As the regular season winds down, it is becoming clearer which teams will be dancing. In Joe Lunardi’s latest edition of bracketology, just four ACC teams make the cut. I say “just four” because many experts have coined this as a down year for the conference. I will concede that compared to the powerhouse Big East, which is slated to receive an unprecedented 11 bids, the ACC is in a down year.
I argue though that, for the last few years, the conference has become a little overrated. The ACC has received just four bids in two of the last five seasons, and through the last ten years, the conference only averages five bids each year. Furthermore, through that span, it averages fewer than two teams reaching the Sweet 16 each year. To find the last time three teams from the ACC reached the Sweet 16 you have to go all the way back to 2005. In 2005, North Carolina won the championship, and No. 1 seed Duke reached the Sweet 16 along with No. 10 seed N.C. State.
This year it seems likely that the conference sends two teams, the Blue Devils and Tar Heels, to the Sweet 16. Both teams are ranked in the top 13 of both the AP Poll and Coaches’ Poll this week. They are slated to be a No. 2 and No. 3 seed respectively in Lunardi’s latest projection. The other ACC teams projected to receive bids are Florida State and Virginia Tech. Both of these teams beat Duke to earn their signature victories. Clemson, who is one of first eight teams missing the cut according to Lunardi, has the chance to do so tonight, while Boston College will likely have to make a run in the conference tournament next week if it wants its season to continue.
Regardless of how many teams end up making the cut, if Duke and North Carolina both pull their weight, this cannot be coined a down year for the conference. It will be a very standard year for the ACC. The conference may be slightly overrated if this is considered a down year when in reality it is average when you look at the statistics. If either the Seminoles or Hokies make a run like the Wolfpack did back in 2005, then this year can ultimately be considered a strong year for the conference.
Which team is more likely to make a run? As of now Lunardi projects Virginia Tech as a No. 9 seed and Florida State as a No. 10 seed. The Hokies received the votes in the AP Poll this week while the Seminoles did not receive votes in either of the major polls. Both have their big wins against the Blue Devils coming at home, so let’s take a look at some other metrics to compare these two squads.
The teams have very similar resumes. Both teams are coming in hot, each boasting a 9-3 record in their last 12 games. They also have identical records in combined neutral site and road games, 8-6. Based on strength of schedule, the Seminoles have a slight edge (96th compared to 104th), but Florida State does not have any impressive road wins. In their chances against quality opponents on the road, they have lost to Virginia Tech, Clemson, and Maryland. While the Hokies do not have any overly impressive away wins, they beat the Terrapins at College Park as well as N.C. State.
Since it is difficult to give one team an edge based strictly on resumes, let’s take a look at some of their statistics. Florida State averages more turnovers than assists (16 to 13) per game. They also only have one player, Chris Singleton (who is injured and out indefinitely), who averages double figures in points. On the other hand, Virginia Tech has three healthy players who average over ten points-per-game, each of whom are capable of scoring 20 on a given night. They boast a better assist-to-turnover ratio, along with higher percentages from the foul line and behind the arc. Because of those statistics and the cliché that guard play is key in March, I’m going to give the edge to the Hokies.
Although the tiebreaker could really ultimately be the seeds they receive. A No. 8 or No. 9 seed makes it more difficult to reach the Sweet 16 because the team must then go through that bracket’s No. 1 seed. Therefore all of this column may be a moot point if one of the teams ends up with a No. 8 or No. 9 seed and the other is lucky enough to be a No. 10-12 seed in its bracket.