by: DANTE EVANS
The Atlantic Coast Conference is back as one of college basketball’s premier conferences. There have been at least four ACC teams ranked in the top 25 every week this season. With the addition of Louisville and Notre Dame, the ACC now has constant competition for cornerstone programs like Duke and UNC. Virginia and Notre Dame are the solid front-runners of the conference, while Duke and UNC stayed in the mix with each scoring significant wins and slight setbacks. Louisville, once the most feared team behind Virginia, was exposed and teams took advantage of the lack of offensive efficiency and made Louisville one of the other guys.
There are no easy road games in the ACC, with many games being close no matter the record of the teams involved. The ACC is announcing to the college world that it is back to its familiar ways of dominance. These six teams look to bolster that claim come Selection Sunday.
#2 Virginia Cavaliers:
- Record: 28-1
- RPI: 3
- BPI: 2
- Strength of Schedule: 32
- Last Tournament Appearance: Lost to Michigan State in 2014 Sweet Sixteen
- Projection: Elite Eight
The Cavaliers have been the dominant team in the ACC over the past two seasons. Having the #1 overall defensive team in the country and allowing less than 50 points per game on average, is one of the main reasons why this team has been so dominant this season. With their lone loss coming at the hands of another top five ACC foe in Duke, Virginia is a team to be feared in March.
Virginia’s biggest concern is the health of small forward Justin Anderson. Anderson is the second leading scorer on the team, averaging 13.3 points per game while shooting 48% from behind the arc. Anderson suffered a broken finger on his shooting hand on February 7. Virginia’s offensive production has noticeably gone down since the departure of Anderson. The Cavaliers are averaging 14 less points per 100 possessions since Anderson’s injury. Anderson will certainly loom as a question mark for the Cavaliers. Anderson was set to return soon for the Cavaliers; however he had an emergency appendectomy yesterday, putting his availability for the rest of the season in jeopardy.
Even without Anderson for a little longer, Virginia looks to build on last years tournament success, also as a 1-seed. The Cavalier’s Sweet Sixteen appearance last season was the first time the Cavaliers had advanced that far since 1995.
#3 Duke Blue Devils:
- Record: 27-3
- RPI: 5
- BPI: 7
- Strength of Schedule: 18
- Last Tournament Appearance: Lost to Mercer in the 2014 First Round
- Projection: Sweet Sixteen
The Blue Devils are playing at a high level as a team, something they forgot to do at the beginning of ACC play. After suffering two humiliating double-digit losses to Miami and N.C. State, the Blue Devils seemed to lose their way as a team. It wasn’t until the dismissal of Rasheed Sulaimon that Duke finally started to come together as a team and gained a huge win on the road against Virginia.
The Blue Devils have not lost since Sulaimon was dismissed.
Duke’s success as of late can be attributed primarily to freshman standout Jahlil Okafor, who is averaging over 18 points per game and shooting 66 percent from the field. Offensively, the Blue Devils have been spectacular, ranking third in the nation in field goal percentage and fifth in the nation averaging nearly 81 points per game. That success can be attributed not only to Okafor, but to Senior Quinn Cook and freshman duo Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones, all three averaging double digits in points per game. The Blue Devils are starting to click when it matters most. This is a team that could possibly get over the hump of the last couple of years of getting knocked off in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
#12 Notre Dame Fighting Irish:
- Record: 25-5
- RPI: 24
- BPI: 14
- Strength of Schedule: 115
- Last Tournament Appearance: Lost to Iowa State in the 2013 First Round
- Projection: Round of 32
The Fighting Irish are still fighting for proper recognition. Notre Dame remains one of the most overlooked team in the ACC, due to their lack of flare on the court. Like the elite of the conference, Notre Dame is another high scoring, high efficiency team on offense. The Fighting Irish are averaging 79.1 points per game and shooting just over 50% from the field, which is second in the nation. Three-point shooting is a staple of Notre Dame’s offense, with the Fighting Irish shooting just under 40% from behind the arc.
Teams that heavily rely on threes are very boom or bust in the NCAA tournament. If the Fighting Irish can consistently score as they have of late, they could sneak their way deep into the tournament. Notre Dame’s strength of schedule could be the biggest determiner. The poor strength of schedule could make them a 3 or 4 seed, potentially leading for an interesting match-up with a mid-major powerhouse.
#16 Louisville Cardinals:
- Record: 23-7
- RPI: 21
- BPI: 13
- Strength of Schedule: 29
- Last Tournament Appearance: Lost to Kentucky in 2014 Sweet Sixteen
- Projection: Round of 32
The Cardinals are the epitome of a defensive team. They are ranked in the top 20 in points allowed per game, blocks per game, steals per game and three point field goal defense. Offensively, there are many weaknesses. Chris Jones, former guard, was dismissed from the team, which took away their third leading scorer. All of their losses have been to teams who are locks in the tournament or who are on the bubble. They faced two scares to Miami and Georgia Tech where there the offense did not show up until the very end. The last two games, home against Notre Dame and Virginia, will be a test to see if the Cardinals can play against top defenses without Chris Jones. When Louisville won the championship in 2013, they were not considered to be an offensive juggernaut going into the tournament.
#19 North Carolina Tar Heels:
- Record: 21-9
- RPI: 12
- BPI: 12
- Strength of Schedule: 4
- Last Tournament Appearance: Lost to Iowa State in 2014 Second Round
- Projection: Sweet Sixteen
The Tar Heels had one of the toughest schedules in the country this season, with games against eight different opponents who were ranked in the top 25 at the time of the match-up. Being the second best rebounding team in the country, and first in assists per game, UNC has the ability to score against almost any team.
Defensively, the Tar Heels are okay. They do not give up many second chance points, but have quite a few times where there are signs of confusion and a lack of intensity on the defensive side of the ball. If the Tar Heels can play consistently like they did when they played Duke in the OT game on Feb. 18, they are a scary team. If they play like they did against N.C. State on the 24th, scoring only 46 points, they will get knocked out in the first weekend of the tourney.
N.C. State Wolfpack:
- Record: 18-12
- RPI: 45
- BPI: 39
- Strength of Schedule: 6
- Last Tournament Appearance: Lost to St. Louis in 2014 First Round
- Projection: Round of 32
Here is the edge of the bubble for the ACC. NC State currently sits as one of Joe Lunardi’s last four byes; however a loss to Clemson may seal State’s fate for the NIT. NC State is narrowly ahead of fellow ACC members Pitt and Miami on Lunardi’s bubble. With all three schools having 8-8 records in the ACC, NC State gets the nod with five wins against the RPI top 50, compared to three combined for Pitt and Miami. NC State, despite what the record says, has one of the best bubble resumes. There is no doubt NC State, whether they make or miss the tournament will have detractors about their selection. VCU in 2011 was in the same boat as they cruised to a Final Four appearance.
*Syracuse Orangemen: Ineligible
That look about sums up Syracuse’s season.
After starting the season in the top-25, Syracuse quickly fell out after a loss to California in Madison Square Garden. The Orange then lost to former conference foes St. John’s and Villanova before winning seven in a row. The Orange have failed to win consecutive games since the streak ended.
To make matters even worse, the ACC tournament can’t help them get into the NCAA tournament. Due to a self-imposed postseason ban because of a NCAA investigation, Syracuse is not eligible for the ACC or NCAA tournament this season.
There is no relief in sight for Boeheim or Syracuse athletics. On Friday afternoon, the NCAA lowered the boom on Syracuse for a decades worth of infractions. The NCAA issued a statement, saying “Over the course of a decade, Syracuse University did not control and monitor its athletics programs.”
The NCAA levied a number of harsh penalties against Syracuse. According to ESPN, the NCAA suspended Boeheim nine ACC games and took away multiple scholarships. The penalties also included a 5-year probation period and vacating wins from parts of five separate seasons.