You already know that N.C. State endured a dreadful 79-63 defeat at Boston College on Saturday. But do you know how bad that loss was for the Wolfpack, and where it ranks among other ACC upsets?
Forget, for a moment, the NCAA tournament implications. After jumping off the tournament bubble with a victory at No. 15 North Carolina last week, the Wolfpack landed right back on it after the no-show performance at Boston College.
So that was bad enough. Equally perturbing for N.C. State: This was the worst loss – or the biggest upset, whichever you prefer – in ACC play this season.
At least according to rankings at kenpom.com, where for years Ken Pomeroy has applied his expertise in statistics to college basketball. N.C. State entered Saturday 33rd nationally in Pomeroy’s rankings. Boston College was 150th.
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There hasn’t been a wider gap between a victorious lower-ranked team and a higher-ranked loser in conference play this season. And it has to make you wonder, or maybe it did just me: Where does Boston College’s victory rank among recent surprising upsets in the ACC?
No other time this season has a team No. 100 or worse in Pomeroy’s rankings beaten a team ranked among the top 50 at the time of the game. Then-No. 112 Wake Forest beat then-No. 54 N.C. State on Feb. 3. And Wake Forest (then No. 114) beat Miami (then 61st) on Feb. 11.
That’s as close it gets – this season, anyway – to what Boston College did Saturday.
Upsets – big upsets – have been rare in conference play this season. For all the talk about parity, and there’s a lot of it, there haven’t been many results in conference play that have been stunning.
Sure, Duke did lose to N.C. State and Miami in consecutive games. Both of those teams, though, could make the NCAA tournament. Boston College, meanwhile, had long clinched a losing record, and its victory against the Wolfpack was just its second conference win this season.
While major upsets have been rare this season, they weren’t so much last season. Four times, a team below No. 100 in Pomeroy’s ranking – and in these cases those teams were ranked well into the 100s – beat an opponent ranked among the top 50.
Three of those times, the higher ranked team was among the top 15 teams nationally at the time of the game. Last season Wake Forest (135) beat Duke (4) and Georgia Tech (137) beat Syracuse (11) toward the end of the regular season.
Not too far before that happened, Syracuse took its first ACC loss against Boston College. The Eagles at the time were 152nd nationally, according to Pomeroy, and the Orange was fifth.
The season before that, during 2012-13, Wake Forest provided the ACC’s most surprising upsets. The Deacons finished the season ranked 134th nationally and won six ACC games – three against Virginia, N.C. State and Miami, all of which were ranked among the top 30 teams at the time they lost against Wake Forest.
The biggest upset in recent ACC history, according to Pomeroy’s data, happened in 2012 when a Boston College team that was ranked 259th at the time defeated No. 17 Florida State, which went on to win the ACC tournament.
Those teams were separated by 242 places in the rankings and in the Pomeroy era – his website includes data dating to the 2001-02 season – no other upset really comes close to that one. According to Pomeroy’s data, here are the top five upsets – based on the gap in rankings – in ACC play during the past five seasons (dating to the 2010-11 season):
▪ No. 251 Boston College over No. 17 Florida State, 2012.
▪ No. 271 Boston College over No. 82 Clemson, 2012.
▪ No. 152 Boston College over No. 5 Syracuse, 2014.
▪ No. 131 Wake Forest over No. 4 Duke, 2014.
▪ No. 202 Virginia Tech over No. 71 Miami, 2014.
An interesting part about researching this: The worst teams in the ACC in recent seasons have been really, really bad. Starting about the 2010-11 season, the worst teams in the ACC took being bad to another level.
Before that season, and dating to the start of Pomeroy’s data in 2002, there had never been an ACC team ranked below 140th nationally. And even going that low was rare. Since the 2010-11 season, though, six ACC teams have been ranked worse than 140th nationally – and the worst of the worst of those teams have finished the season ranked in the 200s.
So the bottom of the conference is worse than it has been and some of the league’s better teams, judging by the upsets in recent seasons, aren’t as good as they used to be, either.
ACC tournament tiebreakers
By this time next week the ACC tournament pairings will be set, and those pairings mostly have come into focus, anyway. We know second-ranked Virginia, No. 4 Duke and No. 9 Notre Dame have clinched double-byes, but the fourth seed is up for grabs between Louisville (11-5 ACC) and UNC (10-6).
There’s a decent enough chance that the 17th-ranked Cardinals and No. 15 Tar Heels end up tied with 12-6 conference records – or even 11-7 records if Louisville loses to Notre Dame and Virginia, and if UNC beats Georgia Tech but loses again to Duke next weekend.
So what happens if UNC and Louisville, which split their regular-season games, end up tied? The fourth seed would be determined by their records against the teams higher than them in the standings.
UNC and Louisville, for now, are winless against Virginia, Duke and Notre Dame. UNC is 1-0 against sixth-place Syracuse, which beat Louisville, so the Tar Heels do have the advantage there.
If the Tar Heels and Cardinals finish tied, what happens this week would go a long way toward determining the tiebreaker. Louisville will play two teams ahead of it in the standings, and UNC still has its second game against Duke.