The ACC has put an average of 7.3 teams in the past seven NCAA Tournaments, which equates to nearly half the conference’s 15 teams reaching the Big Dance each season during that span. But this year’s Selection Sunday on March 13 threatens to be a rude awakening for a proud basketball conference suffering through a bleak season.
As of Monday, only three ACC teams were in the projected NCAA Tournament field of CBS Sports Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm. Of those three, only Duke was not considered to be on the bubble. But all hope is not lost, and the last few weeks of the season will decide whether the league saves face or whether it winds up with fewer NCAA Tournament teams than the Mountain West.
While the Blue Devils are an NCAA Tournament lock, Notre Dame, Miami, Wake Forest and North Carolina are each considered bubble teams. And Virginia Tech is also coming on strong after winning its sixth straight game on Monday against Virginia and climbing to No. 35 in Tuesday’s NET ranking.
There is also the possibility that someone — perhaps Syracuse or Virginia? — could get hot in the ACC Tournament and crash the NCAA Tournament party. So how many teams from the ACC are actually going to make the NCAA Tournament, and who will they be? Our writers take on that question for this week’s edition of the dribble handoff.
Duke, Notre Dame, Miami, Wake Forest
From 2014 to 2020, without exception, the ACC rated as one of college basketball’s top four conferences, according to KenPom.com. But last season it finished fifth. And it’s again rated fifth this season. So this is back-to-back below-average years for a league with some of the biggest brands in the sport — among them Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse and Louisville. Exactly why the ACC has dipped is a topic worth exploring another day. For now, let’s just focus on the question at hand.
How many ACC teams will make the NCAA Tournament?
Put me down for four.
Duke is a lock — and Notre Dame is obviously in good shape with a favorable schedule going forward, evidence being that four of the Irish’s final six regular-season games are against teams ranked 100th-or-worse at KenPom. They’ll be fine. And I’m also betting on Miami and Wake Forest to sneak in because I’m assuming both will close strongly enough to finish just on the right side of the bubble. North Carolina is the one I’m less sure about. The Tar Heels still have zero Quadrant 1 wins with only two more Q1 opportunities left in the regular season — at Virginia Tech and at Duke. They’ll be underdogs in both games. So unless the Tar Heels do something over the next few weeks that they literally haven’t been able to do even once over the previous few months, they’ll likely end up in the NIT considering no school has ever received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament without at least one Quadrant 1 win since the NCAA Tournament selection committee started using the NET rankings three seasons ago.
Duke, Miami, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Wake Forest
All right, I’m surprised I’ve landed here. There have been multiple occasions in the past two months when I’ve written on this site — something to the effect of — the ACC would be a four-bid league at best. And in fact the most likely outcome is going to be four teams. However, I’ve got more faith in North Carolina than Parrish. The Tar Heels rank, easily, among the three most intriguing bubble teams (I’d have Rutgers and BYU in that group). UNC has no good wins and … no bad losses. How do we even attempt to interpret such a résumé? UNC has two Quad 1 opportunities left in the regular season, then should get two more in the ACC Tournament, provided it plays two ACC Tournament games. If North Carolina can win three of those four Quad 1 games, as I think it will, then it’s going to get in. The Heels finishing with between 23 and 25 victories will have enough.
Now, as for my other three non-Duke teams, this is easier. Notre Dame is explained above by Parrish. Wake Forest projects as a safer tournament team according to BartTorvik.com (which also has UNC at 58% to make the field), yet Miami has the season sweep of Wake Forest — plus four Quad 1 wins to Wake Forest’s one (as of Tuesday). I think at least one ACC team going to Dayton for the First Four is highly likely. Two isn’t unthinkable. It’s been a bumpy year for the ACC, but I no longer believe this will be the worst season in the history of the conference.
Duke, Miami, Notre Dame
The disintegration of Florida State, Syracuse and Louisville, as well as Georgia Tech’s rapid return to mediocrity following its 2021 ACC Tournament title, hollowed out the league’s middle class and made it nearly impossible for ACC teams to make up ground on the bubble. Unfortunately for Virginia Tech, North Carolina’s standing at No. 38 in the NET means their game between each other at Virginia Tech on Saturday will fall just outside of Quad 1 territory for the Hokies. Those two teams are a a combined 0-12 in Quad 1 games, and it’s hard to see where either will pick up a Quad 1 win before the postseason. Likewise, unless Wake Forest stuns Duke on Tuesday night, the Demon Deacons have no scheduled Quad 1 opportunities left to improve on a 1-3 mark in Quad 1 opportunities (likely to be 1-4 mark after facing the Blue Devils).
Notre Dame’s win over Kentucky and win at Miami give it a little more Quad 1 cushion, and so long as the Fighting Irish close well against a manageable schedule, they should be in. For Miami, wins at Duke, at Virginia Tech and at Wake Forest give it some security. A neutral-site win over North Texas in November is holding up as a fourth Quad 1 victory for the Hurricanes as well, which is a nice gift that gives it at least some margin for error down the stretch. Ultimately, ACC teams currently on the wrong side of Palm’s bubble such as UNC, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech have fewer opportunities to pick up impressive wins when compared to the likes of Michigan, Oklahoma, Rutgers and Iowa State. Even Mountain West bubble squads such as San Diego State and Boise State arguably have more resume-building opportunities than their ACC counterparts on the bubble.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism