The final month of college basketballs regular season is upon us, and races are taking shape in the ACC.
There is the race for first place and the right to be called regular-season champion. The race for one of fourcoveted double-byes in the ACC tournament. And the race for whatever comfort might come from avoiding the embarrassment of playing on ACC tournament Wednesday, amid a general admission crowd and a Scotty McCreery concert.
Syracuse and Virginia seem destined for automatic entry into the ACC tournament quarterfinals. At the bottom of conference, Virginia Tech and Boston College appeared destined for first-day dates with Scotty.
In between the extremes, there is much sorting out to be done.
It appears the ACC has four NCAA tournament locks: Syracuse, Virginia, Duke and Pittsburgh, but only the Orange as of now, at least are in the running for a No. 1 seed. After those four, there are a lot of questions.
Six teams Clemson, North Carolina, Florida State, Maryland, N.C. State and Wake Forest have hope, some more realistic than others, of making the tournament. Were 37 days away from Selection Sunday. Consider this a primer:
Best case: The Orange continue to roll and wind up with the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament.
Worst case: A difficult remaining schedule takes its toll and Syracuse enters the tournament as a No. 2 or 3.
Best case: The Cavaliers win their next six, of which the most difficult is at Clemson on Feb. 15, and set up a colossal clash in Charlottesville against Syracuse on March 1.
Worst case: Virginia loses a game or two it shouldnt and enters the ACC tournament seeking to rebuild momentum. Really, Virginia should finish no worse than 15-3 in the ACC, and that has to translate into nice tournament seed.
Best case: Victories next week against Syracuse and UNC after what should be an easy game Saturday against Virginia Tech make the Panthers a serious contender for the regular-season championship.
Worst case: Pitt loses those two and continues without a marquee victory something that could, and probably would, hurt its seeding.
Best case: The Blue Devils win their next four, including Wednesday at UNC, to set up Game of the Year: Part II at Cameron Indoor against Syracuse on Feb. 22. If the Blue Devils win out and they looked as formidable as they have all year during that overtime loss at Syracuse last weekend they could end the season in the conversation for a top seed.
Worst case: Even if Duke doesnt reach its Syracuse level again, the remaining schedule is the ACCs third-easiest. There are probably a maximum of two possible losses left at UNC and at home against Syracuse. Its difficult to see the Blue Devils falling below a No. 3 seed.
On the Bubble
Two ACC teams are on the better half of the bubble: North Carolina and Florida State.
Clemson is in the middle of it, and Maryland and N.C. State are on the wrong side. Wake Forest, at 4-6 in the ACC, has a faint pulse that could grow stronger with victories in its next two against N.C. State and Florida State.
The next week and a half or so is crucial for the ACCs bubble teams. What to watch:
• UNC begins its most difficult four-game stretch of the conference season: at Notre Dame on Saturday, then home against Duke and Pitt, and a trip to the Tar Heels (at times) house of horrors in Tallahassee, Fla., against FSU.
• Speaking of the Seminoles. Are they a legit tournament team? Victories in their next three at Maryland, vs. Miami and at Wake Forest would make believers out of people. Those are games FSU should win, and needs to win, if it wants to be taken seriously.
• Poor Maryland. The Terrapins are clinging to tournament hopes but their next three games are at home against FSU and then Virginia and Duke on the road. Is it a coincidence that Maryland, leaving for the Big Ten after this season, has the most difficult remaining schedule in the ACC?
• N.C. State was left searching for answers after a poor showing in Chapel Hill last weekend. The Wolfpack can stay in the discussion with victories at Miami and at home against Wake Forest. That would give N.C. State a winning ACC record for its trip to Syracuse on Feb. 15.
Ranking remaining schedules
From most difficult to easiest, the ACCs remaining schedules (opponent ACC winning percentage): Maryland (.641), Syracuse (.552), Georgia Tech (.545), Virginia Tech (.545), Clemson (.529), Notre Dame (.520), Boston College (.506), Florida State (.487), Wake Forest (.480), Pittsburgh (.467), UNC (.461), N.C. State (.452), Duke (.447), Miami (.442), Virginia (.442).
Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter