The ACC heads north this week to hold its gem event of the season in Brooklyn for the third time. The ACC Tournament returns to Barclays Center for the first time since the 2017 and 2018 tourneys.
Despite having Duke-Carolina games on the Friday schedule both years, the ACC Tournament didn’t seem to capture the attention of the Big Apple, at least in terms of media exposure and general public awareness of the event.
That doesn’t bode well for this year’s tournament making an impact in the big city. In 2017 and 2018, the event featured a total of 11 ranked teams, six in the top 10 and two in the top five.
This year, the league is down across the board. When the tournament tipped off on Tuesday, there were only two ranked teams in the field — No. 7 Duke and No. 25 North Carolina. It was the fewest ranked teams since only 2013’s tournament only had two. This will be just the fourth time it’s happened in the last 20 ACC Tournaments. It’s also the second straight year without a top-five team, which previously hadn’t happened since 2004.
The conference’s down year could help create a sense of urgency in Brooklyn, however. Only five ACC teams are currently projected to earn NCAA bids, according to ESPN’s latest bracketology. Two additional teams are firmly on the bubble, and the five teams currently in will be fighting to either tighten their grip on a spot or improve their seeding.
Starting from the bottom, NC State received the bottom seed in the tournament, opening play as the No. 15 on Tuesday. It’s the lowest seed ever for the Wolfpack and the first time they’ve entered as the bottom seed since 1995-96 when the league still had just nine teams.
The bubble teams take the court in Wednesday’s action. Virginia Tech will face the winner of Tuesday’s Clemson/NC State game. The Hokies are the No. 7 seed and are currently projected by ESPN to be among the “first four out” of receiving a bid. Virginia is in the “next four out” and will face the winner of Louisville/Georgia Tech as the No. 6 seed. Both teams need to make a run to crash the field, and their paths would potentially cross on Friday.
Wake Forest is the second North Carolina team to see action. The Demon Deacons earned a No. 5 seed, their best since 2010. Wake boasts both the ACC Player and Coach of the Year. Steve Forbes has coached Wake to a 17-win improvement over last year, and the Deacs set an ACC record with a 10-game improvement in their conference win total.
Alondes Williams is the first player in ACC history to lead the league in scoring and assists. He and Forbes swept the major awards for the Deacs, the first time a Wake duo has done that since Skip Prosser and Josh Howard in 2003.
Despite the success in the postseason awards, ESPN placed the Deacs as a No. 10 seed in the NCAAs after they lost three of their last six games in the regular season. Wake opens with Boston College on Wednesday after the Eagles beat Pitt in the tournament’s opening game.
Wake has plenty of company on that seed line in the ACC. Two other league teams are also slotted as No. 10 seeds in the Big Dance: Miami (No. 4 in the ACC Tournament) and Notre Dame (No. 2).
All three are hurt by the down season the conference is having. Wake’s strength of schedule ranks near No. 100 in the nation. Notre Dame is close to 80th, and Miami is at 50. All three will need to make a statement in the tournament to state a case for moving up a seed or two.
North Carolina made that case on Saturday. The win over Duke in the regular season finale vaulted the Tar Heels from the bubble to a projected No. 8 seed in the NCAAs. The Heels would face Virginia on Thursday if the seedings hold. Carolina ended a long losing streak to the Cavaliers with a blowout win in its only meeting this season. UNC enters the tournament on a five-game winning streak and winners of seven of its last eight as the Heels fought for their NCAA Tournament life.
Duke comes into the tournament with a chip on its shoulder after getting embarrassed in the much-hyped Coach K home finale on Saturday. The loss snapped a seven-game winning streak and gave the retiring Hall of Fame coach the perfect motivational fodder.
The loss also was a blow to Duke’s NCAA resume. The Blue Devils are still expected to be a No. 2 seed but could fall with a poor showing in Brooklyn. Duke would also like to avoid being sent out West as the weakest No. 2 seed, which might require a couple of wins this week. The Blue Devils open Thursday’s action with the winner of FSU-Syracuse.
If Brooklyn wants to see another Duke-Carolina matchup, they’ll have to wait until Saturday’s championship game, but there’s plenty of drama for the other teams in the field as well. Even in a down year, the ACC Tournament is a must-watch event. Whether it will register on the Big Apple’s radar remains to be seen.