Spectrum Center, Charlotte, North Carolina
Record: 28-2, 16-2
Another year, another regular-season title for Virginia. Yet again, the Hoos ran through the Conference and only lost to one team all season (Duke). But getting to the Championship won’t be easy, though that was the case last year and they didn’t have any issues. Virginia has Clemson’s number, but neither Game against NC State was easy, one of them going to overtime. If the Hoos aren’t hitting shots, there’s a chance NC State can knock them off, especially sitting on the bubble. From there, it’ll likely be either Virginia Tech or Florida State. The Seminoles present the bigger problem, but they also haven’t beaten any elite teams this year and don’t have the consistency to beat the Virginia defense. If Virginia makes it to the Championship again, its goal will be to not see Duke a third time. Sure, Duke and UNC are both tall tasks, but the Blue Devils already swept them. Virginia is the most complete team, but there’s a wonder if it will take its foot of the pedal after winning this Tournament last year and then losing to a 16-seed.
Record: 26-5, 16-2
The Tar Heels are arguably on a better run than Virginia, winning 14 of their last 15 Games, though that one loss was at home to the Hoos. The Heels are cooking and all signs point to a rematch with Duke. That said, getting past Louisville won’t be easy as the two split the series. A third matchup with Duke will be fun, but it’s also a prime spot for Zion Williamson to return and get the win. UNC has played great, but it also hasn’t played Duke with a healthy Zion. Even if the Heels get past Duke, Virginia still has their number so they’ll be a tough team to back to win it all.
Record: 26-5, 14-4
If Zion returns for the Tournament, the sky is the limit. Duke already swept Virginia and will have revenge on its mind in an inevitable rematch with UNC. Sure, Syracuse could get an upset in the quarterfinals, but that’s unlikely if the Blue Devils are at full strength. If Zion returns for that first Game, there’s a good chance Duke will be the most bet on team for this Tournament. UNC won the first two meetings, but with Zion in, that completely changes the matchup, while Duke has already shown it has the players to take down Virginia’s pack-line defense.
Record: 25-6, 13-5
The thing about the Seminoles is that they don’t have any elite wins and their Schedule was fairly easy with only three total Games against the top three teams. They also only played Virginia Tech once and while that was at home, it still went to overtime. This is a talented and experienced group, but there’s little reason to take them to make it to the Championship since they haven’t been good enough against the best teams. Sure, they could’ve beaten Duke, but… they didn’t.
Record: 23-7, 12-6
The Hokies could be the best underdog bet if Justin Robinson returns, but that appears unlikely. Without Robinson, they won’t have enough offense to get past Virginia as they lost by 22 points in the first meeting and that was with him. The Hokies should win their first Game and could possibly be favored against FSU, but expecting them to beat Virginia and then either Duke or UNC in the final is a stretch.
There are Four other teams in the ACC set to make the NCAA Tournament, but it’s hard seeing one of them being able to knock out two of Duke, Virginia or UNC in a matter of a few days. The best bet would be to take a swing with either NC State or Clemson. The winner of that Game would only have to beat Virginia and then FSU or VT in the semis. The Tigers have been slightly more consistent, but both teams are in need of a win to completely get off the bubble.
It’s a little harder to take Louisville or Syracuse even though they had better Conference records. The problem is that to win it all, they’d likely have to go through all of the top teams. The Cardinals still haven’t fully come around since the Duke comeback, while the Orange have lacked consistency all season.
Duke will probably be the most bet on team if Zion is declared healthy, but if not, UNC and Virginia could be headed for a rematch of last year’s title Game. There are some worthy long shots, but it’s hard to expect them to beat the top teams. Virginia looks headed to another Championship with UNC and Duke on the other side. If Zion returns, Duke is the play, if not, Virginia makes the most sense.