The last week of the regular season is upon us, which means that phase 2 of the college basketball season is about to end. If the first phase of the season features a large number of non-conference games, then the second phase primarily consists of conference games. Both of the first two phases, in addition to the third phase (a conference tournament), sets up the fourth and most important phase: the chase for the national championship. The last week of the regular season is important for teams looking to play their way into the NCAA tournament, as well as teams looking to improve their seeding in either the conference or the national tournament.
Barring a minor miracle, the only thing for certain heading into next week’s ACC tournament is that Wake Forest will be the lowest seed. Just about every other spot is up for grabs, even at the top. Thanks to a Duke loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday, and a North Carolina win over Maryland on Sunday, the Blue Devils and Tar Heels are tied atop the conference standings. Should both teams get past their midweek foes (Clemson and Florida State, respectively) it sets up a showdown on Saturday night for the regular season conference title. While relatively important in terms of ACC tournament seeding, it may not be the most important game of the week in the conference. There are several games involving teams who may be playing for their tournament lives this week.
While there aren’t many projections among the bracketologists giving the ACC seven bids in the NCAA tournament, the top seven teams in the conference standings have been listed as either already in (Duke, North Carolina), near-locks (Florida State) or on the bubble (Virginia Tech, Clemson, Boston College and Maryland). The consensus seems to be that five teams will represent the conference in March Madness, so if that is the case, it is a question of which of the four teams on the bubble will fill the two projected slots. Right now, the Hokies appear as close as possible to being included, thanks to their big win over Duke-but finishing the season strong by winning their two remaining games and getting a tournament win should put them over the top. The Hokies will face two teams also playing for a tournament berth, as well as improving their seeding in the ACC tournament in Boston College and Clemson. Needless to say the Hokies can ill-afford a letdown in either of those contests or in the ACC tournament, or they may be sweating it out on another Selection Sunday.
Maryland appears to be in the worst shape of the four teams. Having been swept by both Boston College and Virginia Tech, the Terps can claim a victory over Florida State, but even it comes with an asterisk-Chris Singleton, the Seminoles best player missed the game because of injury. And with a chance to get themselves a signature win lost after falling to the Tar Heels, it appears the Terps may have to win out in the regular season and win perhaps two ACC tournament games to have a shot of being included in the big dance. The regular season games against Miami and Virginia are winnable, but cannot be taken for granted even in a down year for the conference.
As for Boston College and Clemson, both figure to be battling down to the last days for a spot in the NCAA tournament. The Tigers appear to have the tougher path this week, facing co-leader Duke on the road before closing out with Virginia Tech at home; while the Eagles head to Blacksburg to face the Hokies and end their campaign with a home game against last place Wake. By the time the dust settles next Sunday evening, we all will be ready for another exciting ACC tournament, where anything can happen.