North Carolina and Duke resume the greatest rivalry in college basketball this weekend when the Tar Heels visit the Blue Devils on Saturday night (6:30 p.m., ESPN).

Is there any other appropriate place to start this ACC notebook than UNC and Duke?

Strange feel to this North Carolina-Duke game

Change is the only thing guaranteed in life beyond death, taxes and Gonzaga winning the West Coast Conference. But the change happening this weekend in the Carolina-Duke rivalry is extreme under any circumstance. The obvious storyline is that this will be the 1st Carolina-Duke game in over 4 decades where Mike Krzyzewski isn’t roaming the sideline for the Blue Devils, but consider these facts as well:

  • First North Carolina-Duke game in a non-COVID season since Feb. 27, 1960, where both teams enter the game unranked
  • First non-COVID season North Carolina-Duke game where the Blue Devils are unranked since the 1995-96 season
  • Krzyzewski lost 48 games to North Carolina. Neither Jon Scheyer nor Hubert Davis has 48 total wins as a head coach.
  • First game in the NET ranking era without at least 1 team ranked in the top 20 of the NET
  • First North Carolina-Duke game where the last meeting occurred in the NCAA Tournament

Strange times, no?

Throw in the fact that both of these teams were ranked inside the preseason top 10 and neither is truly a lock for the NCAA Tournament at this point and you get the odd North Carolina-Duke game where both teams really need a quality win, both to shift the narrative around their seasons and to improve their standing come Selection Sunday.

Duke has been marvelous at home this season, maintaining a perfect record at Cameron Indoor Stadium entering Tuesday night’s home game against Wake Forest. The last team to beat Duke at Cameron entering play Tuesday? Well, you know who it was. North Carolina, in Coach K’s Cameron farewell.

Hot seats — Feb. 1 edition

It’s February, which means we’re not far from coaching carousel season.

Three ACC coaches who entered the season with serious questions and seats ranging from slow-burn to sizzling appear safe. Those coaches are: Jeff Capel at Pittsburgh, who appears to be well-positioned to take the Panthers to the NCAA Tournament after being picked to finish near the bottom of the league; Brad Brownell at Clemson, who may lead the Tigers to the program’s 2nd ACC regular-season championship, vanquishing questions about whether he’d outlasted his welcome on the banks of Lake Hartwell; and NC State’s Kevin Keatts, who has found an NCAA Tournament-bound winning formula with transfer portal help and the brilliant Terquavion Smith.

This doesn’t mean the ACC will avoid turnover. Mike Brey has already announced his departure at the end of the season, stepping down at Notre Dame after more than 2 decades of consistency and winning. Who will join him? Here are the biggest candidates, with their seats ranging from “on fire” to “warming up.”

On fire

Josh Pastner, Georgia Tech: Pastner has advanced to just 1 NCAA Tournament in 7 seasons at Georgia Tech, which came thanks to the team’s surprising run to the ACC tournament title in 2020-21. This season, the Ramblin’ Wreck are 1-10 in the league and the program’s patented strong defense has collapsed.

Georgia Tech ranks a dire 152nd in KenPom Defensive Efficiency. The Georgia Tech job is a good job. The program has solid tradition, a tremendous recruiting base and given archrival Georgia’s football school prowess, the school has an incentive to spend on basketball. It would be surprising if a change wasn’t made.

Hotter than Gerry McNamara in the Big East tournament

Jim Boeheim, Syracuse: It is time, y’all. The Orange’s loss to Virginia on Monday night all but sealed Syracuse’s NCAA Tournament fate, barring a run through the conference tournament in Greensboro next month. If the Orange miss the Big Dance this March, it will mark the 2nd straight NCAA Tournament miss for the Orange and, in truth, except for surprise runs to the Sweet 16 in 2017-18 and 2020-21, Syracuse hasn’t been the same program since the Final 4 run in 2015-16.

Boeheim will never be fired, but the voices suggesting he may step down are growing noisier, which suggests he’s at least contemplating doing the right thing before his legacy as 1 of the sport’s greatest program builders is tarnished for good.

Warming up

Leonard Hamilton, Florida State: It’s a shame the Seminoles didn’t get to play in the NCAA Tournament in March 2020. They were the best team in the country, a ferocious defensive outfit with marvelous depth, a star freshman in Patrick Williams and Hamilton’s usual crop of overwhelming bigs in the paint. That was “Ham” at the height of his powers, the guy who made FSU 1 of the sport’s 10 winningest programs from 2011-2020.

The Seminoles haven’t been the same since.

Yes, FSU has been snake bit by injuries. But 7-15? That’s dire, and there’s no reason personnel-wise to think it gets much better next season in Tallahassee. Will Hamilton gracefully retire, or will he be pushed out? He deserves at least 1 more year to figure it out, but it is worth monitoring things in Tallahassee.

Bracketology — Feb. 1 edition

As the calendar turns to February, the ACC’s NCAA Tournament outlook remains steady. Thought to be a 7- or 8-bid league in early and mid-January, the league sits at 7 bids in BracketMatrix, which aggregates all bracketologists across the college basketball universe.

Lukas Harkins of Heat Check College Basketball is Saturday Road’s favored bracketologist, consistently ranked as 1 of the most accurate in the sport in BracketMatrix. Harkins has 7 teams in his field, but 2 of those teams, Clemson (Last 4 Byes) and Pittsburgh (Last 4 In), remain very much on the edge of the bubble.

Here’s a look at the candidates for a spot in the field, based on aggregate seed by BracketMatrix with projected 1st-round matchups from Harkins:

Safe (1-6 seeds): Virginia, Miami, Duke, North Carolina

The Hoos lead the way, sitting as a 3 seed in BracketMatrix. Virginia is also a 3 seed in Harkins’ most recent bracket, and he would have the Cavaliers playing Southern Illinois in the 1st round in the East Regional. Miami and Duke snag 6 seeds in BracketMatrix, but Harkins sees these teams a little differently. He bumps both down a seed line to 7 seeds and would have the Hurricanes playing Memphis in a 7-10 game in the South Region and Duke playing Andy Enfield’s Southern California squad in a 7-10 game in the Midwest Regional.

On the bubble but should be in (7-9 seeds): North Carolina, NC State, Clemson

North Carolina is likely safe, but BracketMatrix lists the Tar Heels as a 7 seed in aggregate seedings, largely due to a lack of Quad 1 wins. Harkins seeds Carolina as a 7 as well and ships the Heels out West, where they would play Arkansas out of the SEC in a 7-10 “must-see-TV” game in the West Regional.

NC State finds its way to an 8 seed in BracketMatrix, a seeding bump from a week ago after a big week that included wins over Wake Forest and Notre Dame. Harkins has NC State as his top 8 seed, pitting the Wolfpack against Missouri in Round 1 in the South Region.

Clemson remains an enigma. The Tigers were 10-1 in the ACC going into Tuesday night’s matchup at Boston College, which likely makes them safe. But 2 dreadful losses drag the profile down a bit, and BracketMatrix has Clemson as a 9 seed as a result. Harkins is even more concerned, as he has the Tigers as a 10 seed, pitting them against Florida Atlantic, the nation’s best mid-major team, in an East Regional matchup.

Work left to do but currently in (10-12 seeds): Pittsburgh

The Panthers earn the ACC’s final bid, per BracketMatrix. Jeff Capel’s team is an 11 seed in the bracket aggregator, appearing in 57 of the 81 brackets the system aggregates. Harkins also has the Panthers in the field, though he sends them to Dayton, Ohio, to play a First 4 game against Texas A&M out of the SEC.

Work left to do and currently out: Wake Forest

Two weeks ago, the Demon Deacons appeared in over 30 brackets. This week? Steve Forbes’ team appears in just 1. It’s hard to make a case for the NCAA Tournament when you can’t win big bubble games at home, and Wake’s losses last week to NC State and Pitt at Joel Coliseum have tapered hopes for the Demon Deacons, at least for now. They aren’t out of the conversation by any stretch of the imagination, but they’ll need to do some work in February to find the happy ending they just missed out on last season.