The ACC regular season is over. All 15 teams are seeded and heading to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. for the conference tournament—some are aiming to make a run to the NCAA tournament, while others are just solidifying their place in the league. With nine teams projected to move on to the biggest event in March, the ACC Tournament features talented, explosive teams, and is shaping up to be as entertaining as ever. The obvious favorite is No. 1 Virginia, who was picked sixth in the conference preseason poll but claimed the top seed for the third time in five years.
1) Virginia (28-2, 17-1 ACC) (AP Poll: No. 1)
First Round: Double Bye
The Cavaliers finished with the nation’s top defensive efficiency (83.9), and it wasn’t even close. They allowed a full 3.1 points per 100 possessions fewer than second-place Cincinnati and 9.3 points fewer than the closest ACC team (Clemson). UVA’s defense has always been its strength, and it showed in conference play—opponents shot just 29.5 percent from 3-point range and turned it over 20.7 percent of the time. The road to the ACC Championship runs through the Cavaliers, whose only conference loss was a one-point overtime defeat to Virginia Tech.
2) Duke (25-6, 13-5) (AP Poll: No. 5) ↑ 1
First Round: Double Bye
It seemed fitting on Saturday night that when three-year starter Grayson Allen checked out on Senior Night with a win over rival North Carolina, head coach Mike Krzyzewski gave him a long, meaningful hug. The senior has had his ups and downs on Tobacco Road, but he played some of his best basketball down the stretch when Marvin Bagley III was injured—he averaged 23.8 points and five assists during the four-game stretch. With Bagley back, the sky’s the limit for the Blue Devils. After all, the freshman phenom led all players with 21 points and 15 rebounds against the Tar Heels.
3) North Carolina (22-9, 11-7) (AP Poll: No. 9) ↓ 1
First Round: Bye, plays winner of Syracuse/Wake Forest
UNC lost its last two games of the regular season, but the first came on a buzzer-beating 35-foot runner against Miami, and the second was a road loss to Duke—both tough defeats, but understandable. It’s the basketball before those two games that sticks out on paper. The Tar Heels won six straight, beating the likes of Pittsburgh, Duke, North Carolina State, Notre Dame, Louisville, and Syracuse. Five of those six are quality wins, with three of them coming on the road. Forward Luke Maye has made his case of the ACC’s Most Improved Player, finishing the regular season averaging 17.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. He raised his scoring average 12.3 points from last year, a remarkable growth from a player who started just one game a season ago and averaged under 15 minutes per game.
4) Clemson (22-8, 11-7) (AP Poll: No. 18) ↑ 3
First Round: Double Bye
The Tigers have played in the ACC since the 1953-54 season, but have never won the conference tournament. All in all, they’ve gone just 19-64 in postseason play. Still, this team might have the best shot the program’s had in a while. Clemson finished fourth in the conference with a .611 winning percentage in ACC play, it’s highest mark since 2007-08. That year, the No. 22 Tigers finished third and knocked off No. 9 Duke in the semifinals before falling in the championship game to top-ranked and eventual Final Four squad UNC. Clemson guard Marcquise Reed has scored 20-plus points in three of his last four games and has stepped up in the absence of Donte Grantham. The Tigers’ biggest strength, though, is their defense—they finished fifth in the country in defensive efficiency, including a top-20 block percentage.
5) Miami (22-8, 11-7)
First Round: Double Bye
Miami won its final four games by a grand total of eight points, quickly earning the moniker of the “cardiac kids.” The Hurricanes fought off a late Notre Dame rally to win, 77-74, at the start of the streak, then needed Lonnie Walker IV’s game-winning 3-pointer with two seconds left to beat Boston College. Three days later, Ja’Quan Newton helped Miami stun UNC with a 35-foot prayer. Throw in a go-ahead free throw with three seconds left from 5-foot-7 freshman guard Chris Lykes against Virginia Tech, and it’s clear that Miami has shown that “it” factor down the stretch that is so valuable in March. Top 50 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, the Hurricanes are a balanced team that could be looking at a rematch with the Tar Heels coming off the bye.
6) Notre Dame (18-13, 8-10) ↑ 4
First Round: Pittsburgh
Why is the 10th-seeded team all the way up here? Simply, the return of Bonzie Colson. The Irish went 6-9 in conference play without the All-American, and his return was immediately noticeable. Colson, despite missing two months with a broken foot, has played excellently in his two games since returning to the lineup. He had 12 points and six rebounds in 21 minutes of a Senior Night win against Pittsburgh, then erupted for a 24-point, 10-rebound double-double in the season finale against UVA. Notre Dame is a different team with him, so expect the Irish to make a run in the conference tourney. Their journey starts off easy—the Panthers didn’t win a game in conference play.
7) Virginia Tech (21-10, 10-8) ↓ 3
First Round: Bye, winner of Pittsburgh/Notre Dame
VTech alternated wins and losses in its last four games, picking up impressive victories over Duke and Clemson, while faltering against Miami and Louisville. It’s hard to tell what team you’ll get on a given night, but one thing’s for sure—the Hokies shouldn’t be taken lightly. VTech went 4-9 against teams ranked in the top 50 in RPI and has the offense to give you fits. It finished fifth in the conference in points per game (80.2), the product of the conference’s best marksmen. The Hokies shot 39 percent from 3-point range and an even higher 57 percent from within the arc, good for second in the country.
8) North Carolina State (21-10, 11-7)
First Round: Bye, winner of Boston College and Georgia Tech
Rest assured, the Wolfpack won’t let UNC live down the fact that it finished ahead of the Tar Heels in the conference standings. Still, the in-state foes split the season series with UNC, and N.C. State lacks the consistency to merit a higher ranking. It won five of its final six games, but just two (Louisville and Florida State) were arguably impressive wins. Additionally, the lone loss came against cellar dweller GT. Head coach Kevin Keatts has done wonders in his first year, especially when you look at freshman Braxton Beverly. Since the turn of the year, Beverly is sixth in the ACC in offensive rating, shooting a remarkable 42 percent from beyond the arc.
9) Florida State (20-10, 9-9) ↓ 3
First Round: Louisville
The Seminoles avoided another letdown against BC in the regular season finale, winning an incredibly sloppy matchup. FSU has been all over the place this season, a result of posting the third-best offensive efficiency in conference play, alongside the third-worst defensive efficiency. The Seminoles are always in high-scoring games—they just sometimes lack the firepower to offset their glaring defensive issues.
10) Louisville (19-12, 9-9) ↓ 1
First Round: Florida State
If you want to talk about frustrating, it’s this Louisville team. A regular season finale loss to N.C. State was the latest disappointment in a season full of mixed emotions, prompting the need for a substantial run in the conference tournament to truly secure the team’s place in the NCAA Tournament. The Cardinals are acutely aware of the urgency they’ll need in Brooklyn: “Our backs have been up against the wall the whole year,” senior center Anas Mahmoud told the Courier Journal. “Now we have to go to New York and play our butts off and do some damage. That’s the only thing we can do.”
11) Syracuse (19-12, 8-10)
First Round: Wake Forest
The never-ending bubble team flipped the script against Clemson on Saturday, knocking off the Tigers to keep its postseason hopes alive. This, of course, came after three straight losses—including a disappointment against BC and a failure to claim a huge resume win against either Duke or UNC. Chris Carlson, the Orange beat writer for Syracuse Daily, described it the best: “an underwhelming and overachieving group that has fought now for four months and, naturally, extended its lifespan to the final games of the season.” Syracuse never dies, it seems. It’ll aim for a run in the conference tourney and return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015-16.
12) Boston College (17-14, 7-11)
First Round: Georgia Tech
In ACC play, the two-headed monster of Ky Bowman and Jerome Robinson both finished in the top 10 in usage rate, joining Syracuse’s Tyus Battle and Frank Howard as the only combination to do so. However, even with Robinson finishing tied with Bagley in overall scoring (20.7 points per game), the Eagles struggled to turn in consistent efforts on both ends of the court. They finished outside the top 100 in defensive efficiency once again under head coach Jim Christian, the fourth time in his four-year tenure. Yes, finishing above .500 for the first time since 2010-11 is no small feat, but road woes and struggles to close out games down the stretch still doomed them. Would-be wins against the likes of FSU, Miami, VTech, and even Clemson could’ve made the ending of this season much different.
13) Georgia Tech (13-18, 6-12) ↑ 1
First Round: Boston College
Like Pittsburgh below, there’s not much to be said about the Yellow Jackets. With freshman guards Jose Alvarado and Curtis Haywood missing chunks of the season with injuries, GT suffered a seven-game losing streak near the end of ACC play. It beat N.C. State and Wake Forest to close out the season, but still finished with its 11th-straight sub-.500 conference record. Josh Okogie has been stellar, though, filling the stat sheet with 18.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game.
14) Wake Forest (11-19, 4-14) ↓ 1
First Round: Syracuse
The Demon Deacons lost six of their last eight, their only two wins coming against the likes of similarly poor teams in GT and Pittsburgh. Head coach Danny Manning has yet to post a winning record in conference play through four years with the program—even with NBA draft pick John Collins, it only managed a 9-9 mark last season. The problems can be attributed partly to its perimeter defense, a spot where Wake Forest finished 317th in the country (opponents shot 38.1 percent from downtown). The Demon Deacons have also struggled to limit fouls, allowing conference opponents an ACC-worst 43.4 percent free throw rate.
15) Pittsburgh (8-23, 0-18)
First Round: Notre Dame
In Wednesday night’s regular season finale against Notre Dame—the Panthers’ 18th-straight loss—head coach Kevin Stallings started four freshmen. It was nothing new for Pittsburgh, who started four freshmen 15 times in 31 games and finished with 17 different lineup combinations. Job security is apparently in question for Stallings after suffering the Panthers’ longest losing streak in program history, including a winless ACC slate, but the 24-year coaching veteran should get a chance to stay around—he was dealing with plenty of inexperience and a lack of depth.
Featured Graphic by Nicole Chan / Heights Editor