ACC Basketball: Who Wins the Conference and Who Goes Dancin'?
Just past the midway point in conference play, the ACC has broken right down the middle into two distinct groups!
I'm tired of searching for the last time the sixth-place team was only one game out of first place this late in the year.
Suffice it to say it's been a long time, if ever .
Three teams, Duke, Florida State and North Carolina, have two losses each.
Three more, Miami, NC State and Virginia, each have three losses.
What all six of these teams have in common is everyone has a bad loss of one kind or another.
Coaches, players and fans can all look at their team's results and think, "Darn! If only we had beaten (fill in the blank), we'd be ahead (or tied for the lead)."
Let's take a look at each of the six teams, see who the "blank" was in each case and assess their chances of winning the regular season ACC title, or at least making the NCAA Tournament.
Duke (7-2, 20-4)
Although neither of the Blue Devils' two losses would technically qualify as a "bad loss," they were both heartbreaking losses that I'm sure they feel could have been avoided.
Against Florida State, the Dookies never trailed until inside of a minute to play. Then, when Austin Rivers scored to tie it with just six seconds remaining, it appeared they were headed for overtime.
But, Luke Louckes dribbled through most of the Duke defense and then found teammate Michael Snaer open for what, at the time, figured to be the most replayed three-point shot of the ACC season. (Just 19 days later it vacated that throne to a shot we'll be watching every time Carolina and Duke play for the rest of our lives.)
Duke's loss to Miami in overtime negated a big comeback effort. The extra period saw three different Duke players each miss a pair of free throws to seal their fate.
The Blue Devils are the only ones out of the six teams to have suffered all their conference losses on their home court.
With seven games remaining, they have three with first-division teams. They must travel to Florida State but will face Tobacco Road opponents NC State and North Carolina at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The return match with the Tar Heels is on the last night of the regular season (guess the schedule makers didn't have any problem determining where to put this one, eh?) and will almost surely have an impact on who wins the regular-season title.
Duke figures to grab no worse than a three-seed in the dance.
Florida State (7-2, 16-7)
"Ladies and gentlemen, your Florida State Seminoles! Introducing the co-captains, Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde..."
Really, how does anyone demolish North Carolina by 33 points and beat Duke in Cameron Indoor, snapping their 45-game home winning streak and then lose to Boston College?
FSU's other loss came at Clemson and can also be considered "bad," but by a different definition of bad. The 'Noles were routed by 20 in their conference opener.
Care to hazard a guess?
Home and home with Miami, home to Duke and on the road at Virginia. Four tough games make this team's quest for Florida State's first regular-season ACC championship a tall order.
Plus, the Seminoles' dismal pre-conference record means there's not much room for any more missteps to insure an NCAA bid.
North Carolina (7-2, 20-4)
If North Carolina lost to Duke in Tiddlywinks you'd have to hide all sharp objects from despondent Heel fans.
Austin River's three at the buzzer was the equivalent of a boulder rolling over Wiley Coyote to this North Carolina team and their faithful. Not only did the loss make this a horse race between six teams, the home court edge now belongs to the Tar Heels' most likely competition for this title, Duke.
The Tar Heels will really have to earn this title.
Six of seven remaining games are with the other five teams in the chase, and four of those are on the road.
North Carolina still holds out hope for a one-seed in March.
Miami (6-3, 15-7)
Alright, the 'Canes may be the exception to the statement on the opening slide. Miami's three losses have all come to first division teams.
If one must qualify as a "bad loss" it would have to be the one-point loss at Virginia simply because the win was in Durand Scott's hands as he drove to the basket for the game-winner only to be denied by Jontel Evans.
At one time it would have been unimaginable for Miami to have won its last four games (including one at Duke) with little-to-no contribution from Malcolm Grant, but this team is hot. Reggie Johnson is finally back in shape (he may not look it, but he's always played with a Barkley-esque frame) and this club is starting to embrace new coach Jim Larranaga's system.
Miami has a home and home with Florida State, entertains Carolina and visits NC State.
Another team in search of its first ACC crown; It won't come easy, and an NCAA bid is no certainty at this point, either.
North Carolina State (7-3, 18-7)
When I did the end-of-year report cards, all five Wolfpack starters were averaging 12 points!
Now 11 games later, little has changed (the gap between the first and fifth scorers is just two points).
The Wolfpack fell to Georgia Tech in Raleigh, 82-71. They allowed the Yellow Jackets to post their conference highs in all offensive categories.
NC State is actually a half-game ahead of Miami and Virginia and only a half-game behind the top three, having already garnered their seventh conference win.
They will meet every other contender except Virginia, two at home and two on the road.
NC State is the only team of the six to have not beaten a ranked team thus far this year. Without victories in two of their next three games, all against ranked opponents, they'll need a strong ACC tournament run for serious consideration for an NCAA bid.
Virginia (6-3, 19-4)
Like North Carolina, the Cavaliers suffered the double whammy of a bad loss to their most hated rival. When Virginia Tech upset UVA 47-45 at John Paul Jones Arena, it was the Hokies' first ACC win in five attempts.
Virginia shot just 32 percent from the field and made just one of 14 three-point attempts.
For a team with a very small margin of error, it was a costly one to let get away.
The Cavaliers are the only team who must play North Carolina twice, but their only other game versus another contender is a rematch with Florida State in Charlottesville.
They will be favored, or a very slight underdog, in six of the seven remaining games.
The 'Hoos are definitely going dancin' in March and have a shot at a piece of the ACC regular season title.