Brian O’Connor isn’t quite sure how to read the tea leaves for the ACC baseball tournament this week in Durham.
The Virginia coach has won the tournament twice, in 2009 and 2011, both times in Durham, where 10 teams will vie for the official ACC championship this week at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
The Cavaliers, the No. 3 seed, have won five straight ACC series this season, including taking two games from No. 1 seed Miami on the road, and they’ve gone 12-2 in the past 14 games.
That kind of momentum could mean everything. Then again, it might mean nothing.
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“I don’t know,” O’Connor said Monday. “I don’t have this thing figured out.”
Virginia, the No. 7 seed in last year’s tournament in Durham, won its play-in game and then went 0-3 in pool play and was outscored 27-9 in the process.
What happened next? O’Connor led the Cavaliers to the ACC’s first national title in 60 years.
So when ACC coaches argue the conference tournament is more difficult than the four-team regional round of the NCAA tournament, it’s not standard coach-hypes-his-conference hyperbole.
“I’m not sure you have as many quality teams in any (NCAA regional),” said N.C. State coach Elliott Avent, whose team has been the runner-up in the ACC tournament five times since 2001, including last year.
Louisville coach Dan McDonnell, in his second year in the league, has been a quick study.
“No disrespect to anyone else, but you have to say this is the toughest tournament in the country, this year especially,” McDonnell said.
To McDonnell’s point, his team (46-10, 22-8 ACC) is ranked No. 1 in the RPI but is the No. 2 seed in the tournament behind Miami (43-10, 21-7).
The Canes (No. 3), N.C. State (No. 7) and Clemson (No. 10) join the Cardinals in the RPI’s top 10. Of the 10 teams in the field, eight are in the top 25 of the RPI, with Wake Forest (26) and Boston College (No. 35) not far behind.
North Carolina is ranked No. 15 in the RPI but didn’t win enough conference games to qualify for the tournament.
If we don’t make the NCAA tournament, it will be the crime of the century.
Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall
The ACC has been so tough this year, Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall was emphatic in making his case for his team’s inclusion in the 64-team NCAA field.
“If we don’t make the NCAA tournament, it will be the crime of the century,” Hall said.
Not surprisingly, the ACC is the No. 1-ranked conference by the RPI computer formula.
“There’s so much talent and parity in this league,” McDonnell said.
Which makes what the Cardinals have done in their first two seasons in the ACC remarkable. Louisville went 25-5 last year and backed that up with a 22-8 mark this year.
But, as McDonnell learned last year in Durham, regular-season success does not guarantee postseason success. The Cardinals went 1-2 in pool play last year.
After a series sweep at Wake Forest last week, McDonnell asked his players on the bus to raise their hands if they had won a regular-season title. They all did. His seniors have actually won regular-season titles in three different conferences (Big East and American Athletic before joining the ACC in 2014).
Then he asked the players to raise their hands if they had a tournament title. No one did.
The conference tournament can be an elusive goal and usually is unpredictable. Georgia Tech, as the No. 9 seed, went from the play-in round to the title in 2014.
Virginia’s O’Connor wasn’t sure what was going to happen last year after his team limped out of Durham.
This year, with his team on a hot streak, O’Connor is not sure what will happen in Durham, but he knows by Sunday, the conference champion will have earned the title.
“To have 10 teams of the caliber that we have, boy, to outlast all of them is pretty amazing,” O’Connor said.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
ACC Baseball Championship
The ACC tournament starts Tuesday with the play-in round at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Tuesday’s winners advance to pool play, which is a round-robin format. The team with the best record in each pool moves on to Sunday’s title game.
All games, except Sunday’s title game, will be aired on Fox Sports Carolinas. ESPN2 will broadcast the championship game.
No. 1 Miami (43-10, 21-7 ACC)
No. 4 Florida State (34-19, 16-10)
No. 5 N.C. State (34-18, 15-13)
No. 8 Boston College (31-19, 13-15)
No. 9 Georgia Tech (35-20, 13-16)
No. 2 Louisville (46-10, 22-8 ACC)
No. 3 Virginia (36-18, 19-11)
No. 6 Clemson (38-18, 16-14)
No. 7 Duke (33-21, 14-15)
No. 10 Wake Forest (32-23, 13-17)
No. 7 Duke vs. No. 10 Wake Forest, 11 a.m.
No. 8 Boston College vs. No. 9 Georgia Tech, 3 p.m.
No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 5 N.C. State, 11 a.m.
No. 1 Miami vs. BC-Georgia Tech winner, 3 p.m.
No. 2 Louisville vs. Duke-Wake Forest winner, 7 p.m.
No. 3 Virginia vs. No. 6 Clemson, 11 a.m.
No. 4 Florida State vs. BC-Georgia Tech winner, 3 p.m.
No. 1 Miami vs. No. 5 N.C. State, 7 p.m.
No. 2 Louisville vs. No. 6 Clemson, 11 a.m.
No. 3 Virginia vs. Duke-Wake Forest winner, 3 p.m.
No. 5 N.C. State vs. BC-Georgia Tech winner, 7 p.m.
No. 6 Clemson vs. Duke-Wake Forest winner, 11 a.m.
No. 1 Miami vs. No. 4 Florida State, 3 p.m.
No. 2 Louisville vs. No. 3 Virginia, 7 p.m.
Pool A winner vs. Pool B winner, noon (ESPN2)