With either five or six games remaining in their ACC regular season schedules, six teams are playing musical chairs for what most observers believe will be five invitations from the NCAA Selection Committee.
But, to be absolutely certain that phone's gonna ring on March 11, teams know they must be in the top four of the conference, in case a Cinderella team takes the ACC tourney or the league only gets four bids like last year.
I've included the two "Heathers"—North Carolina and Duke—in the competition for seats, but the truth is, if neither won another game, they would just push a seated team off their chair (with the help of the Selection Committee) and keep playing anyway.
Florida State, although tied with Duke and Carolina, doesn't quite have that luxury. Thanks to a disastrous pre-conference performance, the Seminoles still have a little work to do, albeit not much.
With home games (where the 'Noles are undefeated in conference play) remaining against Virginia Tech and Clemson (who mauled FSU what seems light years ago now), Florida State is just this side of a "lock" bid.
Wins in both those games plus one other (the other four games are all against other "contenders") would get FSU to the once-magic number of 20 wins. No question 20-10 looks a whole lot better than 19-11.
So that leaves the pressure firmly on Miami, North Carolina State and Virginia to finish well and possibly pad their resumes with one or two ACC tourney wins. A run to the semis or the finals of the conference tournament would likely get even the apparent "odd man out" of the six an invitation to the NCAAs.
Miami had moved quietly through its ACC season until they garnered some attention for beating Duke at Cameron Indoor.
Lots of things have begun to meld for the Hurricanes. Their star center, Reggie Johnson, has worked himself back into game-shape; the team is becoming comfortable with new coach Jim Larranaga's system; Kenny Kadji has given the 'Canes strong scoring and rebounding; and the backcourt is solid. This is the ACC's leading candidate for Cinderella status at the Dance.
NC State has a problem of a different sort than the others. The Wolfpack's current RPI is just 50. The RPI is the NCAA Selection and Seeding Committee's favorite tool, and teams ranked that low rarely get invitations.
(A quick primer for those who are aware of the RPI, but don't know the formula: The RPI is made up of a team's winning percentage [25%], its opponents' winning percentage [50%], and the winning percentage of those opponents' opponents [25%]. A modification was made to weight home and away games differently in 2004. Don't worry, there's not going to be a quiz. Just thought you might like to know.)
NC State will play all three of the first-place teams in a six-day span starting Thursday at Duke. At least one win is almost certainly going to be required. If the Pack fails to grab at least one of the next three, it'll make the last three-game stretch all must wins.
Failing that, the Wolfpack will need at least a run to the finals of the ACC tourney.
And then there's Virginia. Coach Tony Bennett must be looking carefully both ways before crossing streets these days.
After two defections in December thinned his ranks, they were further depleted by the loss of 7-foot center Assane Sene to a fracture in his foot. On Sunday it was announced that second-leading scorer, Joe Harris, had fractured a bone in his non-shooting hand in the game at North Carolina on Saturday.
IF the ACC gets only five bids, who's the "odd man out"?
Harris is cleared to continue playing for now, but the hand will be protected with some sort of wrap that figures to at least hamper UVA's leading three-point shooter.
On the bright side, the Cavaliers have the easiest schedule remaining. They have only two games, both at home, remaining against first-division teams.
The only other monkey wrench in these teams' pursuit of that coveted NCAA bid would be an ACC tournament title run by one of the second-division schools.
Maryland seemed best equipped to make such a run before receiving their own bad injury news this weekend. Starting guard and leading assists man, Pe'Shon Howard, went down with a season-ending ACL tear. Without him, there's little to fear from the Terps.
So there you have it, fans. The remaining portion of this ACC season should be an exciting one.