For the first time, the ACC will hold its conference tournament at Barclays Center. Here is a rundown of what to watch for when action begins Tuesday at noon.
The advanced metrics suggest the gap between No. 1 seed North Carolina, No. 4 Louisville and No. 6 Virginia is fairly small, but the eye test returns the Tar Heels (26-6, 14-4) as the clear favorite. This team won the ACC by two games, has two of the country’s best players in Justin Jackson and Joel Berry and boasts a strong supporting cast.
No. 4 Louisville (24-7, 12-6): The Cardinals have the size and athleticism to disrupt North Carolina and just about anyone in the country. If they can enforce their will defensively and on the glass, the Cardinals will be tough to beat.
No. 5 Duke (23-8, 11-7): The Blue Devils have lost three of their last four, but all three were on the road. Duke tends to draw well in New York City, so watch out for the No. 5 seed, whose talent earned it the No. 1 preseason ranking in the country.
No. 2 Florida State (24-7, 12-6): Could the Seminoles lose to Virginia Tech or Wake Forest in the quarterfinals? Sure, but they could also ride their depth and talent to a championship. They have won only six of their last 11, but all five losses were on the road.
The dark horse
If you don’t want to be bold, go with No. 6 Virginia here. The Cavaliers (21-9, 11-7) are No. 5 in Kenpom and No. 8 in Sagarin, so the advanced metrics love Tony Bennett’s squad despite the record. But if boldness is your style, you could look really smart picking No. 10 Wake Forest to make a run. The Demon Deacons (18-12, 9-9) have one of the country’s best players in 6-10 John Collins, who is surrounded by a solid supporting cast replete with shooters.
Here’s another reason to make Wake your dark horse: The bottom of the bracket is the softer side. In the top, you have North Carolina, Louisville and Duke. Those three schools rank in Kenpom’s top 15 and Sagarin’s top 10, ahead of everyone but Virginia.
Are 11 bids a possibility?
Yes, the ACC has a chance to match the Big East’s record of 11 bids, set in 2011. At this point, North Carolina, Louisville, Florida State, Duke, Virginia and Notre Dame are locks. Miami and Virginia Tech should feel safe, too. It will come down to Wake Forest, Syracuse and Georgia Tech getting enough done — or the bubble teams around them falling on their faces — this week.
Wake Forest has the more traditional resume: 18-12, 28th in the RPI, 13th-toughest schedule with a signature win over Louisville. Syracuse and Georgia Tech are different.
Few teams have three wins better than the Orange’s over Duke, Florida State and Virginia. But Syracuse is 2-10 in road or neutral games, with the two wins over ACC bottom feeders N.C. State and Clemson. The Orange is also just 18-13, 10-8 with the 77th-best RPI, 61st-toughest schedule and losses to St. John’s, UConn, Georgetown and Boston College. Beating Miami would help. Upsetting UNC would make Syracuse a lock.
The NCAA selection committee has never given a bid to a team with 15 or more losses, and that’s where Georgia Tech (17-14, 8-10) would be without an ACC championship. But only nine other teams have four or more wins over teams in the RPI top 25, and they’re all safely in the field. To have any chance of getting a bid, the team with the 95th-best RPI and 59th-toughest schedule probably needs to beat Pittsburgh and Virginia.