the coveted double-bye at next week’s ACC Tournament in the process. The Seminoles and Hokies are both viable sleepers to make a run to Minneapolis this April, while the top three could each be considered favorites to do so when the brackets are revealed a week from Sunday.

Beyond having five teams rank among the top 15 of the KenPom ratings, the rest of the ACC has been largely disappointing this season. Louisville, whose 7-1 conference start was one of the real surprises of the first half of the slate, has either reverted to the mean or torpedoed depending on your opinion of the talent on the roster. Still 21st in KenPom despite dropping six of its last nine games, the Cardinals will play in the Big Dance in Chris Mack’s first year patrolling the sidelines.

What Syracuse Does This March is Anyone’s Guess (USA Today Images)

Tied at 10-7 with Louisville is Syracuse, perhaps the most disappointing team in the top half of the standings. Without its mid-January win at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Orange’s best league wins were home triumphs over Louisville and Clemson. The regular season has once again provided merely blasé results for Jim Boeheim’s team — which means, of course, it is a major threat to break open a region and rip off four consecutive wins on its way to another Final Four.

NC State and Clemson are the only remaining teams whose NCAA Tournament hopes are still hanging in the balance. The Wolfpack did immense damage to its candidacy on in dropping a decision to Georgia Tech in Raleigh last night. Still anchored by its awful non-conference schedule (352nd nationally), NC State’s profile (#40 KenPom) doesn’t project as a team that should feel safe about its positioning. One of its two best wins came against Clemson, which has risen to 29th after squeaking by Notre Dame on Wednesday. A win against Syracuse and then one more in Charlotte next week would certainly get the Tigers close; and a second win in the ACC Tournament would likely lock up a second straight bid for Brad Brownell’s club.

The bottom five ACC teams have combined to beat the top seven clubs a mere five times this season, with Boston College and Pittsburgh winning a pair of home games each and Georgia Tech snagging the only road win of the bunch (at Syracuse). The weakness of the bottom of the league, especially in light of the prodigious strength at the top, has weighed on the ACC’s overall profile, dropping it behind the Big Ten and Big 12 in aggregate conference ratings. On that note, a chalky week in Charlotte wouldn’t be so bad for the league’s overall profile heading into March Madness. A semifinal Friday of Virginia vs. Florida State and North Carolina vs. Duke, would be a fitting way to put a cap on ACC play, and would leave open the possibility of the conference garnering three #1 seeds next Sunday.

Matthew Auerbach (70 Posts)

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