Bracketology 101 Exam Week: The ACC

Welcome to mid-December, the quietest portion of the college basketball season. The Thanksgiving tournament and conference challenge rushes are merely a memory at this point, while this is the week when the schedule is light and a bit underwhelming, thanks to exams at the majority of schools.

To help fill the time, I could have posted an updated bracket, since I haven't projected one since Opening Night. However, since the season is still relatively young and teams, along with the RPI, are still finding their way, I decided to try something different. And, it's something that should make this week move a little more quickly (and seem less quiet), while adding some content to this blog.

Between now and Friday, I'm going to go around the country, looking at how teams stand in terms of selection and seeding based on what they've done outside of their respective conferences, and what they need to do the rest of the way to earn a bid. I'll have a separate post for each of the six major conferences, along with a few others that could earn multiple bids. I'll close with a look at some mid- and low-major teams who deserve a look, even if their only hope is to win a conference title during Championship Weeks.

This afternoon, I'll start with the ACC, which features a surprisingly high number of teams that will need to mount a serious run during conference play to book a ticket to March Madness.

For other posts in this series, visit the Bracketology 101 Exam Week 2011-12 section.

Records are accurate as of 12/12/2011.

Passing

North Carolina Tar Heels (8-2)
North Carolina hasn't quite lived up to their substantial preseason hype, as you'd expect a team with such lofty expectations to have somehow managed to record negative number in the loss column at this point, but they haven't been a disappointment either. The preseason no. 1 has shown its equally comfortable in a shootout or a grind-it-out affair (example, their win over Wisconsin and epic defeat at the hands of Kentucky three days later). UNC has just one significant non-conference game remaining, a December 21st home contest against Texas. Win that and take care of business in the ACC, and a spot on the top line will be all but assured. However, an old rival might serve as a significant obstacle.

Duke Blue Devils (9-1)
At the moment, Duke looks like a stronger candidate for a no. 1 seed than its Tobacco Road rivals, simply because of what it has done against a stacked schedule (wins over Michigan State in New York, Michigan and Kansas in Maui). The only blemish on the Blue Devils' profile is a blowout loss at the hands of Ohio State in Columbus, a game that followed a daunting stretch of seven games in 12 days that opened the season. Duke's non-conference slate softens considerably the rest of the way, as the two remaining name opponents, Temple (in Philadelphia on January 4) and St. John's (at Cameron Indoor on January 28), don't appear to pack as much punch as last year's teams, particularly the Red Storm. With their ACC rivals either finding themselves or completely down and out, the two Duke-UNC games, and a third if they meet for the conference's automatic bid, could be vital in the NCAA top seed race.

Needs Improvement

Virginia Cavaliers (8-1)
If Virginia isn't selected on March 11th, it may very well have a two-point loss to TCU in the Paradise Jam quarterfinals to blame. That setback knocked the Cavaliers down to the consolation bracket, and deprived them of a potential meeting with Marquette in the final, a contest that would have provided more of a boost than victories over Drexel and Drake. As of right now, the highlight of UVa's profile is a home win over Michigan. Otherwise, there are a whole bunch of victories over teams Tony Bennett's club should have defeated. The Cavaliers' only remaining games against a Power Six teams are road trips to Oregon on December 18th and LSU on January 2nd. While a win in Eugene would be helpful, the game in Baton Rouge which will only pack a bit more RPI punch than Virginia's two preceding home games, against Maryland-Eastern Shore and Towson. Once again, Virginia will need to take advantage of the numerous opportunities the ACC slate will provide.

Florida St. Seminoles (7-3)
Repeat after me, "The Seminoles are a great defensive team, but their prospects will be limited because of their inability to get things done offensively." Florida State's inability to score cost it in the Bahamas, where it finished a disappointing fourth in the Battle 4 Atlantis, missing a chance at grabbing a true highlight win over UConn in the third-place game. Those failures mean Leonard Hamilton's team's profile is a bit lacking at the moment, with an Atlantis quarterfinal win over UMass being FSU's only win away from Tallahassee. The Seminoles' chances will receive a boost if they can win in Gainesville on December 22, but that's their final non-conference game that will mean anything to the Selection Committee. In short, Florida State will have to put together a nice run in the ACC to assure themselves a place in the field of 68.

Virginia Tech Hokies (7-3)
Seth Greenberg boosted his team's non-conference schedule for this season, but the Hokies' haven't exactly taken advantage, as they've dropped close games to Syracuse (in New York), Minnesota (at Williams Arena with the Gophers playing without Trevor Mbakwe), and Kansas State (in Blacksburg). That means their best win is over an Oklahoma State team, which also isn't exactly setting the world on fire right now, and who they happen to play again in Stillwater on New Year's Eve. Aside from that, Tech's only remaining non-league game of consequence is a January 25th home contest against BYU. If the Hokies can sweep those two, they'll have a good chance. If they can't, it could be another long Selection Sunday in Blacksburg, especially if they don't win enough (or the "right") ACC games.

N.C. State Wolfpack (6-3)
N.C. State's best win is a three-point triumph over Texas in the Legends Classic consolation game back on November 21st. Since then, the Wolfpack have at times looked like they were playing to their full, scary potential, just before they coughed up leads against Indiana at home and Stanford on the road, which means that (drumroll) they'll have to really perform in the ACC season to make the field. While Mark Gottfried's team has six non-conference games left, only one--Saturday's home game with Syracuse--can possibly boost N.C. State's resume.

Failing

Maryland Terrapins (5-3), Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (6-4), Wake Forest Demon Deacons (6-4), Miami Hurricanes (5-4), Clemson Tigers (4-4), Boston College Eagles (3-7)

The teams I figure will finish in the bottom half of the ACC have managed to go a combined 29-26 (26-19 if you wipe out Boston College's woeful 3-7 mark). However, the best win of the group is either Georgia Tech's victory at Georgia (their first in Athens since 1991), Maryland's BB&T Classic win over Notre Dame, or Wake Forest's Big Ten/ACC Challenge win at Nebraska. Plus, these six don't have very many opportunities to create a splash outside of ACC play either. The biggest remaining non-conference games for this group: Clemson's trip to the Diamond Head Classic during Christmas week, where Kansas State, Xavier, and Long Beach State are potential opponents, Georgia Tech's home contest against Alabama on January 3rd, and Maryland's trip to the Palestra to take on Temple on January 21st.

However, the good news for these clubs, and Florida State, N.C. State, Virginia, and Virginia Tech for that matter, is that the Selection Committee seems to be perfectly willing to take an ACC team that doesn't have the wins out of conference, even if that squad has to settle for a spot in the First Four. After all, it worked for Brad Brownell and Clemson in 2011.

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