Championship Week Primer: Bubble teams and #1 seeds

Strap ‘em up, kids. Championship Week is upon us!

Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s square off tonight in the final of the WCC tourney (9 PM ET, and why isn’t this game on national television?), and with the Gaels’ #45 RPI, they could really use a win to guarantee a NCAA tourney berth. The good news is that their leading scorer, Patrick Mills, is back, scoring 12 points in 35 minutes in yesterday’s win over Portland. If Saint Mary’s loses to the ‘Zags, it would put the Gaels squarely on the bubble. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has Saint Mary’s as a #10 seed, but I think that assumes that the committee will take Mills’ injury into account. After all, he was out of the lineup for three of the team’s five losses. Lunardi says that the Gaels are safe, but they don’t have a marquee win and are just 2-2 against the RPI top 50, so anything can happen.

But let’s move on to the “major” conference tournaments that will take place this week. I’m going to tackle these one-by-one in the order of Jeff Sagarin’s conference rankings.


Lunardi projects six ACC teams – UNC, Wake Forest, Duke, Clemson, Florida State and Boston College – to make the Dance, and of those teams only BC really has anything to worry about. The Eagles (#57 RPI) are probably safe, but a first round loss on Thursday against Virginia might make BC squirm a bit on Selection Sunday.

Miami, Maryland and Virginia Tech are three teams that could play themselves into an NCAA berth with a nice ACC tourney run. What do I mean by “a nice run”? Well, Virginia Tech and Miami square off on Thursday, so if whomever wins gives North Carolina a great game on Friday, that might be enough. The Hurricanes are a bit closer than the Hokies, so VT would probably have to pull the upset against the Tar Heels to earn a bid. Miami could potentially get in with an 18-12 record and a #53 RPI (against the 26th-toughest schedule) if they were to lose to North Carolina.

Meanwhile, Maryland has to beat N.C. State on Thursday and then (at least) pull the upset against the seemingly vulnerable Demon Deacons on Friday.

As far as #1 seeds go, North Carolina pretty much sewed one up with their second win against Duke on Sunday. Neither the Blue Devils nor Demon Deacons would seem to have a shot at one of the other three #1 seeds. It’s conceivable that Duke would be able to make a case if they win the ACC Tournament (beating Wake and UNC in the process) and a few of the teams ranked ahead of them have poor conference showings. Despite the brutal schedule (#3) and stellar RPI (3), Duke is realistically shooting for a #2 or #3 seed.

ACC Tournament bracket

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UNC beats Duke to clinch ACC regular season title

It was nip and tuck most of the way, but the Tar Heels got it together late in the second half to pull away over arch rival Duke, 79-71. North Carolina has almost a two-point lead over the next-best team in Jeff Sagarin’s computer rankings (which is the main way that I fill out my bracket), but I just don’t like this team to win it all. They’re sloppy with the ball, have poor spacing on offense and they missed a ton of free throws. But they have so much talent that when the game is tight in the second half, they always seem to be able to put together a run to put the game away. Really, they could win it all or they could lose in the second round to an eight- or nine-seed that plays a good, clean game.

Five Tar Heels scored in double figures, led by Tyler Hansbrough’s 17 points. Conversely, Duke was very content to walk the ball up and run its half court offense, which put the ball into the hands of Gerald Henderson, Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler, and allowed them to go to work. Coach K really shortened his bench for this game — just three reserves played a total of 19 minutes (and they failed to score a single point).

The win should seal a #1 seed for North Carolina, and barring Duke winning the ACC tournament (coupled with an early round exit by Oklahoma or UConn), the Blue Devils are probably looking at a #2 or #3 seed. Check back tomorrow for a preview of all the major conference tournaments.

#7 Duke, #10 Wake keep it going

Only those viewers lucky enough to have access to ESPN360 saw #7 Duke edge #24 Florida St. last night, 84-81. Apparently, you have to subscribe to an approved internet service provider to watch games on ESPN360. (Great. Then what the hell is my Insider subscription for?) Anyway, the win sets up an ACC regular season title game between Duke and North Carolina on Sunday. If UNC wins tonight (@ Virginia Tech), then the Blue Devils will be playing for a share of the title, but the Tar Heels lose to the Hokies, Sunday’s game will be of the winner-take-all variety.

North Carolina is still the heavy favorite, but Duke is playing a lot better of late, ever since Coach K inserted freshman guard Elliot Williams into the starting lineup five games ago. He is averaging 11.6 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 31.4 minutes of play after getting just 10.6 minutes in the previous 22 games. He gives the Blue Devils more athleticism in its backcourt, which helps both offensively and defensively. If Duke were able to pull off the upset in Chapel Hill, they’d position themselves for a possible #1 seed if they could go on to win the ACC tournament. But that’s a long way off.

Elsewhere in the ACC, the Maryland Terrapins really needed a win against visiting Wake Forest to get an NCAA bid, but the Demon Deacons finished strong in a 65-63 win. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi already had the Terps out of the tournament, but they had a chance to play themselves back into the conversation in a major way with home games against Duke and Wake, but they weren’t able to win either contest. Now they have to beat Virginia on Saturday (to get to 8-8 in the conference) and then make a big run in the ACC tourney with a couple of wins against the likes of North Carolina, Duke, Wake and Clemson. Good luck with that, Terps.

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