March Madness is just around the corner, and the ACC is stacked as always. The league has nine teams currently in the mix for NCAA Tournament spots, three of which have a shot at a No. 1 seed. There are still plenty of high-profile games left in the ACC schedule that will have significant impact on seeding in both the conference and national tournaments. As we head into the final stretch of the regular season and into conference tournament play, here’s a look at where each team stands and what they need to do with their remaining opportunities to secure their spot in the Big Dance.
Tier 1: The Elite
Duke (24-3 overall, 12-2 ACC)
It appears as though the loss of Zion Williamson loomed larger in the eyes of the media than for Duke itself. The Blue Devils handled Syracuse in the Carrier Dome Saturday, 75-65 behind a second-straight 30+ point game from R.J. Barrett. The win should quell the doubts of many who have said that Duke can’t win without their best player. Duke has been the consensus best team in the country when fully healthy, and Zion is sure to make his return soon enough. Duke is a projected No. 1 seed if the NCAA Tournament started today, so the Blue Devils control their own destiny at this point in the season.
Duke still has some business to attend to late in the season, however. They play at No. 20 Virginia Tech next before back to back home games against Miami and Wake Forest. Then there’s that trip to the Smith Center for a rematch with North Carolina. The regular season finale will be important for Duke’s quest to lock up their No.1 seed, as a loss could leave the door open for other teams to sneak in. If Duke wins their next three and then beats North Carolina on March 9, they should be a No. 1 seed regardless of the ACC Tournament.
Virginia (24-2, 12-2)
Coming off an impressive 64-52 win at No. 18 Louisville, the No. 3 Cavaliers are in great shape. Like Duke, they’re a projected No. 1 seed as it stands, with no losses apart from their two meetings with the Blue Devils. Since their last loss, Virginia has won four straight. Three of their last four wins have come against ranked ACC teams on the road. Virginia is tied for first in the conference with Duke and North Carolina, and they don’t have to play either again in the regular season.
The worst is behind the Cavaliers and the remaining schedule shouldn’t hold too much trouble for them. Virginia gets Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh at home for its next two, followed by a trip to the Carrier Dome for Syracuse. They round the season off at home against Louisville, the team they just beat by 12 on the road. If the Cavaliers can hold serve to finish the regular season, they will likely hold their current No. 1 seed projection.
North Carolina (22-5, 12-2)
Zion’s injury may have taken center stage this past Wednesday, but it was the No. 8 Tar Heels who came away with a signature 88-72 win in Cameron. North Carolina is tied for first in the ACC at 12-2 after picking up a big 77-59 home win over No. 16 Florida State. They’ve won three straight by at least 16 points after a close loss to Virginia earlier in February. They’re currently projected to be a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but there are still plenty of opportunities for the Heels to get a No. 1 seed.
The Heels host Syracuse next, then take a two game road trip to Clemson and Boston College. Then they come back home to host Duke to end the season as always. If the Heels can continue their hot streak and win out the regular season, they’ll be well within striking distance for a No. 1 seed. A meaningful ACC Tournament run will likely be necessary, but another Duke win to finish the regular season could make up for a possible conference tournament letdown.
Tier 2: Locks
Florida State (21-6, 9-5)
Leaonard Hamilton’s Seminoles have been a pleasant surprise during the conference schedule. After a 1-4 start in ACC play, the Noles rattled off eight straight wins before coming back to earth in Chapel Hill on Saturday. They’re also currently projected to be a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. FSU is a lock, as there’s nothing they could do at this point in the season to realistically lose an NCAA Tournament bid.
The Noles have great size all around the floor and a deep bench. Their starting center is 7′ 4″ and their leading scorer comes off of the bench. They rotate 11 guys and they’re near the top in the nation in bench points. This great depth and size has been a common characteristic of Hamilton’s FSU teams in recent years. It should serve them well to make an impressive NCAA Tournament run.
Virginia Tech (21-6, 10-5)
It’s been another great season for the Hokies. They’ve already reached their fourth straight 20+ win season under coach Buzz Williams. They have one on the top-10 ranked scoring defenses in the NCAA. They also shoot 40.4 percent from 3, good for 4th in the nation. Good defense and good perimeter shooting has been a recipe for disaster for their ACC foes this year. It’s also a recipe for success for any team trying to win in the NCAA Tournament.
The Hokies are an NCAA lock regardless, but they have some key late-season opportunities that could improve their standing in a big way. Next they host top-ranked Duke, a huge chance for another signature win. Then they travel to Tallahassee for the Seminoles a week later and round off the season at home against Miami. They’re probably looking at a No. 5 or 6 seed as it stands now, but this could change significantly in the coming weeks.
Tier 3: Probably in
Louisville (18-10, 9-6)
Louisville set itself up well during the first part of the season, getting the vast majority of its wins early on. The run included a six game winning streak and 7-1 start in conference play. More recently, they’ve lost five of their last seven games, giving up double-digit leads to Duke and Virginia and getting clobbered at Syracuse by 20. Chris Mack’s Cardinals need to turn things around quickly if they want to find any success in the NCAA Tournament.
The Cardinals get Boston College and Notre Dame before their regular season finale rematch at Virginia. Louisville has played a tough schedule and gotten some big wins, including Michigan State, UNC, and Virginia Tech. The Cards also have some great losses, like Kentucky, Tennessee, Duke, UNC, Marquette and Virginia. Louisville should get into the tournament with their strength of schedule and 20+ wins. If they lose out and drop their first ACC tourney game, however, they’d sit at 18-14, leaving plenty of doubt and a door open for more teams to get in.
Syracuse (18-9, 9-5)
The Orange are coming off an emotional game against Duke just days after Jim Boeheim hit and killed a pedestrian on the interstate while driving at night. The bad news is that Syracuse lost 75-65. The good news is that they’re still in good shape for the postseason. The Orange also have two big opportunities to get signature wins left on their regular season docket. They’re currently fifth in the ACC and projected at a No. 8 or 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Syracuse gets North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Tuesday, followed by a road trip to Wake Forest. They then play Virginia at home for another shot at a big win. They close the season at Clemson on March 9. As long as Syracuse doesn’t lose out, they will most likely get into the NCAA Tournament. Syracuse has gotten awfully familiar with the tournament bubble over the past few seasons, missing out on the tourney in 2017 after a First Four appearance in 2016. If they can beat UNC and/or Virginia though, I think Syracuse is a lock.
NC State (20-8, 8-7)
The Wolpack reached a 20-win season Sunday night when they beat Wake Forest 94-74. It’s been a solid year for the Wolfpack, but the only thing that’s keeping them from being a lock in this year’s tournament is their lack of signature wins. They played a light non-conference schedule and have no wins over currently ranked teams. However, the ACC schedule and sheer volume of wins should be enough to propel the Wolfpack to the finish line.
NC State has a chance at a big win when they travel to Florida State this Saturday. Then they end things with Georgia Tech and Boston College, two relatively easy games for a team like NC State. If they can at least win those last two games, then they’ll more than likely be in the tournament. If they can pick up a win against FSU on top of it all, they might be able to improve their seeding a little too.
Tier 4: It’s still possible
Clemson (16-11, 6-8)
It’s been rough sledding for Clemson in the past few weeks. Brad Brownell’s Tigers came into the season with high expectations after a Sweet Sixteen run last season. Recent one-point losses to Miami and Louisville stand out, along with a loss to NC State in January at the buzzer. If Clemson wins those games, things would not be so desperate for the Tigers, who are now projected by many as one of the first four teams left out of the Big Dance. Now is not the time for regret. The Tigers need to go on a late run if they hope to find an NCAA bid.
This is easier said than done. The Tigers have four games left; two at home and two on the road. Clemson needs to beat Pittsburgh and Notre Dame on the road. Then they need to get a home win against either North Carolina on Saturday or Syracuse to end the season. The ACC Tournament will be an important place to win as well. If Clemson can go 3-1 in its last four games and then win a game or two in the ACC tournament, the Tigers have a good shot with 20+ wins.