Local teams have work to do for an NCAA bid
For Miami, Duke and North Carolina, the ACC tournament is a stress-free exercise, a chance to compete for a prestigious title with the knowledge that the NCAA tournament awaits.
For local teams Virginia, Maryland and Virginia Tech, however, there is no such guarantee. With the ACC tournament tipping off Thursday in Greensboro, N.C., all have work to do to secure their NCAA futures.
While the bubble-sitting Cavaliers (21-10) need perhaps one win to advance, the Terrapins (20-11) probably need two or three. For the basement-dwelling Hokies (13-18), nothing short of an unprecedented worst-to-first run to the ACC championship would suffice.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon knows his seventh-seeded team needs to pull off at least one upset. Thursday's game against 10th-seeded Wake Forest doesn't qualify.
"I think we've been way below the bubble for a couple games now," Turgeon said. "We're just trying to get better. We have a young team."
Maryland has a difficult draw, with the potential of facing four teams in their home state. With a win Thursday, the Terps would play second-seeded Duke in the quarterfinals. No. 3 North Carolina would be the likely semifinal foe. No. 5 N.C. State could emerge from the other side of the bracket in the finals.
"North Carolina State as a five seed has a really good chance," Turgeon said. "Their lack of depth will hurt them, but talent-wise they could get on a roll in Greensboro and do it."
For all three local teams, there was once reason to believe they were destined for the NCAA. Thirteen straight victories early in the year buoyed Maryland. Then home wins over Duke and N.C. State produced court-storming delirium. But the Terps didn't accomplish enough away from Comcast Center and now appear fit more for the NIT.
In the middle of the ACC schedule, Virginia was the hottest team in the league, winning seven of eight games. Later, a 73-68 upset of Duke suggested the Cavaliers were worthy. But losses in March at Boston College and Florida State by a combined three points put Virginia back in jeopardy.
A 7-0 start under rookie coach James Johnson, including quality wins over Iowa and No. 15 Oklahoma State, indicated that Virginia Tech's long, frustrating run as an NCAA bridesmaid could be coming to an end. But the only consolation from nine straight ACC losses was that the Hokies would not be disappointed on Selection Sunday, already certain of their fate.
While Maryland and No. 12 Virginia Tech open Thursday, No. 4 Virginia has the luxury of a first-round bye as it awaits the winner of the game between Virginia Tech and N.C. State (22-9). A second win over the Wolfpack would greatly enhance the Cavaliers' resume. A third victory over the Hokies would do little.
The hope for Virginia Tech on Thursday afternoon is that it can start the tournament the way it started the season.
"It's tournament time. Everybody's got a clean slate," Johnson said. "Everybody has an opportunity to win a championship."