After Decades Of Massive March Madness Presence,
ACC Again Scrambling For NCAA Bids, High Seeds

By David Glenn

North Carolina Sports Network

From 1991-2019, the Atlantic Coast Conference produced at least one #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament 26 times over 29 seasons. Each of the three exceptions (1996, 2003, 2013) to that stunningly successful theme saw the ACC produce two teams that became #2 or #3 seeds in those years.

With only two weeks remaining in the 2023-24 regular season, the ACC looks nothing like that stunning, three-decades-long historical snapshot. In fact, this may be the fourth year in a row (after the COVID cancellation of the 2020 postseason) that the conference fails to produce a #1 seed.

Duke and North Carolina, #8 and #10 in the most recent Associated Press poll, respectively, both have a great shot at a very high seed, but either would need a very strong finish to earn one of the four #1 slots. No other ACC team is even close to a Top 25 national ranking right now, although Clemson and/or Virginia could get there with a sizzling late-season run.

Nevertheless, the ACC appears positioned to at least match — and perhaps exceed — the five NCAA bids it received in 2022 and 2023.

UNC, Duke and Clemson are NCAA Tournament locks. Virginia (which hosts UNC on Saturday and visits Duke on March 2) and Wake Forest (which hosts Duke on Saturday and Clemson in its March 9 regular-season finale) each likely need one more signature victory to be able to exhale on Selection Sunday; given how well both the Cavaliers (14-1) and the Demon Deacons (14-0) have played at home so far this season, there’s a very good chance they’ll enter the ACC Tournament on solid ground. Meanwhile, at least two additional teams (Pitt and Virginia Tech) entered the final week of February with potential paths to at-large spots in the 68-team bracket known as March Madness.

There’s also an automatic NCAA Tournament bid available for the ACC Tournament champion, of course. Just two years ago, as the #7 seed at the ACC Tournament, Virginia Tech went from the wrong side of the Selection Sunday bubble to automatic-qualifier status. The Hokies were the lowest seed ever to capture the ACC Tournament, though, and that event has been won by a top-four seed (typically a team that would’ve received an at-large NCAA bid anyway) roughly 90 percent of the time in its 70-year history.

If the ACC ends up with only five NCAA bids again, it would reinforce an alarming trend. The league averaged roughly five bids per season in the 1980s and 1990s, but back then it was only an eight- or nine-team league. Now it’s a 15-team league, and this would mark its third year in a row with only five bids.

Year — ACC Bids (With Seeds) To NCAA Tournament

2024 — ?
2023 — 5 (UVa-4, Miami-5, Duke-5, NCSU-11, Pitt-11)
2022 — 5 (Duke-2, UNC-8, Miami-10, ND-11, VT-11)
2021 — 7 (FSU-4, UVa-4, Clemson-7, UNC-8, GT-9, VT-10, SU-11)
2020 — no NCAA Tournament (COVID)
2019 — 7 (UVa!!-1, Duke-1, UNC-1, FSU-4, VT-4, Louisville-7, SU-8)
2018 — 9 (UVa-1, Duke-2, UNC-2, Clemson-5, Miami-6, VT-8, FSU-9, NCSU-9, SU-11)
2017 — 9 (UNC!!-1, Duke-2, Louisville-2, FSU-3, ND-5, UVa-5, Miami-8, VT-9, WF-11)
2016 — 7 (UNC-1, UVa-1, Miami-3, Duke-4, ND-6, Pitt-10, SU-10)
2015 — 6 (Duke!!-1, UVa-2, ND-3, Louisville-4, UNC-4, NCSU-8)
2014 — 6 (UVa-1, Duke-3, SU-3, UNC-6, Pitt-9, NCSU-12)

NOTE: Bolded team = made Final Four; !! = NCAA champion.

Below are our revised ACC power rankings, limited to the seven schools with the best shots at the 2024 Big Dance, along with a familiar reminder. These are NOT predictions of future results/standings but rather a reflection of the teams’ “body of work” in games already played (through Feb. 23).

1. North Carolina (20-6, 12-3 ACC)

Head Coach: Hubert Davis (53, third season, 1 NCAA Tournament)

Best Wins: 100-92 vs. Tennessee, 93-84 vs. Duke, 65-55 at Clemson, 81-69 over Oklahoma (n), 85-64 vs. Wake Forest, 70-57 at Pitt

Losses: 87-76 to UConn (n), 87-83 to Kentucky (n), 80-76 vs. Clemson, 83-81 to Villanova in OT (n), 86-79 at Syracuse, 74-73 at Georgia Tech

Remaining Regular-Season Games: at UVa (2/24), Miami (2/26), NC State (3/2), Notre Dame (3/5), at Duke (3/9)

BPI/KenPom/KPI/NET Team Rankings (of 362): 12/10/5/10

Offensive/Defensive Efficiency Rankings (of 362): 18/10

Most Starts: PG Elliot Cadeau, G RJ Davis, G Cormac Ryan, F Harrison Ingram, C Armando Bacot

Current Postseason Projection: NCAA Tournament (2 seed)

With a strong finish, UNC could grab a #1 seed, but upcoming trips to Virginia and Duke make “running the table” in its five remaining regular-season games an extremely difficult task. Interestingly, as the program with the third-most NCAA titles (behind only UCLA-11 and Kentucky-eight), the Tar Heels have captured all six of their NCAA championships as one of the four favorites. Their 1957 squad entered the Big Dance undefeated (27-0), before the NCAA field was seeded, and each of their other five title teams (1982, 1993, 2005, 2009, 2017) carried a #1 seed into the event.

2. Duke (21-5, 12-3 ACC)

Head Coach: Jon Scheyer (36, second season, 1 NCAA Tournament)

Best Wins: 78-70 over Baylor (n), 72-71 vs. Clemson, 74-65 over Michigan State (n), 77-69 vs. Wake Forest, 75-53 at Pitt, 77-67 at Virginia Tech

Losses: 78-73 vs Arizona, 93-84 at UNC, 80-76 vs. Pitt, 80-75 at Arkansas, 72-68 at Georgia Tech

Remaining Regular-Season Games: at Wake Forest (2/24), Louisville (2/28), UVa (3/2), NC State (3/4), UNC (3/9)

BPI/KenPom/KPI/NET Team Rankings (of 362): 11/8/12/12

Offensive/Defensive Efficiency Rankings (of 362): 7/22

Most Starts: PG Tyrese Proctor, G Jeremy Roach, G Jared McCain, F Mark Mitchell, F Kyle Filipowski

Current Postseason Projection: NCAA Tournament (3 seed)

The Blue Devils are 16-2 in their last 18 games, with major challenges ahead versus Wake Forest (away), Virginia (home) and UNC (home), so they certainly could continue their recent climb up the NCAA Tournament seed ladder with a strong finish, but they also could drop a few lines if they struggle down the stretch. Four of Duke’s five NCAA titles — all under Mike Krzyzewski — came as a #1 seed; the other (1991) came as a #2 seed. Right now, the Devils have only three victories this season over NCAA Tournament “locks” (Baylor, Clemson, Michigan State), so their performance down the stretch will be scrutinized for seeding purposes.

3. Clemson (18-8, 8-7 ACC)

Head Coach: Brad Brownell (55, 14th season, 3 NCAA Tournaments)

Best Wins: 80-76 at UNC, 85-77 at Alabama, 74-66 over TCU (n), 79-70 at Pitt, 72-67 vs. South Carolina, 85-68 vs. Boise State, 77-68 at Syracuse

Losses: 72-71 at Duke, 65-55 vs. UNC, 66-65 vs. UVa, 87-72 at Virginia Tech, 95-82 at Miami, 79-77 at Memphis, 78-77 vs. NC State, 93-90 vs. Georgia Tech in OT

Remaining Regular-Season Games: FSU (2/24), Pitt (2/27), at Notre Dame (3/2), Syracuse (3/5), at Wake Forest (3/9)

BPI/KenPom/KPI/NET Team Rankings (of 362): 22/26/9/26

Offensive/Defensive Efficiency Rankings (of 362): 19/61

Most Starts: PG Chase Hunter, G Joe Girard, F Chauncey Wiggins, F Ian Schieffelin, F PJ Hall

Current Postseason Projection: NCAA Tournament (5 seed)

The Tigers are only fifth in the ACC standings right now, but don’t let that fool you. First, they already have five victories over surefire or very likely NCAA Tournament teams (UNC, Alabama, TCU, South Carolina, Boise State); the wins over the #10 Tar Heels and the #13 Crimson Tide were on the road(!), and those are extremely powerful data points in the eyes of the Selection Committee. Second, always remember that committee members absolutely, positively do NOT care about any team’s placement in the conference standings; they look at each team’s entire body of work. If you look back just at ACC history, you’ll see many examples of teams lower in the standings being invited (e.g., sixth-place NC State last year) and teams higher in the standings (e.g., third-place Clemson) being left out.

4. Virginia (20-7, 11-5 ACC)

Head Coach: Tony Bennett (54, 15th season, 9^ NCAA Tournaments)

Best Wins: 66-65 at Clemson, 73-70 over Florida (n), 59-47 vs. Texas A&M, 49-47 vs. Wake Forest, 65-57 vs. Virginia Tech

Losses: 65-41 to Wisconsin (n), 66-47 at Wake Forest, 74-63 vs. Pitt, 75-41 at Virginia Tech, 76-60 at NC State, 77-54 at Memphis, 76-54 at Notre Dame

Remaining Regular-Season Games: UNC (2/24), at BC (2/28), at Duke (3/2), Georgia Tech (3/9)

BPI/KenPom/KPI/NET Team Rankings (of 362): 48/66/33/48

Offensive/Defensive Efficiency Rankings (of 362): 166/9

Most Starts: PG Reece Beekman, G Isaac McKneely, G Andrew Rohde, F Ryan Dunn, F Jordan Minor

Current Postseason Projection: NCAA Tournament (10 seed)

It’s a good thing the Cavaliers posted two nonconference wins over NCAA Tournament-caliber teams (Florida, Texas A&M) way back in November, because they’ve ended up with a truly unusual resume that’s well short of a “sure thing.” Heading into huge games against UNC and at Duke, UVa’s only other victory this season over a surefire NCAA Tournament team was its 66-65 road win over Clemson. Meanwhile, although seven losses at this point isn’t a troubling number itself, the Cavs’ enormous margins of defeat in most of those losses (mainly because of anemic offensive performances) have been truly bizarre.

5. Wake Forest (17-9, 9-6 ACC)

Head Coach: Steve Forbes (58, fourth season, 0 NCAA Tournaments)

Best Wins: 82-71 vs. Florida, 66-47 vs. UVa, 91-58 vs. Pitt, 86-63 vs. Virginia Tech, 86-82 vs. Miami, 99-70 vs. Syracuse

Losses: 85-64 at UNC, 77-69 at Duke, 49-47 at UVa, 77-70 to Utah (n), 77-72 at Pitt, 86-80 to LSU in OT (n), 80-77 at Georgia, 83-76 at NC State, 87-82 at FSU

Remaining Regular-Season Games: Duke (2/24), at Notre Dame (2/27), at Virginia Tech (3/2), Georgia Tech (3/5), Clemson (3/9)

BPI/KenPom/KPI/NET Team Rankings (of 362): 21/21/42/27

Offensive/Defensive Efficiency Rankings (of 362): 26/27

Most Starts: PG Boopie Miller, G Hunter Sallis, G Cameron Hildreth, F Andrew Carr, C Efton Reid

Current Postseason Projection: squarely on NCAA Tournament bubble

The conspiracy theories have been running wild over the Demon Deacons’ NCAA Tournament bubble status — the Bracketologists and/or the Selection Committee are biased against the ACC, etc. — but there’s a much simpler, more intelligent explanation: Wake Forest simply doesn’t have enough quality wins right now. No data point is more important to the Selection Committee or the Bracketologists than quality wins, and the Deacons’ have only two: over Florida and over Virginia (both in Winston-Salem). The Deacs’ next-best victories — over Pitt, Virginia Tech, Miami and Syracuse (also all at home) — just don’t move the needle, and they probably won’t unless the Panthers and/or Hokies finish strongly. Wanna make the Big Dance? Beat more teams that are gonna be there! If Wake can go 4-1 down the stretch, with a win over Duke or Clemson, its resume will get infinitely more respect, including from those who actually matter.

6. Virginia Tech (15-11, 7-8 ACC)

Head Coach: Mike Young (60, fifth season, 2 NCAA Tournaments)

Best Wins: 71-62 over Iowa State (n), 82-75 over Boise State (n), 87-72 vs. Clemson, 75-41 vs. UVa, 84-78 at NC State

Losses: 74-57 at Auburn, 96-81 at UNC, 77-67 vs. Duke, 84-50 to FAU (n), 65-57 at UVa, 86-63 at Wake Forest, 79-77 to South Carolina (n), 82-74 at Miami, 75-71 vs. Miami, 77-74 at FSU, 74-66 at Notre Dame

Remaining Regular-Season Games: at Pitt (2/24), at Syracuse (2/27), Wake Forest (3/2), at Louisville (3/5), Notre Dame (3/9)

BPI/KenPom/KPI/NET Team Rankings (of 362): 37/51/52/52

Offensive/Defensive Efficiency Rankings (of 362): 42/75

Most Starts: PG Sean Pedulla, G Hunter Cattoor, G MJ Collins, F Robbie Beran, F Lynn Kidd

Current Postseason Projection: outside NCAA Tournament bubble

The Hokies are an intriguing case because they already have four high-quality victories (again, that’s the Selection Committee’s starting point): neutral-court wins over #6 Iowa State and Boise State, plus dominant home victories over Clemson and UVa. However, Tech also has already lost 11 times, and it still has five regular-season games left to play. If the Hokies can somehow go 5-0 down the stretch, they’ll enter the bubble conversation. If they lose their next two games, on the road against Pitt and Syracuse, they’ll be out of the picture entirely.

7. Pittsburgh (17-9, 8-7 ACC)

Head Coach: Jeff Capel (49, sixth season, 1 NCAA Tournament)

Best Wins: 80-76 at Duke, 74-63 at UVa, 77-72 vs. Wake Forest, 67-64 at NC State

Losses: 70-57 at UNC, 75-53 at Duke, 79-70 vs. Clemson, 86-71 to Florida (n), 91-58 at Wake Forest, 81-73 at Syracuse, 72-68 at Miami, 69-58 vs. Syracuse,  71-64 vs. Missouri

Remaining Regular-Season Games: Virginia Tech (2/24), at Clemson (2/27), at BC (3/2), FSU (3/5), NC State (3/9)

BPI/KenPom/KPI/NET Team Rankings (of 362): 40/61/77/56

Offensive/Defensive Efficiency Rankings (of 362): 57/82

Most Starts: PG Carlton Carrington, G Ishmael Leggett, F Zack Austin, F Blake Hinson, C Federiko Federiko

Current Postseason Projection: outside NCAA Tournament bubble

The Panthers are still in this picture in part because they have two absolutely brilliant victories (at Duke, at UVa), the latter of which ended the nation’s longest home winning streak at 23 games, and in part because they have at least one more regular-season shot (at Clemson) at another signature win. It wouldn’t hurt Pitt’s case if Wake Forest finishes well, because that would give the Panthers another tournament-caliber win and take some of the edge off their ugly (91-58) loss in Winston-Salem. Weighing down Pitt’s resume, though, are a pair of losses to middling Syracuse and a home defeat to lowly Missouri (8-18, 0-13 SEC).

^ – also would have coached in 2020 NCAA Tournament (cancelled/COVID)

NOTE: (n) = neutral court; vs. = home game; efficiency rankings from