College basketball is often about hunger and drive.
The power schools have the big-name coaches and more impressive talent, but that doesn’t always mean they have the best teams. The underdogs only need to be better for stretches on one day, too.
That’s why the coming March Madness tournament is so engrossing. It’s also why NCAA men’s basketball conference tournaments are just as appealing for fans and sports bettors alike.
Sure, the best teams could coast through these tourneys if they’re healthy, dialed in, and actually care. But they already punched their ticket to the big dance and may even have their seeding set in stone.
That could leave the door open for one of the other contenders inside the conference to make a run and improve their seeding. It might even allow for a bottom-feeder to rise up over a lost year and force their way into March Madness with one wild run.
Looking at the 2019 ACC conference tournament, which goes down in North Carolina starting on March 12th, any of these things could happen.
Duke’s Zion Williamson is expected back in time for Duke to give it a serious go, but as a locked-in top seed for March Madness, the Blue Devils getting upset remains a very real possibility.
To assess Duke’s odds of winning the tourney and every other ACC’s chances of preventing them from doing so, let’s break this entire thing down.
“Locks” Looking to Improve March Madness Seeding
The first thing to consider is which teams are already locks to participate in March Madness this year and which of those locks could/will want to improve their current seed.
Duke is obviously the big team everyone thinks about, but they’ve actually slid to third in the conference as I write this, so things may not be as clear-cut as everyone seems to think.
Here’s a look at the March Madness locks coming out of the ACC and what they might want to accomplish in the ACC tourney.
Duke Blue Devils
Coach K again has a title-winner on his hands. Duke has been exposed a bit with Zion Williamson missing time with an injury, as they were already pretty top-heavy. However, with a healthy Williamson back on the floor, the Blue Devils will likely be favored to win it all this year.
The Blue Devils should advance far into the ACC tourney, but they have several tough outs they could run into. North Carolina and Virginia are the clear threats, but the Blue Devils have also lost to Syracuse and Virginia Tech this year.
Duke remains a pretty good bet to go deep in the ACC tournament, while they actually may need a solid run to ensure they lock up a #1 seed. An early exit could drop them to a #2 seed, and I doubt that’s something they’ll want.
Virginia has gone 27-2 at the time of this writing and is locked in as the top overall seed heading into the 2019 March Madness tourney. I don’t think they’re moving, and if they do, the very worst that would happen at this point is Gonzaga moving ahead of them.
That’s unlikely. Virginia is haunted by the first-ever loss from a #1 seed to a #16 seed last season, but they still look like one of the best teams in the nation. Virginia’s suffocating defense (first in the country) allows just 54 points per game and is a huge reason why the Cavaliers are again threats to run the table.
That puts them in play to win the ACC tourney, but they don’t really need it.
North Carolina Tar Heels
The Tar Heels feel like a lock for a 2-seed and probably can’t crack the top-four seeds for March Madness. Duke and Virginia are already tentatively locked into two of those spots, and if Duke slides out, Michigan or Tennessee may be more realistic options to rise up.
Either way, UNC doesn’t have a ton to gain here, and I don’t think they have anything to lose, either.
They’re immensely talented and coached by the great Roy Williams, though, so writing them off when conducting your ACC tournament betting may be a mistake.
Florida State Seminoles
The Seminoles have more to gain than the first three teams here. Currently projected for a four-seed, they could ascend to a three-spot if they make a deep run in the 2019 ACC tournament.
Florida State sits in at a very strong 24-6 on the year, and they’ve only had one bad loss all year. The Seminoles have a potent offense and are extremely battle-tested.
I think I’d be more into them if they were in a worse spot, but they shouldn’t be ignored as a mild sleeper depending on what their ACC tournament odds look like.
Virginia Tech Hokies
The other ACC team locked into a March Madness spot is the Hokies, who display an elite defense (11th in the nation) and have shown well with an 11-6 record in the brutal ACC. They even beat Duke recently and have had several tight games go the opposite way.
Virginia Tech feels more fraudulent than anyone else in this list, but they play in a tough conference and have a strong record. They’re getting in, and a deep run could slightly improve their seeding. I just doubt they run the table in the ACC tournament.
There are still some things to be ironed out in this area, but these are the ACC teams that are either barely sneaking in on merit alone or will be among the last teams out of the tournament.
The Cardinals have been impressive despite having to deal with so many off-the-court distractions over the past few years. They’re still going strong, as they have gone a solid 10-7 in ACC play and appear to have a March Madness seed locked up.
That may end up being true, but Louisville is projected for a 9-seed right now and probably can’t afford a first-round exit. That’s especially true when you look at their recent form (2-5 over their last seven games).
I doubt they win the whole thing, but their ACC tourney odds may end up being pretty intriguing due to the potential necessity of a deep run.
I tend to buy the Orange a little more than the Cardinals, just because Jim Boeheim is a living legend and Syracuse’s zone defense is still as good as anyone’s in the country. That’s helped them rank 32nd in defensive scoring on the year, while it’s also helped them rank 15th in opponent shooting percentage.
Syracuse isn’t going to blow you away offensively, but if they execute on the defensive end, they can compete with anyone. That gritty style can make them a dangerous team to bet against in tournament play, and we’ve seen them go on wild conference tourney runs in the past.
I’m not sure Syracuse has a run like that in them this year, but I’ll be interested to see what their 2019 ACC tournament odds look like. After all, they’re not yet locked into a March Madness seed and may want to cement that with at least a couple of wins during the conference tournament.
NC State Wolfpack
Lastly, you have the Wolfpack, who like these other bubble teams could still get in just because they’re in the ACC and went .500 in such a tough conference.
NC State has overcome a rough patch to go 4-2 over their last six games, while each of their last six defeats came by the hands of ACC rivals ranking well inside the Top 25. I doubt the committee will hold that against them, so getting even one win in the ACC tourney may be enough to get them in.
The Wolfpack feels like a solid bet to advance to March Madness, as they’re about as explosive (10th in scoring) as it gets on offense. Depending on their ACC odds, I don’t think I’d hate them as a flier bet to win this tournament, either.
Teams Who Must Win to Advance
You have your locks and your “almost there” teams, and if all of those teams get in, that’s an alarming eight teams from the ACC cracking the March Madness pool.
Here they are and how likely a crazy ACC title run might be.
The Tigers have been decent this year and proved once again in a tight loss to North Carolina that they can be dangerous.
Top scorer Marcquise Reed (24 points versus UNC) is a huge reason why you can’t fully ignore Clemson, too, but if he’s not carrying the offense, they can struggle.
Unfortunately, Clemson is just 17-12 on the year and has a losing record in the ACC. The latter isn’t too damning, but they need a title run in the ACC tournament to earn a March Madness nod.
Boston College Eagles
Ditto for Boston College, who went a pathetic 5-12 in conference play and just 14-15 on the year. Boston College is admittedly quite a bit better than their record shows, though, as they’ve lost a number of tight games this year.
The Eagles have lost four overtime thrillers this season, but close doesn’t cut it. They need to go on a crazy ACC tourney run, but they aren’t good enough defensively to really buy that happening. Their 0-3 record against the top three teams in the ACC isn’t very reassuring, either.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
It only gets worse when you look at Georgia Tech, who has the same ACC record as Boston College but is just 13-17 overall on the year. Georgia Tech has had some solid efforts on the year, but they’ve completely fallen apart, going 2-9 over their last 11 games.
The Yellow Jackets slow things down with one of the better defenses in the country (44th), but they simply don’t have the offense (65 points per game) to consistently win. Their top scorer is Jose Alvarado with just 12.8 points per game, and they hit from long range at a weak 30% clip.
Georgia Tech would be a fun story and will surely have pretty fun ACC tourney odds, but they’re not worth your time.
Miami has pieced together some pretty fun teams in the recent past, but they haven’t been up to snuff this year, going 5-12 in conference play and 13-16 overall.
The Hurricanes can score a bit when they catch fire, but they’re not the most efficient offense out there. Chris Lykes gives them a solid go-to scorer, and they actually have a pretty balanced attack, but that leaky defense tends to come back to haunt them.
Miami is a mild sleeper if they can catch fire, but the odds of them running the table in the ACC tourney still don’t feel great.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
It only gets more bleak from here. Wake Forest has been awful this year, putting up a weak offense and porous defense en route to a 4-13 run in the ACC.
The Demon Deacons are another ACC team that 100% needs to win the conference tournament to earn a March Madness bid, and it just doesn’t seem plausible. Wake Forest did just push Duke to the limit recently, but everything broke right in that game, and the Blue Devils were still without their best player.
That’s basically Wake Forest in a nutshell. They don’t shoot the ball or defend well enough on a consistent basis to win games — let alone an entire ACC tournament. They’re a wasted bet for this tourney.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The Fighting Irish have had some fine seasons in the recent past, but this year provides a forgettable one.
Notre Dame doesn’t have a terrible defense, but their offense leaves a lot to be desired. A tough team to defend in the past, the Fighting Irish have struggled from the perimeter this year, and it’s hurt them down the stretch.
After a solid 10-3 start, Notre Dame collapsed in ACC play and has been brutal with two wins in their last 11 games. The year is a lost one for the Fighting Irish, so while John Mooney gives them consistency at both ends of the floor, the team as a whole just isn’t worth betting on.
Lastly, we have the Panthers, who went an abysmal 2-15 in ACC play with a 12-18 overall record. Pittsburgh has a solid history, but they just haven’t been good in a brutal conference this season.
The Panthers have had a number of tough losses, and after a 12-5 start, they looked like they’d at least be a bubble team. That possibility eroded quickly, as they’ve now dropped each of their last 13 games.
Not even able to win a single game since January 14th, it’s highly unlikely Pittsburgh goes on some epic run through the ACC tournament. I’d need their ACC odds to be quite hefty to even consider a flier bet.
Who Will Win the ACC Conference Tournament?
The ACC is so loaded that really biting on one of these “must win” or bubble teams feels like a mild reach. However, everyone here is clearly battle-tested, and you could get some serious betting value with the right play.
ACC tournament odds aren’t available from the basketball betting sites yet, but when they are, you can come right back here and check them out.
This is a conference ruled by the heavy-hitters, so my gut is telling me we’re not getting some insane value running the table. Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, and even Miami would be fun stories, but they’re just not good enough to pull this off.
Some middle-tier teams like Clemson, Boston College, Louisville, and Syracuse should have compelling ACC tourney odds and would be worth a flier bet or two, but I’m not sold on any of them, either.
I’d say this is down to the top teams and who needs this tournament win the most. Assuming they have a healthy Zion Williamson back, I think that’s going to be Duke. The Blue Devils are a #1 seed team as they approach March Madness, but the last thing they want is to lose that status.
If they’re at full strength, though, I like Duke to take back the conference by securing their second ACC conference championship in the last three years. If Williamson doesn’t play, though, I think you can start seeking out some of the middle-of-the-road value.
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Preview and Prediction for the 2019 ACC Conference TournamentMarch 8, 2019