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ACC Bottleneck: How many will make it in March?

Before conference play began there were sever ranked ACC teams, now there are only three. With the teams in the middle of the conference beating each other up, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee will have to decide exactly how to evaluate these teams, which are likely to finish with losing records in the conference.

At the beginning of the 2004-2005 season, there was talk of the ACC garnering seven or eight bids to the NCAA Tournament.

As late as New Year’s Day there were seven teams ranked in the top 25, but once conference play started the second-tier ACC teams struggled. Midway through the conference season, only three teams—North Carolina, Wake Forest and Duke—remain in the Associated Press poll.

Coming off a championship game appearance, Georgia Tech was expected to contend for ACC and national crowns. In back-to-back ACC games, the Yellow Jackets were a ramblin’ wreck, losing to a struggling N.C. State team and to league newcomer Virginia Tech at home.

Yellow Jackets head coach Paul Hewitt, whose team is currently sixth in the ACC, does not believe that parity will diminish the number of tournament bids the league receives.

“What you hear from selection committees is that they want you to play a tough schedule, so hopefully they’ll look favorably on that,” Hewitt said.

Maryland, like Georgia Tech, has not lived up to its preseason hype. N.C. State crushed the Terrapins in College Park, and the Terrapins also lost to Clemson and Miami. But Maryland beat Duke in Cameron, a quality win that will likely stand out on Selection Sunday.

Because of quality wins, the RPIs of Maryland and Georgia Tech are very respectable, even though both teams are only 4-5 in the conference. Each has a far better RPI than fourth-place Virginia Tech and fifth-place Miami. With RPIs of 33 and 35, respectively, the Terps and Yellow Jackets would normally be a safe bet for the tournament. On the other hand, the Hokies’ RPI of 133 and the Hurricanes’ RPI of 61 are not usually good enough to make the field.

So, the question the NCAA selection committee must answer is whether a 7-9 team in the ACC with a good RPI deserves a bid. Typically, an 8-8 record in the ACC is a lock for the tournament.

Other than North Carolina, Wake Forest and Duke, Virginia Tech and Miami are the only two teams with at least a .500 winning percentage in conference. The two first-year ACC teams have beaten other middle-of-the-pack teams and mixed in quality wins over higher-ranked opponents.

“People picked [Miami and Virginia Tech] very low in the preseason,” Maryland head coach Gary Williams said. “But [they] have been able to get some good wins so far.”

Regardless of how many bids the ACC ultimately receives, Hewitt believes the conference teams that do make the field will be poised for runs deep into the draw. Since 1985, the year the NCAA draw expanded to 64 teams, 20 percent of the teams that have reached the tournament have gone to the Final Four.

“If you do get into the NCAA Tournament,” Hewitt said, “once you get out of the league, it is a major plus when you play games at the high intensity level of the ACC. It definitely prepares you for postseason play.”

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