NC State takes the floor in Brooklyn
In a borough known for its diversity – if not its barbeque, despite a bizarre claim over the weekend – it’s perhaps fitting that the ACC’s second and potentially final visit to Brooklyn offers an unprecedented diversity of teams that actually think they can win the tournament.
OK, some of that is because there are 15 teams instead of nine, or even 12. But of those 15, a full two-thirds really believe they can win this thing.
Not Pittsburgh, obviously, which is even worse than the winless Boston College team that delivered “going out to eat” as the fondest memory of Dennis Clifford’s career two years ago in Washington. And not Syracuse, since Jim Boeheim still has more tournament rants about Greensboro (one) than career ACC tournament wins (none). You can probably write off Wake Forest and Louisville, too – any of the Tuesday teams other than Notre Dame, which is no ordinary Tuesday team.
As for everyone else, why not?
Virginia’s regular-season dominance notwithstanding, Brooklyn has the potential to be totally nuts.
At the end of a regular season that saw the No. 1 seed set a record for league wins, it’s a little strange that this may be the most wide-open ACC tournament since 2010, when two double-digit seeds made the semis, or 2004 when sixth-seeded Maryland won despite a booster’s security guard shooting himself in the butt in the middle of a game.
There’s just so little separating these teams, anything could happen. And Virginia isn’t far enough ahead of the pack to be immune.
With a four-way tie for third place and Bonzie Colson back for Notre Dame and plenty of strength right on down the line, the five teams that start Wednesday will feel just as good about their chances as the four with double byes, and the revitalized Irish will be thinking about winning five games in five days.
There’s never been a tournament like this in part because there never could have been a tournament like this until 2005, when the ACC went from nine to 12 teams. Even since then, the top seed has rolled to the title more than half the time.
There’s been more than enough chaos this season to believe that won’t happen this time around. Virginia Tech beat Virginia and Duke and North Carolina. N.C. State beat Duke and Clemson and North Carolina. Florida State beat Clemson. Notre Dame beat N.C. State. The defending national champions are the sixth seed. Anyone can beat anyone.
Even though Virginia lost only once during the regular season, there’s still a 61 percent chance someone other than the Cavaliers wins the tournament, per Ken Pomeroy’s calculations. And while teams like Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Florida State, N.C. State and Louisville all have less than a 2 percent chance, someone has to win if Virginia doesn’t – and there’s a 7 percent chance one of those teams wins, which are decent enough odds.
Virginia Tech and N.C. State in particular feel like spoilers on each side of the bracket, with their history of big wins.
Notre Dame’s path to the title game isn’t particularly foreboding: Notre Dame: Pitt, Virginia Tech, Duke, Miami/UNC. After Pitt, the other four potential opponents combined to lose 27 ACC games. They’re far from invincible.
So, for that matter, is Virginia. If the Cavaliers can lose at home to the Hokies, certainly they can lose on a neutral court to N.C. State, which went 7-7 against likely NCAA tournament teams.
Duke became the first team to win four games in four days to win the title last year. Anything is possible. Especially in Brooklyn, where everybody and everything feels a little out of place anyway.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock