Top-heavy ACC could come down to Duke-UNC rivalry

Kevin Pulsifer

The ACC, which was widely heralded as the “new Big East” has had its ups and downs in its first full year with Louisville and without Maryland. 

Interestingly enough, Maryland is ranked higher than Louisville in the polls and has had a collectively better year. Nevertheless, the ACC is still poised to rank among the top conferences in number of bids.

Locks: Virginia, Duke, Notre Dame, Louisville, North Carolina. Virginia, even with its loss to Louisville, should still earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs, and the Blue Devils, riding the top-25 rivalry win from Saturday night, should stay at the top line as well.

Notre Dame has looked unstoppable on the offensive side all year, and will probably end up with a 3-4 seed. Louisville and UNC have both looked mortal at times, but have many top-tier wins that could propel them deep into any tournament.

North Carolina State is a more interesting case-study, as their record stands at just 19-12, and 10-8 in-conference, but have dominant wins over Duke, UNC, and Louisville by an average of 11 points. They faltered against lowly Boston College, but should be in the mix for a 9-12 seed, depending on their performance in the tournament.

A true bubble team, Miami possesses some decent wins, and no glaringly awful losses, but still stands in the “First Four Out” grouping according to Joe Lunardi’s bracketology. With only one truly outstanding victory—against Duke nearly two months ago, Miami needs to overperform in the tournament, not simply stand pat.

Second Round: NC State should be able to hold off Pittsburgh, who struggled mightily this year and finished sub-.500 in-conference. Clemson vs. Florida State should be a low-scoring affair that will give the winner a chance to beat top-seeded Virginia. Meanwhile, UNC and Miami won’t have too hard a time winning their matchups against play-in game winners Boston College, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest or Virginia Tech.

Quarterfinals: Virginia, even if Justin Anderson still hasn’t returned yet, can handle the Tigers or Seminoles, neither of whom are extremely strong from behind the arc. We could also see a potential rematch between NC State and Duke, and a final decision on Miami as they take on Notre Dame. 

The Irish don’t have a great defense, and are certainly vulnerable to an upset if the Hurricanes play well.

Prediction: If Virginia doesn’t get their mojo back, they could fall in the semifinals to the UNC/Lousiville winner. I’ll say the Tar Heels take the matchup, and advance to the finals against a Duke squad that wins by double-digits in each of their first two games. 

That being said, it’s extremely tough to beat a team three times, especially in the Duke-UNC rivalry. Look out for North Carolina to cut down the nets and make a run for a strong No. 3 seed in March Madness.