NCAA Tournament Bubble Prospects: ACC

by Nelly's Sports

The ACC has sent seven teams to each of the past two NCAA Tournaments and had nine in the field in both 2017 and 2018. The conference has fallen in stature in a big way this season as many projections call for five or fewer teams making the bracket this year. Here is a look at the remaining path and prospects for the ACC squads that are likely to land near the bubble on Selection Sunday. 

Duke is really the only ACC team firmly in the NCAA Tournament field right now, projecting as a likely #2 seed at 23-4. While three of the final four are on the road for Duke to close the regular season, it is a reasonable path as the Blue Devils look likely to hold that line. It would take quite a lot for Duke to climb to the #1 line in the current projection as the Blue Devils are currently much closer to a #3 spot than a #1. 

Beyond Duke there are only five other teams with winning records in ACC play (as of Feb. 21) as the powerhouse basketball conference may have another quiet March. Last season only two of seven ACC teams in the field won their first games with Florida State and Syracuse reaching the Sweet 16 for the best performances. No ACC team was seeded better than a #4 last season however as Duke is capable of being in a better position and would likely land a favorable Greenville placement for its opening game(s). Here are seven ACC teams on a generous consideration of the current NCAA Tournament bubble. 

Notre Dame: Second place in the ACC belongs to Notre Dame for the moment, even after last week’s loss to Wake Forest. Mike Brey’s team has delivered a great turnaround from starting the season 4-5 but there is not a great margin for error for the Irish. The home win over Kentucky in December continues to provide a huge boost to the profile but that is one of only two top 50 caliber wins all season. The ACC schedule for Notre Dame has been favorable and will continue to be favorable as the Irish should be in a safe position projecting to finish with at least 14 wins, which would clearly warrant inclusion in the field. 

Miami, FL: The Hurricanes have been a surprise performer in the ACC reaching 11-5 with four games to go. With games against Pittsburgh and Boston College remaining, a 13-win ACC campaign should be enough to keep the Hurricanes on the right side of the cut line. Miami did not accomplish many noteworthy wins in the non-conference schedule, but this team has quality wins in ACC play at Duke and at Virginia Tech, home against North Carolina, and sweeping Wake Forest. They were swept by both Florida State and Virginia but ultimately winning at Duke is likely to carry enough weight for the Hurricanes barring a major collapse. 

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons have one of the weakest non-conference profiles in the nation as this is a squad that could be more at risk of falling out of the field than some of the others on this list. Wake Forest went 11-1 in non-conference play but lost by 14 against LSU in the most meaningful contest. Overtime wins over Oregon State and Northwestern don’t carry as much weight as they did earlier in the season and the 11-6 ACC record is a bit empty, with the only notable results being home wins over North Carolina and Notre Dame plus a road win at Virginia Tech in the December ACC opener. The win over the Irish last weekend was a huge result that likely keeps Wake Forest in the field but avoiding multiple losses in a favorable three-game stretch to close the season would be advised. 

North Carolina: The Tar Heels took on a heavyweight schedule but the only win in an early season quartet facing Purdue, Tennessee, Michigan, and Kentucky, came against the Wolverines team that is also bound for the bubble as one of the nation’s biggest disappointments. A sweep of Virginia Tech is really all the success the Tar Heels can point to in an 11-5 ACC path through a favorable conference schedule. North Carolina is 0-4 against the teams above them on this list but they will get a rematch opportunity against Duke in the regular season finale. Getting to 14-6 in ACC play without beating Duke would be enough for the Tar Heels in most scenarios but a slip-up in an upcoming game against Louisville, NC State, or Syracuse could be damaging. 

Virginia Tech: The metrics like the Hokies better than a casual glance at the resume would as the Hokies get credit for a solid non-conference path even without winning any of the important games while producing a few lopsided wins vs. similar caliber teams has helped the cause. The current form with a 6-1 run in the past seven games has Mike Young’s team trending upward but three of the final four in the regular season are on the road including toss-up games with Miami and Clemson. The offensive efficiency for the Hokies is impressive but only one win has come against a team that would earn an at-large tournament spot, beating Notre Dame at home in January. With the possible exception of losing at Boston College, there aren’t bad losses for the Hokies, but there are 11 and counting as this squad feels like a group that will have plenty of reasons for exclusion unless they put together a very strong finish. 

Virginia: The Cavaliers are not a NCAA Tournament team right now, but the case could get there if they are able to beat Duke for a second time this week. Virginia has a solid 11-6 record in ACC play including the road win at Duke plus four other ACC road wins. Sweeping Miami is also a positive boost on the resume depending on where the Hurricanes wind up in the final standings. Virginia also won at Syracuse for a head-to-head trump card against another potential bubble team. The ACC record includes going 4-0 vs. Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Georgia Tech and Virginia will have a hard time overcoming multiple bad losses, falling in the season opener vs. Navy and at James Madison, in addition to dropping an ACC game at NC State. 

Syracuse: The Orange under Jim Boeheim routinely weasel their way on to the bubble with enough quality wins to offset a high loss count. The path is there for a similar outcome for Syracuse this season, and last year after barely being included the Orange were able to win two games. 5-1 in the past six, Syracuse is trending upward and while the final four games on the schedule are all difficult, it will provide the quality Syracuse may need. The big fish will be the home game with Duke next weekend before closing with games against North Carolina and Miami, as getting to 12-8 through remaining path would make a compelling case. Syracuse has three losses to teams outside the top 100 right now and while the non-conference schedule was challenging, the only notable win over Indiana has diminished in value of late. 

The ACC is having a rough season overall and hopes for a swan song campaign for Coach K’s final run may be the conference’s best path to having a team make a deep March run. There are a few teams trending upward down the stretch that could have a chance to climb into the field, however. Meaningful action with the season on the line could provide good experience to propel one of those teams to be tournament-ready, hoping to deliver an upset or two from a #9-#10 seed line where several ACC teams currently project to land. 

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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