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As I’ve always known, the best way to jinx something you’d like to see happen is to write about it.
So yesterday, when I wrote this about not wanting to play in the 9 PM game Thursday or be in the same bracket as Florida State, I just about guaranteed those two things would happen. And indeed, the two things that needed to happen to force that scenario occurred within hours of me saying it.
The first was Notre Dame’s shocking 83-73 upset of the Seminoles, throwing them into the group of teams at the top of the standings with four losses (the other three at the time being Virginia, Louisville and Virginia Tech), then Virginia excused the Cardinals from the group by handing them their fifth league loss of the season.
When the smoke cleared, Virginia was in first by virtue of having played two more games than Florida State, so their .765 winning percentage made them the top seed, while the Seminoles .733 percentage dropped them to second. The Hokies moved up to the No. 3 seed, which ties for the highest seed the Hokies have ever claimed in the ACC Tournament (Seth Greenberg did it in the 2006-2007 season), while Georgia Tech filled Louisville’s vacancy to take the 4th seed.
Louisville, by losing, got drop-kicked all the way down to the 7th seed. Virginia Tech WILL now be in the 9 PM (or later) game Thursday night and they WILL be in the same bracket as Florida State.
But it’s not all bad.
Yesterday, I looked at the results of the final stretch of games on the schedule for all teams to see who was getting hot at the right time of the year. There were four teams besides Florida State that seemed to be getting their act together, and were thus teams you might want to avoid no matter what their overall record.
Georgia Tech was one, as the Yellow Jackets finished the season winning 6 games in a row, and N.C. State was another, as the Wolfpack enters the tournament with 5 straight wins, including a victory over top seed Virginia. Clemson had 6 wins, 1 loss and two postponements in its final 9 games (including wins of UNC and Georgia Tech) and always pesky Syracuse had 5 wins, 2 losses and a postponement in its final 8 games, finishing the season with back-to-back wins over North Carolina and Clemson.
All four are not in Virginia Tech’s bracket. They will be Virginia’s problem.
Virginia’s bracket, I believe, is a tougher draw from top to bottom. Not only do the Cavaliers have those 4 fast-finishing teams, but even the two first-round teams – Pitt and Miami – have proven they can be dangerous. Miami may have only won 4 ACC games, but three of them were over N.C. State, Louisville and Duke. Pitt may be the 12th seed, but the Hokies remember a very physical loss to the Panthers, while they’ve also beaten Duke and won both games this season with Syracuse.
Virginia Tech’s side of the brackets is tough, but not as difficult at the other side of the draws. Notre Dame and Wake Forest are the first game in the Hokie path, and Wake Forest brings in an impressive 7-game losing streak where the margins in all those games were 12 points or more. Notre Dame had lost 4 in a row, including an L to last-place Boston College, but somehow found a way to beat Florida State yesterday.
The winner of that game – likely Notre Dame – advances to play North Carolina. UNC’s size concerns me in a matchup with the Hokies, and normally I’d just concede it will be VT-UNC Thursday. But North Carolina has proven to be inconsistent at times, and Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey figured out a way to combat Florida State’s size yesterday. The two teams also met earlier in the season at the Smith Center, and North Carolina barely walked away with a 66-65 win. There is upset potential here.
On the other side, last-place Boston College will probably get routed by Duke in the first round, then Duke will face Louisville in a battle of which team will show up on either side. Louisville would seem to have the edge, since the Cardinals beat Duke 70-65 at the Yum Center, then beat them again at Cameron 80-73 two weeks ago. That would set up a meeting between the Cardinals and Florida State, and in their only meeting, FSU’s size was too much for Louisville in a 78-65 Seminole win in Louisville.
So assuming Virginia Tech can get past North Carolina, it would appear the Hokies will finally play Florida State this season, since their only game this season was cancelled. But there's this nagging thought for me in looking at the Virginia Tech draw. Notre Dame could upset North Carolina. And Florida State – while always having strong teams under Leonard Hamilton – always seems to in my mind lose a game here or there where they’re heavy favorites. The Notre Dame loss was a good example; the question is whether that’s their one surprise for the month of March, or do they have another one in them?
I still contend the biggest foe the Hokies have to battle is the rust and inactivity of not only sitting on the sidelines and not playing for 12 days, but then standing around all day and all night for a 9 PM game. Conquer that, and their draw is not insurmountable. Come out rusty in the middle of the night against North Carolina in Greensboro – where everyone from the hot dog man at the concession stand to the lead official in a striped shirt are North Carolina alumni – and it could be a short time at the tournament.
So we will see how the early games go. As the noted philosopher Mick Jagger once opined, you can’t always get what you want.
But with a few upsets here and there in earlier games at the ACC Tournament, you just might find…you get what you need.