The Canes came into last week knowing that 2 wins would likely elevate them to the 4-seed in the ACC Tournament, while 2 losses could relegate them to the 9-seed. A top 4 seed would have earned a double bye in the ACC Tournament.
But the challenge was considerable, with 2 road games against teams that are locks for the NCAA Tournament. Miami played reasonably well and battled hard, but simply couldn’t finish in either road venue, and came up short twice, tumbling to a 10-8 ACC record and the 9-seed in the ACC Tournament. The Canes ended up in a 3-way tie for 7th, but lost the tiebreakers.
Despite the poor week, the Canes had done plenty already and are still a lock for the NCAA Tournament, around a 7-seed in most projections. A strong week could help the seeding, while there is no danger of a poor result. The Canes open with a bubble team, and with a win, would play North Carolina. But there are so many rules regarding NCAA Tournament seeding that barring a major run, the Canes ultimate seed at the NCAA Tournament will likely be more dependent on who gets in off the bubble and how much the committee has to move teams around to avoid conference rematches and protect regionality for higher seeds.
The ACC Tournament Schedule and bracket is as follows:
The Canes will open tournament play on Wednesday at noon against 8-seed Syracuse.
Wednesday, March 8, 12:00 PM, ESPN/ACC Network
Syracuse is technically the higher seed, as an 8-seed. They earned the tiebreaker over the Canes in part because of the blowout win over Miami in January, where the Orange won by 15 points. But despite the higher seeding, the Orange are firmly on the bubble, just in or out depending on projections. Why?
They stunk in the preseason and then had a horrible loss to open ACC play. The Orange lost 5 out of conference games, including 3 losses to teams with losing overall records, one of which was by 33 points. They then opened ACC play by losing to Boston College, only one of 2 conference wins that BC had this year. The Orange’s season appeared to be spiraling out of control, but then they started protecting the home court, going 3-3 in their next 6 games, winning all 3 home games while losing 3 road games to NCAA Tournament teams. At 3-4 in ACC play, and with a poor out of conference resume, Syracuse was still in trouble…but then went on a 5-game winning streak. Despite finishing ACC play by going 2-4 in the last 6 games, the Orange finished 10-8 in ACC play. Syracuse is a much better team at home going 16-3 in the Carrier Dome while only winning 2 road games…a one point win over Clemson and an overtime win against NC State. They also lost both neutral site games.
In the first meeting, the Canes struggled to score, being held to only 55 points. Dejan Vasiljevic and Kamari Murphy played well, but no one else did and Miami combined to shoot less than 39%. The Orange took the lead late in the 1st half, and while the Canes got within 3 points multiple times, they never retook the lead and eventually capitulated, with Syracuse blowing the game open with 10 minutes left.
Syracuse’s statistics aren’t great, but Andrew White and Tyler Lydon had big games the last matchup, and both are the Orange’s best players.
Thursday, March 9, 12:00 PM, ESPN/ACC Network
If Miami beats Syracuse, they’ll match up with North Carolina. The Tar Heels are the ACC Regular Season champions, one of the best teams in the country, and a probable 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Tar Heels lost only 2 out of conference games, to Indiana and Kentucky, and all 4 of their conference losses came on the road. The Tar Heels finished 26-6 overall and 14-4 in the ACC.
Of course, one of those 4 ACC losses came in Coral Gables. And in that game, the Canes destroyed UNC by 15, with the entire team contributing to both an offensive and defensive demolition. But for as good as UNC is, that was not necessarily an aberration. Half their losses are by double-digits and only one loss was by less than 5 points. They recently scored 43 points total against Virginia in a 10-point loss, a week after holding UVA to 41 points in a 24 point blowout win.
UNC, for a great team, is very beatable. But when they are on their game, they crush people. They’ve only had a couple of “close” wins, both to teams that are nowhere near the NCAA Tournament (OT at Clemson and Pitt at home). UNC’s offense is Top 10 in points scored in the country, and if you can defend them, you can beat them. UNC will be rested with the Canes having just played 24 hours before and they should also be focused, given that the Canes whipped them earlier this year.
Friday, March 10, 7:00 PM, ESPN/ACC Network
If the Canes make the semifinals with a huge upset of UNC, they’ll play Louisville or Duke, most likely, but NC State and Clemson are also possibilities. The Canes lost their only meeting against Louisville, split 2 games with Duke, and won all 3 against NC State and Clemson.
Florida State/Notre Dame/Virginia/Virginia Tech/Wake Forest/Georgia Tech/Pittsburgh/BC
Saturday, March 11, 9:00 PM, ESPN/ACC Network
Miami making the final would take a major run, and if they do make it there, they’ll possibly matchup with any of the 8 teams on the other side of the bracket. But likely candidates are FSU, ND, UVA, or VT (the locks for the NCAA Tournament on the other side), and the Canes went 2-4 in games against those 4 teams this year.
Miami’s offense has been in the tank for about a month now, which makes it even more remarkable that the Canes were able to secure a NCAA tournament bid barring the committee doing something absolutely stupid (don’t put it past them, btw). Unfortunately, the Canes were punished harshly in the standings this week despite dropping two games to tournament teams, and now face Syracuse to open the ACC tournament. When your offense is already struggling, Syracuse is the last team you want to face. I have a hard time believing the Canes turn on the offense as a result, and considering Syracuse’s need for a few more quality wins to lock up their own tournament status, I have Syracuse winning this game by 7. As an aside, the Orange seem to always play well in NYC, so that will be a factor as well. If Miami were to get by Syracuse, I don’t see them beating UNC once again.
As an aside, while we always want to win as many games as possible, most bracket analysts have Miami projected to be seeded between 7-9. If we’re not going to play our way “up” to a 6 seed, I would much rather play our way “down” to a 10 seed (or even more preferably, an 11 seed). The ceiling on this Canes team can knock out 3-6 seeds, so an 11 seed could even see Miami make the Sweet 16. I think Miami would be hard-pressed to get there facing a 1 or 2 seed in the second round.
I know the Canes offense has been struggling, and that they lost 2 in a row coming in, but I frankly don’t think Syracuse is any good. The ACC is the strongest conference, and they went 10-8 in it. Despite that, they are still on the bubble precisely because they overall aren’t impressive. They are essentially being propped up by a 5-game winning streak and a robust home court advantage. Neither of their wins away from home are even decent, and one required OT. I know they will have some form of home advantage with the game in NYC and the alumni base there, but the Canes are just the better team. I think Miami beats Syracuse, pretty comfortably.
After which UNC will wallop the Canes and that will be that. And I don’t think anything this week will actually impact the Canes’ seeding. The committee has to move teams around, and with so many ACC teams, having the Canes avoid them in the 2nd round will likely force the Canes into a certain seed. To JT’s point, you want to be 6 or 11, but the Canes are way too good to be an 11-seed. The hope is a lot of ACC teams end up on the 2 line instead of the 3 line, which would force the Canes away from a 7 towards a 6 seed.