Around the ACC: The Race Is On

NC State is one of four teams looking to avoid ACC Tournament Thursday with a strong finish to the regular season

CORRECTION: In the case of a four-way tiebreaker, Virginia would claim the two seed, followed by North Carolina and Duke. The paragraph mentioning this originally stated that North Carolina would win such a tie and has been amended accordingly.

With one week left in the regular season, four teams will fight for the three remaining first-round byes in the ACC Tournament.

Duke gave themselves an edge on the competition with their win Saturday against Miami. Thanks in very large part to Ryan Kelly’s 36-point outburst in his return from a two-month absence, the Blue Devils overcame underwhelming performances from most of their key contributors to knock off the Hurricanes.  Not only does the win ensure that Kelly will be an asset for the Devils moving forward, it also gives them a one-game edge on third place with two games remaining in the ACC slate.

Of course, the third place team will have the chance to personally erase that deficit.  North Carolina, currently on a five-game winning streak, will host Duke on Saturday night. Admittedly, their earlier losses will prevent them from passing Duke for the second seed in the ACC Tournament barring a Blue Devil misstep at home Tuesday against Virginia Tech.  However, a win in the rivalry meeting and at Maryland this week would ensure they will not have to play on Thursday in Greensboro.

Virginia was sitting in a prime spot to take advantage of a Duke stumble before last weekend.  The Cavaliers defeated Duke 73-68 on a night when Joe Harris dropped 36 points of his own. However, the Cavaliers followed it up with a 53-52 loss to Boston College Sunday.  Now, they sit tied for fourth with NC State at 10-6 in conference play.

NC State does not hold the tiebreaker against the Cavaliers, having lost to them in Charlottesville back in January.  Thus, they will need to take care of their business against Florida State and Wake Forest as well as get some help from the Cavaliers or Tar Heels.  However, the Wolfpack has won five of its last six following a road win against Georgia Tech.  Coincidentally, both Virginia and NC State will take trips to Tallahassee this week.  With the difficulty ACC teams have faced in winning on the road this season (68.8% of ACC games have been won by home teams), that could be a pivotal trip for both teams.

It’s even possible for all four teams to finish tied at 12-6 in ACC play. If NC State and Virginia win out, North Carolina beats Duke, and both the Tar Heels and Blue Devils lose their midweek games, it will create a four-way tie for spots two through five.  In this scenario, Virginia would claim the second seed with a 3-1 record against the other three teams, while North Carolina would take the third seed with a 3-3 mark.  Duke would then hold the tiebreak against NC State and take the fourth seed.

Why is the Thursday bye so important? Since the ACC expanded to 12 teams, only twice has a team outside of the top four survived to play in the ACC Championship. In 2010, seventh-seeded Georgia Tech lost in the championship to #1 Duke, 65-61. In 2007, tenth-seeded NC State fell against top-seed North Carolina, 89-80.

ACC Standings

1) Miami – 14-2
2) Duke – 12-4
3) North Carolina – 11-5
4) NC State – 10-6
5) Virginia – 10-6
6) Maryland – 8-8
7) Florida State – 7-9
8) Boston College – 5-11
9) Clemson – 5-11
10) Georgia Tech – 5-11
11) Wake Forest – 5-11
12) Virginia Tech – 4-12

This Week’s ACC Power Rankings:

1) Duke: I’m hesitant to put this much faith in the Blue Devils when Ryan Kelly was the only player to show up for them Saturday. Can the White Raven score 36 forever more?

2) North Carolina: The Tar Heels are going through that phase in every inspirational sports movie where six wins are squeezed into a 90-second montage of highlight-reel plays and smiling players and coaches.

3) Miami: Again, Miami struggled beyond the arc against Duke, making 6-of-21.  They’re still pretty good without the three, but they’re also very mortal without it.

4) NC State: As mentioned, NCSU has won five of six. They did have the benefit of getting a lot of their most challenging games out of the way early in ACC play, though. You know, when we were calling them frauds.

5) Virginia: Why, Cavaliers? We want to love you, with your wins against Duke and NC State and your near-upset of Miami. Yet you lose to Boston College and push us away. It doesn’t have to be like this.

6) Maryland: Speaking of teams following wins against Duke with losses at Boston College, the Terrapins are now 2-1 since their trip to Chestnut Hill, including a road win at Wake Forest.

7) Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets have had a tough schedule of late, and it doesn’t get easier with a game at Miami Wednesday

8) Boston College: Make fun of the Cavaliers and Terrapins for those losses to BC all you want. At some point, you have to acknowledge the Eagles won those games, and almost beat Duke, too.

9) Florida State: By hosting both Virginia and NC State this week, a lot of eyes will be on Tallahassee this week. Have fun attempting to play spoiler, Seminoles.

10) Wake Forest: After upsetting Miami, the Demon Deacons went 0-2 this week. I’d look forward to the Wake Forest-Virginia Tech battle for last place, but that Miami win gives Wake a tie-breaker advantage unless the Hokies can spoil Duke’s senior night.

11) Virginia Tech: The Hokies have won two of their last three after losing nine straight. Meanwhile…

12) Clemson:  …The Tigers have lost four straight, including Saturday against Virginia Tech.

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