Monday, February 2, 2009

ACC in a bind again

Just when Virginia Tech appeared to be stepping on the accelerator in its drive for an NCAA tournament bid, it crashed at home against Clemson and at Boston College last week.

Florida State self-destructed on offense against North Carolina and allowed Ty Lawson to torpedo its chances of adding a huge win for its NCAA tournament resume. With that, ACC teams approached the halfway point of conference play in the same predicament as last season.

Once again, the conference is strong at the top, with Duke, North Carolina and Wake Forest having all been ranked No. 1 in the polls this season. Clemson, which is 4-2 in conference play with impressive nonconference road wins at Illinois and South Carolina, also is in good shape to sew up an NCAA bid.

But after getting just four teams to the NCAA tournament in 2008, the 12-team ACC is in danger of not doing much better than that in 2009. The problem is that a couple teams that would be considered “on the bubble” have serious flaws:

- Virginia Tech (14-7, 4-3 ACC) has no nonconference wins over teams in the top 80 of the RPI, having lost to Xavier, Seton Hall, Wisconsin and (ugh) Georgia.

- Boston College (17-6, 5-3) has a strong ACC record but lost at home to Harvard. The Eagles’ best nonconference win came against Alabama-Birmingham, which was No. 44 in the RPI according to as of late Sunday night.

- Maryland (14-7, 3-4) has a chance to get to .500 in the conference but needs to win Tuesday at North Carolina to do it and has lost at home to Morgan State.

The only saving grace for those teams is that unlike Virginia Tech last season, they all have marquee wins away from their home courts.

Virginia Tech won at Wake Forest, Boston College shocked North Carolina in Chapel Hill and Maryland hammered Michigan State in Orlando, Fla.

And Florida State (16-5, 3-3), despite stumbling late against the Tar Heels, has solid nonconference wins over Cincinnati, California and Florida under its belt.

But Karl Hicks, the ACC’s associate commissioner for men’s basketball, worried aloud last week that schools in the conference that aren’t recognized as traditional basketball powers were being overlooked in the rankings.

“They suffer when it comes to the popularity contest aspect of the polls,” Hick said. “So then you have to rely on the RPI.”

Florida State, which is No. 25 in the RPI but 29th in points in last week’s Associated Press’ rankings, sort of fits that description. Hicks hopes the members of the Division I men’s basketball committee will recognize the accomplishments of ACC candidates for the NCAA tournament regardless of their history and tradition.
But those teams need to get the job done on the court first.