Friedlander: Resetting postseason ceilings for these 5 ACC teams ... and several others close to the bubble
Enough of this 2- or 3-bid league garbage.
It might generate plenty of clicks for the Lunardis, Rothsteins and Goodmans of the world, but it’s a narrative based on fantasy.
And that’s not just some #GoACC wishful thinking.
A quick check of the NCAA’s NET rankings, the metric that supposedly holds the most weight with the selection committee – you know, the men and women who actually have a say in filling out the bracket – shows that the ACC currently has 5 teams inside the top 32.
That’s more than the SEC, the Big East, the Big Ten and the Mountain West Conference that has suddenly become a social media darling.
It’s also significant since there are 36 available at-large bids. And 1 of those teams (likely) will qualify automatically as the conference champion.
In addition to North Carolina, Duke, Virginia, Clemson and Wake Forest, several other ACC teams are still within reasonable striking distance of the bubble to contend for a 6th bid if 1 gets hot over the final month of the regular season.
As we begin to head down the home stretch of the 2023-24 season, here’s a look at the realistic postseason ceiling for all 5 of the teams that should be participating in March Madness. And a few of those who still could.
Record: 18-5 (10-2 ACC). NET: 10
The Tar Heels showed championship potential during a 10-game winning streak that shot them all the way up to No. 3 in the national polls, a stretch capped by a dominant performance against rival Duke last Saturday. But as they also showed in recent losses to Georgia Tech and Clemson, they still have work to do both in the consistency of their effort and with their zone offense. If they can solve that riddle, the inside-outside combination of Armando Bacot and RJ Davis, along with the grit of Harrison Ingram and improved defense are the ingredients that lend themselves to a deep Tournament run.
Ceiling: Final Four.
Record: 17-5 (8-3). NET: 21
The Blue Devils have NBA talent all over the floor, especially in the backcourt. They’ve got an ACC Player of the Year candidate in Kyle Filipowski who is equally dangerous in the paint as he is beyond the 3-point line. But Jon Scheyer’s team lacks a dominant inside presence on defense and has been vulnerable to bigger, more physical teams such as UNC and Clemson. For Duke to be successful, it will need to shoot well and hope point guard Tyrese Proctor can find the consistency he had at the end of last season. And even then, how far they go in March will depend a lot on its matchups.
Ceiling: Elite 8
Record: 15-7 (5-6). NET: 31
The conversation surrounding the Tigers would be much different had they been able to close out Duke at Cameron and make a shot at the end of regulation in an overtime loss to Virginia over the past few games. But by winning in Chapel Hill on Tuesday, they were able to put any talk about the bubble to rest. Clemson’s biggest issue is closing out close games. But because of its size, physicality and experience, Brad Brownell’s team is the type that has the potential to give a higher seed fits.
Ceiling: Sweet 16
Record: 15-7 (7-4). NET: 32
The Deacons aren’t getting a lot of love nationally. But what else is new? It’s business as usual for a team representing the nation’s smallest Power conference school to be overlooked. But don’t sleep on Steve Forbes’ team. Its record is deceiving because of the changes its roster has endured. Wake has added a big-time rim protector (Efton Reid) and a proven 3-point marksman (Damari Monsanto) since the start of the season and are still in the process of evolving. The Deacons have plenty of offensive weapons. How far they go will depend on how well they defend.
Ceiling: 2nd round
Record: 18-5 (9-3). NET: 34
The Cavaliers are looking more like a vintage Tony Bennett team than they did since an uncharacteristic start that saw them lose their first 3 conference games by an average of 19 points. They’ve won 7 straight and suddenly find themselves just 1 game out of the league lead with games against UNC and Duke still to play. The difference, as it usually is with UVa, has been on defense. The Cavaliers held Miami to just 38 points on Monday and are No. 1 in the ACC in scoring defense at just 56.9 points per game. But they can’t afford any lapses. Not with an offense that ranks only 14th out of 15 teams in scoring and a recent history of opening-round exits.
Ceiling: Sweet 16
Handicapping the best of the rest
Pitt has a lot of work left to do at No. 63 in the NET. But after digging itself into a 1-5 hole in the ACC, Jeff Capel’s team has hit its stride. The Panthers’ most valuable asset is their upset of Duke at Cameron, a victory that will likely be more than just a garden-variety Quad 1 win in the eyes of the committee. They’ve won 5 of their past 6 to get back to .500 in the ACC and are 15-8 overall. With games at UVa, Wake Forest and Virginia still on the schedule, there are ample opportunities to advance in the rankings, get into the First 4 and win a couple of games as they did a year ago. …
Miami, at 15-8 (6-6) and No. 69 in the NET, isn’t the same team that advanced to the Final Four in 2023. But like Pitt, the Hurricanes also have the schedule – including 2 cracks at UNC and a home game against Duke – to make a late push to get back into the Tournament. …
Virginia Tech, despite having the best NET among those ACC teams outside the top 5 at No. 54, and NC State which is in dire straits at No. 78, are extreme longshots at best – though the Wolfpack have the more realistic path because of more remaining Quad 1 opportunities. But it’s going to take stringing several wins together to have any shot of getting back onto the bubble. That’s something the Hokies (13-9, 5-6) and Wolfpack (15-8, 7-5) had had trouble doing.