After getting seven teams into the NCAA field a year ago, the Atlantic Coast Conference looks to get at least a couple more in the 68-team field for 2017.
Latest projections for the 15-team league are that the league will get nine teams in, according to ESPN, or 10, according to predictions by CBS Sports and Bleacher Report.
But Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams thinks that is underestimating the strength of the league. After his team’s 74-68 loss at Miami Wednesday night, Williams was asked if he thought the conference could get as many as 11 teams in.
“I think if you studied the numbers it would,” he said, “but I don’t think that will happen. And I’ve said that since Media Days.”
Williams is somewhat of a unique spot as far as projecting numbers. He was coaching at Marquette when the Big East placed 11 of its 16 members into the tournament in 2011.
But that was somewhat due to circumstances, Williams said.
“I think that the disparity between the bottom 4 (actually 5) and the top 11 teams in the Big East in 2011 is partially what allowed 11 teams to get in,” he said. “I don’t think you will find that disparity in this league. And I think that will prevent an 11th team going.”
In 2011, teams 1-11 in the Big East standings-Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Louisville, St. John’s, Cincinnati, West Virginia, Georgetown, UConn, Villanova, and Marquette-all were at .500 or better in conference play and all had winning overall records. The bottom five all had losing records both in league games and overall.
In the ACC this season, there isn’t quite that clear a demarcation. With essentially three weeks left in the regular season, eight teams have winning records in ACC play and another six have better than .500 marks overall. Only one (Pittsburgh) has a losing overall record.
Williams’ Hokies fell to 5-6 in the conference with their loss to Miami and are tied with Georgia Tech for ninth. The Hokies are 16-7 overall, the Yellow Jackets 14-10.
Another key factor could come into play here that would open things up for the ACC (and others, for that matter). Williams doesn’t see as many at-large bids going to so-called “mid-majors” in 2017. (He referred to them as non-BCS conferences, but we know what he meant.)
“I probably pay attention to it too much just because I have such a shallow existence,” he said, drawing laughter from the reporters at the post-game press conference. “But I don’t think this year there will be as many at-large teams from non-BCS leagues. I think there will be some politicalness-not presidential-carried over into March relative to the BCS leagues.”
And that would tend to benefit not only Williams’ Hokies but other ACC teams on the fringe like Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, and even Clemson. Imagine, say, if Miami, which has already lost at Wake Forest, also loses to Clemson and Georgia Tech among its remaining games. How does that shake up things?
One non-factor, as Williams sees it, is the success ACC teams enjoyed in last year’s tourney. Unlike the Big East in 2011, when only two (UConn, the eventual national champ, and Marquette) made it to a regional semifinal, six of the seven ACC teams in the field made it to the Sweet 16 in 2016, four got to the Elite Eight, and two, North Carolina and Syracuse, were in the Final Four. You can hear the point made that with such success the ACC may have deserved more than seven spots last year, but not from Williams.
“It’s not based on what you did in the tournament,” he said. “It’s based on what you did prior to admission into the tournament. I think the reason this will go down as the best league is Pitt beat Maryland at Maryland. Pitt beat Virginia. And Pitt got their second win tonight. And nobody in the league wants to play Pitt. Nobody wants to play Boston College.
“We’ll see. We’ll see.”