The ACC baseball tournament started on Tuesday at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park but N.C. State won’t play until Thursday.
The format (and tiebreaker) can be confusing.
You have questions (mostly on Twitter), I have answers (consolidated here for your convenience).
OK, what’s the deal with the format? And why all the fuss?
The format is not the source of consternation.
There are 12 teams (Boston College and Virginia Tech didn’t make it) split up into four pools. Each team plays two games in pool play and the winners from pool play advance to the semifinals.
The problem, in the relative sense, is the tiebreaker. The top seed in each pool advances if all three teams finish with a 1-1 record.
Why is that a problem? Well, N.C. State, the top seed in Pool C, and Virginia will play in a game on Thursday (3 p.m.) that has no meaning. Each pool will have one such game.
It doesn’t matter what happens between the Wolfpack and Cavaliers since Florida State beat UVA (3-2 in 11 innings) on Tuesday. The winner of the State-FSU game on Friday advances to the semifinals (which will be played on Saturday).
Is that really a problem? No and yes. There’s nothing wrong with putting value in the regular season (which this format does) but there’s also nothing wrong with using a run aggregate (scored, allowed, differential) to determine the tiebreaker.
If it’s good enough for the World Cup and the NFL, then it’s good enough for ACC baseball.
So why did they go to this format?
Two-fold: To get as many teams into the NCAA tournament as possible and to give their best teams the best chance to succeed in the NCAA tournament.
The ACC has been one of the best conference in college baseball for decades but only has one national title in the past 60 years (Virginia in 2015) to show for its efforts.
The double-elimination setup was (and still is) the most fair but it’s unduly taxing on a team’s pitching the week before the NCAA tournament.
The 10-team format, with two play-in games and two pools, was easy enough but the league’s coaches felt it was hurting a bubble team’s chances to make the NCAA field.
So last year, they expanded to 12 teams and went to this format. More teams get a chance to pick up valuable wins and the top teams are rewarded for their success from the regular season.
Does N.C. State have a legit shot to win this thing?
Yes. This format is actually a better setup for the Wolfpack than the double-elimination format for the NCAA regional.
N.C. State has won 40 games this season without a wealth of pitching depth (injuries have been the biggest problem). Coach Elliott Avent has made it work with an ace (Brian Brown), a reliable starter (freshman Reid Johnston) and a match set (lefty Kent Klyman and righty Joe O’Donnell) in the bullpen.
With Thursday’s game with UVA now a glorified scrimmage, Avent can mix and match and concentrate on FSU. He could potentially save Brown, the ACC pitcher of the year, for the semifinals. The title game on Sunday is usually a hitting contest, which suits what N.C. State does best.
Avent, in his 22nd season, has led the Wolfpack to the championship game five times (most recently in Durham in 2015) but has not won the title. N.C. State’s last ACC title was in 1992.
Who else could be the last team standing on Sunday?
North Carolina, the No. 1 overall seed, is definitely the favorite. The Tar Heels have pitching for days and have the added bonus of the return of expected ace Luca Dalatri from season-long injury.
FSU has some serious mojo. The Seminoles, who sputtered to a 16-13 ACC mark, have won three of the past four games with “walk-off” hits. They’ve also won the tournament in two of the past three years (and seven times under coach Mike Martin).
Clemson and Duke, the other two top pool seeds, will also have say. Duke, which is a classic pitching/defense team, went 25-2 at the DBAP (its home field) this season, including a series win over UNC.
What does it mean when you tweet #earmuffs?
Ah, prepare yourself for the glory of video review. If you thought football’s “instant” replay was laborious, you’re in for a treat.
The ACC adopted replay this season for out/safe calls (thankfully not balls/strikes). Each coach gets two challenges per game.
After a coach challenges a call, the head umpire will cup his hands around his ears to signal the call has been challenged. He is also effectively imitating Vince Vaughn’s tender-eared son in the movie “Old School," hence the hashtag.
The replays, as you can imagine, are not exactly expedient. Between the rain, college coaches’ proclivity for mid-count pitching changes and the incessant infield meetings, you could watch “Avengers: Infinity War” twice during a typical college game.
On the plus side, they do sell beer.
Georgia Tech’s Xzavion Curry pitched on Tuesday. Did I already miss the best name in the tournament?
Ooh, to each his own when it comes to the All-Name team, but Curry is actually third on the Jackets’ roster behind Tristin English and Paxton Rigby.
When he’s not rooting for the Tar Heels, I gotta believe Roy Williams will take an interest in Wake Forest shortstop Patrick Frick.
There’s no shortage of actual Tar Heels on the All-Name team. Not quite in the class of Skye Bolt (a first-ballot All-Name Hall-of-Famer), Satchel Jerzembeck is still a strong candidate.
Clemson, led by the duo of Grayson Byrd and Bo Gobin, might win by volume but as long as N.C. State right fielder Brock Deatherage (Death Rage!) is around, the All-Name crown is his.