GREENSBORO, NC (AP) - It’s been a down year by the Atlantic Coast Conference’s own lofty standards, lacking the usual set of highly ranked teams and star-laden rosters.
Instead, the league enters its tournament with no clear favorite or headlining team, just plenty of unpredictability in a chaotic season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
No. 16 Virginia is the top seed as the five-day tournament opens Tuesday in Greensboro, North Carolina. No. 15 Florida State and No. 22 Virginia Tech as the only other AP Top 25 teams, while tradition-rich national powers North Carolina (a 6-seed) and Duke (a 10-seed) are further down the standings.
Throw in an unbalanced schedule with teams playing different numbers of games after postponements-turned-cancellations, and it’s unclear exactly what to expect just two seasons after the league had three No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
“A lot of people say, ‘Well, it’s a down year,’” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said Monday. “Perhaps it’s not been as strong as it has been, but it’s still good basketball. There’s a bunch of teams that absolutely are capable.”
As Louisville coach Chris Mack said he told his team after Saturday’s loss to Virginia: “I don’t think that there is a dominating team in this league.”
Look at the top seeds for proof.
The Cavaliers (17-6, 13-4 ACC) won the regular-season race to claim the top seed for the fifth time in eight seasons and are chasing Bennett’s third tournament title. Yet they recently had a three-game skid that included a 21-point loss to FSU, only to see Leonard Hamilton’s Seminoles (15-5, 11-4) stumble by losing two of their last three.
Then there are the Hokies (15-5, 9-4), who played more games against the bottom seven seeds (eight) than against the top eight (five).
“It’s been even more unbalanced and uneven and trying to figure it out is crazy,” Bennett said, “So heading into this, intrigue, mystery — who knows?”
Some other things to know about this week’s ACC Tournament:
Virginia Tech faces the challenge of returning from an extended layoff.
When they play in Thursday’s quarterfinals, the third-seeded Hokies will have played only twice in nearly five weeks due to five cancellations tied to COVID-19 protocols. Virginia Tech hasn’t played since beating Wake Forest on Feb. 27 after having two games canceled because of contact tracing.
Georgia Tech (15-8, 11-6) is nearing its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2020. The Yellow Jackets have won six straight and own the No. 4 seed, earning a bye into Thursday’s quarterfinals.
“We’re going in there to win it, so just having this momentum behind is us just great,” said senior forward Moses Wright, named ACC player of the year by the league Monday.
ON THE BUBBLE
The league looks positioned for seven NCAA bids, including No. 5 seed Clemson, No. 6 seed UNC and No. 7 seed Louisville. The biggest bubble uncertainty centers on eighth-seeded Syracuse and ninth-seeded N.C. State ahead of their second-round meeting Wednesday.
The Orange (15-8, 9-7) swept two meetings, though the Wolfpack (13-9, 9-8) won five straight to close the schedule.
Duke has a record 21 tournament titles yet opens on the day reserved for the lowest seeds.
The Blue Devils (11-11, 9-9) are on a three-game skid entering Tuesday’s game against 15th-seeded Boston College. They likely must win out to avoid missing the NCAAs for the first time since 1995.
No team has won five ACC Tournament games in five days.
“If you try to look at the whole thing, it can become daunting,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Someone’s going to say, ‘That’s never been done, you can’t do that, you’re going to be tired even if you win.’ You’re going to hear a whole bunch of that. And I hope we do, because that means that we’re winning.”
This is the first year none of the four North Carolina-based teams are among the top five seeds. … The tournament champion hasn’t won the national championship since 2010 and has reached only one Final Four since. The last three ACC teams to win the NCAA title (Duke 2015, UNC 2017 and Virginia 2019) lost in the ACC semifinals. … Wake Forest coach Steve Forbes coaches his first tournament game Tuesday when the 14th-seeded Demon Deacons face 11th-seeded Notre Dame. … No. 13 seed Miami (8-16, 4-15) played a league-high 19 games of a 20-game conference slate.