It appears that as we enter February, the ACC cream is rising to the top, with Duke holding a slim advantage (one full game) over North Carolina, while Wake Forest and Clemson are nipping at their Heels, both literally and figuratively.
That's all well and good, but wouldn't it be nice to know how this is all going to end?
It's time to find out. Why even play the games when the season is so predictable that you can take these results to the bank in early February?
It's not like there have been any significant college basketball upsets this season.
In fact, it's so easy to prognosticate these games that you could make enough money to bail out all three American automakers with enough in reserve to take care of Bank of America's current woes and fully fund Yates Racing's NASCAR entries.
So, here is a look at what will be the obvious results in key ACC matchups. Heck, why not just do them all and take a look at the final standings? Everyone can hang their banners and can get on to the good stuff, the NCAA tournament. Well, not everyone.
Let's start at the top, the final regular season standings (in order of ACC tournament seed). Remember, this is all but set in stone. Rock solid. As predictable as death and taxes.
Conference tiebreaking procedures, found here, were used to determine tournament seeds in the case of a tie.
1. Duke Blue Devils (27-4, 13-3 ACC)
2. North Carolina Tar Heels (27-3, 13-3 ACC)
(Note: Duke gets the No. 1 seed based on a better record vs. the third team in the ACC, Wake Forest, 1-1 to UNC's 0-1)
3. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (25-4, 12-4 ACC)
4. Clemson Tigers (25-5, 11-5 ACC)
5. Virginia Tech Hokies (19-11, 9-7 ACC)
6. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (20-9, 9-7 ACC)
(Note: Tie broken by head-to-head matchup)
7. Florida State Seminoles (21-10, 8-8 ACC)
8. Boston College Eagles (20-11, 8-8 ACC)
(Note: Tie broken by head-to-head matchup)
9. Maryland Terrapins (16-13, 5-11 ACC)
10. N.C. State Wolfpack (14-15, 4-12 ACC)
11. Virginia Cavaliers (8-19, 2-14 ACC)
12. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (11-18, 2-14 ACC)
(Note: Tie broken by head-to-head matchup)
For those who don't want to read the explanation of how the teams get to this point, the analysis will first reveal the results of the conference tourney, because Lord knows there are never any upsets in that little annual event.
(Note: The top four teams get first-round byes)
(9) Maryland d. (8) Boston College
(5) Virginia Tech d. (12) Georgia Tech
(7) Florida State d. (10) N.C. State
(6) Miami (FL) d. (11) Virginia
(1) Duke d. (9) Maryland
(5) Virginia Tech d. (4) Clemson
(2) North Carolina d. (7) Florida State
(3) Wake Forest d. (6) Miami, FL [in overtime]
(1) Duke d. (5) Virginia Tech
(2) North Carolina d. (3) Wake Forest
(2) North Carolina 102, (1) Duke 101, 2OT
Yes, it's a homer pick, though I truly believe the Heels will win this tournament.
Since 1997, only Duke (1999-2003, 2005-06) and North Carolina (1997-98, 2007-08) have won the ACC Championship, with Maryland the sole exception in 2004. There's no reason right now to believe this year will be any different.
North Carolina gets a chance to avenge their loss to Wake Forest on a neutral court, denying a rubber match for Wake against Duke.
UNC gets the No. 1 seed in the East; Duke gets a No. 1 seed as well and gets to play in Greensboro for the first two rounds.
NCAA Teams: UNC, Duke, Wake Forest, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Miami, Florida State
NIT teams: Boston College, Maryland
For those who like a little meat with their potatoes, what follows is the explanation of the regular season outcomes that will result in the above seedings. Go ahead and pencil these in (nah, use permanent ink), because the chances of something unexpected happening are virtually nil. Duh.
Duke Blue Devils (current record 18-2, 5-1 ACC)
Wins: Miami (FL), at Boston College, at St. John's, Wake Forest, at Maryland, at Virginia Tech, Florida State, at North Carolina
Losses: at Clemson, North Carolina
There are few superlatives that can adequately describe Duke's play at home this season. There are five extremely challenging games remaining on the schedule (the two with North Carolina, home against Wake, at Clemson, and at Virginia Tech).
I project a split with UNC in the same manner that it went down last year, with each school winning on the other's home court. They just like spoiling things for each other that way, and what better way to send off Tyler Hansbrough, et al, than a revenge match in their final game at the Dean Smith Center?
Duke will handle everyone else at home, including a rematch with Wake Forest in which the Blue Devils will avenge their only conference loss to date, sweating the Deacons into submission (and another second-half collapse) with the 90 degree-plus temperatures regularly seen inside Cameron Indoor.
Wake Forest, and its superstar Jeff Teague, have shown a tendency to fade late in games in which they have to run extensively.
The Blue Devils will lose either at Clemson or at Virginia Tech, two teams who they do not match up particularly well with. I'll go with the Tigers, who appear to have righted the ship after a tough loss to Wake Forest and a blowout at the Dean Dome. Also, that prediction will allow for this article to potentially be obsolete by Wednesday.
FINAL RECORD: 27-4, 13-3 ACC
North Carolina Tar Heels (19-2, 5-2 ACC)
Wins: Maryland, Virginia, at Duke, at Miami (FL), N.C. State, at Maryland, Georgia Tech, at Virginia Tech
The losses of Tyler Zeller and Marcus Ginyard cannot be underestimated. The unfortunate injuries have transformed the Heels from a team head and shoulders above the competition to one that will have to scrap for tough wins in February and March alike.
As I wrote prior to the tilt with Florida State, they can no longer take any game for granted—not that any team in the ACC should do so on any night.
The Tar Heels' remaining schedule is significantly easier than Duke's, though a similar Maryland team defeated UNC on the Heels' home court last season. With a healthy Ty Lawson, don't expect the Terps to pull another upset.
When Seth Greenberg's team catches fire, they can beat the best in the country, so North Carolina's biggest stumbling block outside of the powerful Devils will likely be their final road matchup against the Hokies
FINAL RECORD: 27-3, 13-3 ACC
Wake Forest Demon Deacons (17-2, 4-2 ACC)
Wins: Boston College, at N.C. State, Florida State, Georgia Tech, N.C. State, at Virginia, at Maryland
Losses: at Miami (FL), at Duke
Wake Forest is an immensely talented team and Teague is an elite point guard, but they have two key flaws. First, they are inexperienced, and second, they tend to fade late against quality teams, including in victories against UNC, Clemson, and Duke.
Miami is reeling after losing four of five in-conference, and the Deacons are coming off a shocking loss to Georgia Tech. The Hurricanes are physical and are one of the few ACC teams with the size to match up with Wake. Miami is also an outstanding rebounding team, and Wake may be ripe for another road upset. Miami's March fortunes are on the line on Wednesday, and they will show it on the court.
FINAL RECORD: 25-4, 12-4 ACC
Clemson Tigers (18-2, 4-2 ACC)
Wins: Duke, Florida State, at Boston College, at Virginia, Maryland, at Georgia Tech, Virginia
Losses: Virginia Tech, at Florida State, at Wake Forest
Clemson has struggled against the elite teams so far, but a win at home against Duke on Wednesday would silence many critics. Unfortunately for the Tigers, the critics have pointed out some valid flaws, including a tendency to rely on quick three-point shots and a recent slump to just 40 percent FG shooting in ACC play.
This week, Clemson stormed back from a huge halftime deficit to snatch a victory away from Virginia Tech in a pivotal matchup at Blacksburg. The Hokies will grab a big lead again but won't let the game slip away when they travel to Clemson on Feb. 25.
Elite point guards (Jeff Teague, Ty Lawson) have proven problematic for the Tigers in their two losses; Toney Douglas of Florida State will finally get a marquee win when they upset the Tigers in Tallahassee on Feb. 28.
FINAL RECORD: 25-5, 11-5 ACC
Virginia Tech Hokies (14-7, 4-3 ACC)
Wins: N.C. State, Georgia Tech, at Virginia, Florida State, at Clemson
Losses: at Maryland, Duke, North Carolina, at Florida State
All but one of Tech's losses have been by four points or less, though two have been to mediocre (Seton Hall) or poor (Georgia) teams. The Hokies followed up a stunning upset at Wake Forest with an impressive win at Miami and two tough losses against Clemson (86-82) and at Boston College (67-66).
They are likely to pull off another upset or two on their way to a solid conference record, but it will likely be their strength of schedule that keeps them on the right side of the bubble this year. The loss at Boston College is devastating at the moment, but the Hokies have virtually lived on the bubble for the last two years.
FINAL RECORD: 19-11, 9-7 ACC
Miami (FL) Hurricanes (14-7, 3-5 ACC)
Wins: Wake Forest, at Florida State, Boston College, at Virginia, at Georgia Tech, N.C. State
Losses: at Duke, North Carolina
This is the most disappointing team in the ACC so far. They have enough talent to challenge for third place, but after a 2-0 start to conference play, the 'Canes have dropped four of five, including bad losses at N.C. State and Maryland.
I have been generous to Miami in this projection, but they are simply too talented to not pick up one marquee win. They will stop their slide by taking down the dejected Demon Deacons in Miami on Wednesday, a team they actually match up well with.
Miami's win at Kentucky may be crucial come Selection Sunday, but only if they get to at least .500 in conference play and beat one of the top three as well.
FINAL RECORD: 20-9, 9-7 ACC
Florida State Seminoles (16-5, 3-3 ACC)
Wins: Georgia Tech, Virginia, Clemson, at Boston College, Virginia Tech
Losses: at Clemson, at Wake Forest, Miami (FL), at Virginia Tech, at Duke
It will likely come down to three crucial games (Miami and the Virginia Tech matchups) and the ACC tourney that will determine whether the Seminoles head to the NCAA tournament or the NIT.
I have projected one more crucial win at home against Clemson and a split with the Hokies. Solid non-conference wins over Florida, Western Kentucky, at California, and at Cincinnati will be enough to make this the last ACC team to sneak in.
FINAL RECORD: 21-10, 8-8 ACC
Boston College Eagles (17-6, 5-3 ACC)
Wins: at Virginia, at N.C. State, Georgia Tech
Losses: at Wake Forest, Clemson, Duke, at Miami (FL), Florida State
This slate would feature no more upsets for a team that shocked UNC and most recently handed Virginia Tech a one-point defeat. Perhaps the most schizophrenic of ACC clubs, the Eagles may very well be headed to the NIT in March if the results play out as expected.
Their one marquee win may not be enough to erase the stain of a brutal loss at Harvard and a poor effort at St. Louis. The Eagles must win at least one of the projected losses to have any shot at the Big Dance.
FINAL RECORD: 20-11, 8-8 ACC
Maryland Terrapins (14-7, 3-4 ACC)
Wins: at Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech
Losses: at North Carolina, Clemson, North Carolina, Duke, at N.C. State, at Virginia
Two wins in the next three will bring the Terps' conference record to 5-5, but the crushing schedule will then take its toll.
After getting hammered by the top four teams in the ACC, an embattled Gary Williams will find nothing but frustration as the losses mount. The regular season finale at Virginia may very well cost him his job, justified or not. The NIT awaits.
FINAL RECORD: 16-13, 5-11 ACC
North Carolina State Wolfpack (11-8, 2-5 ACC)
Wins: N.C. Central, Virginia, Maryland
Losses: at Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, at Georgia Tech, at North Carolina, at Wake Forest, Boston College, at Miami (FL)
Sidney Lowe's seat becomes a red-hot poker after another dismal season. This team seems to have a lot of good individual parts that simply refuse to gel as a team. Herb Sendek doesn't look so bad right now, and if Lowe isn't let go at the end of the season, he'll be on a short leash in 2009-10.
N.C. State's only hope is a miracle tournament run, something the Pack nearly pulled off two years ago when they made the finals, only to lose to the rival Tar Heels.
FINAL RECORD: 14-15, 4-12 ACC
Virginia Cavaliers (7-10, 1-5 ACC)
Losses: Boston College, at North Carolina, at Florida St., Clemson, Virginia Tech, at N.C. State, Miami (FL), Wake Forest, at Clemson
It's hard to believe that any ACC team will win only one more game this year, but the only victory the Cavaliers have in conference play so far is over lowly Georgia Tech, and the schedule doesn't get much kinder.
They have an opportunity at home this week against an unpredictable Boston College team, but I'm not projecting that win comes until the final regular season game of the season, when Virginia meets a dejected Terrapins squad.
Give Dave Leitao another year and he'll have his talented youngsters in the middle of the ACC pack. Virginia is not as bad as this record indicates.
FINAL RECORD: 8-19, 2-14 ACC
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (10-10, 1-6 ACC)
Wins: N.C. State
Losses: at Florida State, Maryland, at Virginia Tech, at Wake Forest, Clemson, at North Carolina, Miami (FL), at Boston College
Another major disappointment, another coach on the hot seat, and another difficult team to figure out. The victory over Wake Forest was more about the Deacons' weaknesses than the Jackets' strengths. This is still the same Georgia Tech team that has racked up losses to Illinois-Chicago, Virginia, Alabama, Maryland, and N.C. State.
Plenty more losses will follow, this year and next.
FINAL RECORD: 11-18, 2-14 ACC
I hope you enjoyed the "predictions," and remember, get out that ATM card and call your bookie immediately!