Atlantic Coast Conference Notebook
by Michael Protos
As we enter the final two weeks of the regular season, several ACC teams feel comfortable that their NCAA Tournament invitations are in the mail. Others, however, are desperately trying to deliver polished performances that will catch the eye of NCAA Tournament selection committee members.
Let’s break down the RPI numbers, as calculated by Ken Pomeroy, for each ACC team to get a feel for their tournament hopes and potential seed. In addition, we’ll take a look at the finalists for the conference’s major awards entering the home stretch. All of these awards are still in play. Brandan Wright, however, is closing in on the Rookie of the Year Award. One of the other freshmen would need to deliver several sensational performances down the stretch to displace Wright.
ACC Player of the Year candidates:
1. Boston College senior forward Jared Dudley: 19.7 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists per game; 59.4 percent field goal and 48.5 three-point shooting
2. Virginia junior guard Sean Singletary: 18.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists per game; 41.0 percent three-point and 89.5 percent free throw shooting
3. North Carolina sophomore forward Tyler Hansbrough: 18.5 points, 7.7 rebounds per game
4. Virginia senior guard J.R. Reynolds: 18.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists per game; 36.8 percent three-point and 83.0 percent free throw shooting
5. Florida State senior forward Al Thornton: 19.1 points, 7.0 rebounds per game; 51.9 percent field goal and 42.4 percent three-point shooting
ACC Rookie of the Year candidates:
1. North Carolina forward Brandan Wright: 14.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.7 blocks per game
2. Georgia Tech guard Javaris Crittenton: 14.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 2.2 steals per game; 40.2 percent three-point shooting
3. Georgia Tech forward Thaddeus Young: 13.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists per game; 39.7 percent three-point shooting
4. North Carolina guard Ty Lawson: 10.4 points, 2.7 rebounds, 5.2 assists per game; 53.4 percent field goal and 38.3 percent three-point shooting
5. North Carolina guard Wayne Ellington: 12.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists per game; 38.3 percent three-point shooting
ACC Defensive Player of the Year candidates:
1. Virginia Tech senior guard Jamon Gordon: 2.5 steals, 4.5 rebounds per game
2. Duke sophomore forward Josh McRoberts: 2.5 blocks, 1.2 steals, 7.9 rebounds per game
3. Maryland senior forward Ekene Ibekwe: 2.6 blocks, 1.0 steals, 7.6 rebounds per game
4. Clemson junior forward James Mays: 2.1 steals, 1.0 blocks, 6.7 rebounds per game
5. Maryland senior guard D.J. Strawberry: 2.3 steals, 4.3 rebounds per game
ACC Coach of the Year candidates:
1. Seth Greenberg, Virginia Tech
2. Dave Leitao, Virginia
3. Al Skinner, Boston College
4. Roy Williams, North Carolina
5. Gary Williams, Maryland
North Carolina Tar Heels (23-4, 9-3)
Strength of schedule: 7
Non-conference strength of schedule: 13
Record vs. top 50: 10-2
Road/neutral record: 9-3
Lost vs. Virginia Tech 81-80 (OT)
Won at Boston College 77-72
Feb. 21 vs. North Carolina State
Feb. 25 at Maryland
March 1 at Georgia Tech
March 4 vs. Duke
The Tar Heels’ kryptonite apparently resides in Blacksburg, proven this past week when Virginia Tech upset North Carolina in Chapel Hill to complete the season sweep and grab the inside track to the ACC’s regular-season championship. Despite the loss, North Carolina has the look and feel of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. By far the most successful and consistent team in the conference, North Carolina has the best profile in the ACC with 10 wins against top 50 opponents, including victories against Ohio State, Tennessee, Kentucky, Duke, Boston College and Virginia.
In the wake of its second loss to the Hokies, however, North Carolina needs to demonstrate that it can play hard-nosed basketball against veteran teams. Gonzaga used the same formula to beat up the Tar Heels earlier in the season in the NIT Season Tip-Off. North Carolina will likely need to run the table against North Carolina State, Maryland, Georgia Tech and Duke to claim the ACC’s title, which many had considered to be a foregone conclusion at the start of the season. If the Tar Heels win either the regular-season or tournament title, North Carolina will earn a No. 1 seed. If they strike out on both, the Tar Heels could become the tournament’s most dangerous No. 2 seed.
Virginia Cavaliers (18-7, 9-3)
Strength of schedule: 34
Non-conference strength of schedule: 177
Record vs. top 50: 6-5
Road/neutral record: 3-6
Won vs. Longwood 90-49
Won vs. Florida State 73-70
Feb. 21 at Miami
Feb. 24 vs. Georgia Tech
March 1 vs. Virginia Tech
March 3 at Wake Forest
This time about a month ago, the Cavaliers were barely above. 500 and were a marginal bubble team. But after winning nine of their last 10 games, the Cavaliers look like a solid NCAA Tournament team. Virginia has a solid strength of schedule, but that number is a product of ACC play. The Cavaliers’ non-conference schedule strength is much weaker, mostly because Virginia won its big games in Charlottesville and bombed against Appalachian State and Utah in Puerto Rico. As a top regular-season ACC squad, however, the Cavaliers are likely a lock for the NCAA Tournament.
The Cavaliers have four winnable games down the stretch, with the tougher opponents coming to Charlottesville. If Virginia can end the regular season with a six-game winning streak, the Cavaliers will have won 15 of their last 16 games entering the ACC Tournament. Virginia is on pace to earn a No. 5 or 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament, give or take a seed or two depending on the Cavaliers’ performance in the ACC Tournament.
Boston College Eagles (18-8, 9-4)
Strength of schedule: 10
Non-conference strength of schedule: 51
Record vs. top 50: 6-5
Road/neutral record: 5-4
Lost vs. Duke 78-70
Lost vs. North Carolina 77-72
Feb. 21 at Virginia Tech
Feb. 24 vs. Clemson
March 4 at Georgia Tech
With a solid RPI and a spectacular strength of schedule, the Eagles are a lock for the NCAA Tournament unless they collapse in the final three regular-season games and flame out in an opening round ACC Tournament game. Boston College has six wins against the top 50, but the most impressive win is a home blowout vs. Virginia Tech. Although the computer numbers could lead fans to believe that Boston College is destined for a No. 4 or 5 seed in the tournament, this team likely has more work to do to rise higher than a No. 6 or 7 seed.
The good news is that Boston College has opportunities to pick up three more top 50 wins against Virginia Tech, Clemson and Georgia Tech. And two of those are road games. Somewhat surprisingly, the Eagles have lost as many games at home as they have on the road. After dropping two home games to Duke and North Carolina last week, Boston College must finish strong to avoid playing on the first day of the ACC Tournament.
Virginia Tech Hokies (18-8, 8-4)
Strength of schedule: 20
Non-conference strength of schedule: 107
Record vs. top 50: 7-3
Road/neutral record: 7-7
Won at North Carolina 81-80 (OT)
At North Carolina State
Feb. 21 vs. Boston College
Feb. 24 vs. Miami
March 1 at Virginia
March 4 vs. Clemson
Virginia Tech is a tough team to figure out. The Hokies appeared poised to make a serious run for the ACC regular-season title after sweeping North Carolina in Chapel Hill. But then Virginia Tech laid an egg in Raleigh, allowing the Wolfpack to sweep the Hokies. At this stage, Virginia Tech is a lock for the NCAA Tournament, barring a meltdown at home, where the Hokies play three of their final four games. Virginia Tech has a strong RPI and good strength of schedule. More importantly, the Hokies have the second-best record against the top 50 in the ACC.
The selection committee would likely award Virginia Tech a No. 4 seed right now. The Hokies, however, need to finish strong against the likes of Miami and Clemson. Home losses to those teams would be detrimental to the Hokies’ seeding, which could vary from No. 3 to No. 7 depending on the results of the final four games and the ACC Tournament.
Duke Blue Devils (20-7, 7-6)
Strength of schedule: 3
Non-conference strength of schedule: 11
Record vs. top 50: 7-7
Road/neutral record: 5-4
Won at Boston College 78-70
Won vs. Georgia Tech 71-62
Feb. 22 at Clemson
Feb. 25 at St. John’s
Feb. 28 vs. Maryland
March 4 at North Carolina
Last week, media pundits started writing Duke’s eulogy, mentioning the unspeakable possibility that the Blue Devils could miss the NCAA Tournament this season. Coach Mike Krzyzewski clearly had his team ready to play at Boston College and later vs. Georgia Tech. The Blue Devils manhandled the Eagles, holding ACC player of the year candidate Jared Dudley to 11 points. Duke followed that win by avenging an earlier loss to the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta. Duke now sits closer to the top of the standings than the bottom and has six wins vs. the top 50. Duke has the second-best RPI in the conference and the best strength of schedule. In sum, the Blue Devils are a lock for the NCAA Tournament now that they have stopped the four-game losing streak.
The rest of Duke’s schedule is tough with three road games against solid teams and a home date against Maryland. After taking down Boston College and Georgia Tech, Duke is probably hovering in the No. 4 or 5 seed range for the NCAA Tournament. With such a strong schedule and quality wins against the likes of Air Force, Indiana and Georgetown, the Blue Devils have the potential to rise as high as a No. 2 or 3 seed if Duke finishes strong, which would likely require a win in Chapel Hill to end the regular season.
Maryland Terrapins (20-7, 6-6)
Strength of schedule: 17
Non-conference strength of schedule: 63
Record vs. top 50: 6-6
Road/neutral record: 6-5
Won at North Carolina State 85-70
Feb. 21 vs. Florida State
Feb. 25 vs. North Carolina
Feb. 28 at Duke
March 3 vs. North Carolina State
Maryland is beginning to look like the defensive-minded team that steamrolled non-conference opponents by holding seven of its first eight opponents to less than 70 points. The Terrapins lapsed on the defensive end, however, to start 2007, allowing five opponents in nine games to score at least 70. But no one has eclipsed that mark against the Terrapins in the past four games, and not surprisingly, Maryland has won three of those, including critical matchups against Duke and Clemson. The recent run has helped Maryland propel its RPI to 19. Coupled with excellent strength of schedule numbers, Maryland has an outstanding NCAA Tournament profile. Maryland is a tournament-worthy team right now, and the Terrapins would likely earn a No. 7 or 8 seed, which would upset many who feel that Maryland remains a bubble team.
The Terrapins will have a couple of opportunities to prove they belong among the higher seeds with remaining games against North Carolina and Duke. Home games against Florida State and North Carolina State should help Maryland seal its bid to the NCAA Tournament, regardless of their performance in the ACC Tournament.
Clemson Tigers (19-7, 5-7)
Strength of schedule: 44
Non-conference strength of schedule: 188
Record vs. top 50: 5-6
Road/neutral record: 7-4
Lost at Wake Forest 67-65
Feb. 22 vs. Duke
Feb. 24 at Boston College
Feb. 28 vs. Miami
March 4 at Virginia Tech
After losing five of their past six, the Tigers have dropped onto the NCAA Tournament bubble — and probably on the wrong side of it. Clemson has won only two games since becoming the last NCAA Division I team to lose a game this season Jan. 13. Clemson’s No. 30 RPI is strong enough to keep the Tigers in the discussion until the end of the season, but the non-conference strength of schedule (No. 188) is worrisome. Clemson simply lacks a standout win to brag about. The best victory is a blowout home game against Boston College in the Eagles’ first game playing without Sean Williams and Akida McLain.
Fortunately for Clemson, the Tigers have three games against teams ranked No. 26 or better in the RPI. The Tigers probably need to win at least two of those games, even though Boston College and Virginia Tech are road games. If Clemson takes care of Duke at home and can steal a road win, the Tigers should finish at 8-8 in the conference and return to the right side of the bubble with a No. 11 or 12 seed in the tournament. Otherwise, Clemson can plan on the NIT.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (17-9, 5-7)
Strength of schedule: 30
Non-conference strength of schedule: 145
Record vs. top 50: 6-7
Road/neutral record: 3-8
Won at Florida State 63-57
Lost at Duke 71-62
Feb. 21 vs. Wake Forest
Feb. 24 at Virginia
March 1 vs. North Carolina
March 4 vs. Boston College
Georgia Tech’s inconsistency will likely result in an NIT bid unless the Yellow Jackets can protect their home court against North Carolina and Boston College to end the regular season. Georgia Tech will struggle to finish better than 8-8 in conference play, and the RPI of 47 is nothing special. In addition, Georgia Tech has weaker strength of schedule numbers than the other ACC bubble teams do. The Yellow Jackets picked up only their first true road win of the season last week when they beat Florida State in Tallahassee. That’s not the description of an NCAA Tournament team.
Despite the pessimistic outlook, Georgia Tech is in control of its destiny with a tough schedule ahead. If the Yellow Jackets can continue the strong defense they played during their recently concluded four-game winning streak, they have an opportunity to take down Virginia, North Carolina and Boston College. Winning two of those three might be enough to keep the Yellow Jackets on the bubble entering the ACC Tournament. Right now, Georgia Tech must be happy with any seed in the NCAA Tournament, and the team’s maximum potential is probably a No. 7 or 8 spot.
Florida State Seminoles (17-10, 5-8)
Strength of schedule: 13
Non-conference strength of schedule: 74
Record vs. top 50: 4-10
Road/neutral record: 4-7
Lost vs. Georgia Tech 63-57
Lost at Virginia 73-70
Feb. 21 at Maryland
Feb. 24 vs. North Carolina State
March 3 at Miami
Florida State is well on its way to the NIT with a four-game losing streak that includes losses to fellow bubble teams Clemson and Georgia Tech. Florida State has great numbers, notably a No. 39 RPI, No. 13 strength of schedule and No. 74 non-conference strength of schedule. And the quality wins include Florida and Duke. Although the Seminoles now have 10 losses, the worst loss is a tough home loss to Georgia Tech. All 10 losses have come against the top 50. Florida State has become the quintessential bubble team – only moderate success against a brutal schedule that includes a couple of marquis victories surrounded by nondescript non-conference filler.
Florida State’s fate might already be sealed because the remaining schedule offers little help. Beating North Carolina State and Miami won’t help Florida State’s résumé. The only potential for improvement is a road game at Maryland. If the Seminoles lose that one, they will need to run to the ACC Tournament title game to have any shot of an NCAA Tournament bid. Even if Florida State wins the conference title in Greensboro, N.C., the Seminoles won’t earn an NCAA Tournament bid higher than No. 9 or 10.
North Carolina State Wolfpack (14-11, 4-8)
Strength of schedule: 65
Non-conference strength of schedule: 265
Record vs. top 50: 3-9
Road/neutral record: 2-5
Lost vs. Maryland 85-70
Vs. Virginia Tech
Feb. 21 at North Carolina
Feb. 24 at Florida State
Feb. 28 vs. Wake Forest
March 3 at Maryland
The Wolfpack are the first of three ACC teams relegated to spoiler status. North Carolina State deserves credit for earning an NIT bid, which is the Wolfpack’s likely post-season destination. With wins against North Carolina and two against Virginia Tech, North Carolina State has shown the ability to hang with the best teams in one of the country’s best conferences, despite playing with essentially a six-man rotation. North Carolina State’s numbers, however, are nowhere near NCAA Tournament quality: a No. 116 RPI and No. 265 non-conference strength of schedule.
North Carolina State has a tough slate to end the regular season with three road games. If the Wolfpack can get a win at Florida State or Maryland, North Carolina State would likely seal its position in the NIT. But if North Carolina State loses four straight to finish 4-12, the Wolfpack might need to upset someone in the opening round of the ACC Tournament to wrap up an NIT spot.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons (13-13, 4-9)
Strength of schedule: 57
Non-conference strength of schedule: 235
Record vs. top 50: 3-9
Road/neutral record: 2-8
Won vs. Clemson 67-65
Won vs. Miami 74-69
Feb. 21 at Georgia Tech
Feb. 28 at North Carolina State
March 3 vs. Virginia
Despite suffering a six-game losing streak to fall to the ACC’s basement, Wake Forest has shown signs of life in the past couple of weeks, with wings against Georgia Tech and Clemson. The Demon Deacons are playing tough at home, where they will end the season against Virginia. Wake Forest’s only NCAA Tournament hopes remain on an improbable ACC Tournament title. But the Demon Deacons could earn an NIT bid if they close the regular-season with two out of three wins and upset a couple of teams in the conference tournament, like they did last year. A 6-10 finish would probably get Wake Forest in the conference’s top 10, which should be good enough for an NIT bid.
Miami Hurricanes (10-16, 3-9)
Strength of schedule: 80
Non-conference strength of schedule: 258
Record vs. top 50: 2-7
Road/neutral record: 3-10
Lost at Wake Forest 74-69
Feb. 21 vs. Virginia
Feb. 24 at Virginia Tech
Feb. 28 at Clemson
March 3 vs. Florida State
Losers of eight of their last nine, the Hurricanes will most likely finish in last this season. Miami’s No. 161 RPI is by far the weakest link in the ACC, and Miami struggled against an easy non-conference schedule. The Hurricanes won’t earn any bid to any tournament unless they pull off the biggest miracle in ACC Tournament history and win that title and the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Miami can end the season with some positive energy if the Hurricanes protect home court against Virginia and Florida State to finish with five ACC wins.