Though there have been a few scattered conference games played in the ACC so far (including Duke’s win over Miami on Sunday night), the conference schedule begins in earnest on Saturday. Five conference games are on the schedule, as the college basketball season begins to gear up to March Madness. After Sunday, every ACC team will have played one conference game, and several will have two on the ledger.
If you are a fan of Bracketology, Joe Lunardi just released his first bracket of 2011 and his projection lists five ACC teams in the field (for the record-Duke, North Carolina, Boston College, Florida State and Virginia Tech). Of course it is way early to speculate on what teams will be in or out, but the non-conference portion of the schedule plays a significant part in a team’s resume come March. Few ACC teams can claim signature wins so far, but every team save Wake Forest has a winning record as of this date. What does that mean? Not a lot really, because teams will have plenty of opportunities to build their cases for inclusion in the NCAA tournament with strong play over the next two months.
For many teams, the second part of that case begins with conference play. Often a winning conference record, paired with some quality out-of-conference wins can get put you in the field. A team like Maryland, for example, can get a signature win if it can pull off the upset on Sunday of top-ranked, undefeated Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Terps may be a long shot to pull it off, but Gary Williams’ teams almost always play the Blue Devils tough. The Terps could use a win, having already dropped their first conference game to Boston College back in December. Maryland is listed as one of the first eight teams out of the field by Lunardi on his first bracket.
In other matchups (all on Saturday): North Carolina travels to Charlottesville to take on an up and down Virginia squad; the struggling Demon Deacons of Wake Forest head to Raleigh to take on North Carolina State; Florida State, so impressive in Hawaii, but coming off a loss to a .500 Auburn team will take on the Hokies in Blacksburg; inconsistent Georgia Tech heads north to face the Eagles of Boston College; and the Hurricanes of Miami (listed as one of the first four out by Lunardi) take on Clemson.