I’ve gotten a few questions today about the ACC tournament format and tie-breaker procedures, particularly after North Carolina slugged its way to a 14-5 win against North Carolina State late last night. In North Carolina’s side of the bracket, only the Tar Heels and Virginia can advance to the championship game because of tie-breaker procedures. Here’s how it works: if two teams tie for the best record in their pool, the team that won the head-to-head game in pool play would advance. So if UNC beats UVa. on Saturday, both teams will be 2-1 in pool play, but the Tar Heels will have won the head-to-head meeting, so they would advance. But here’s where it gets complicated. Georgia Tech, like North Carolina, is 1-1 in pool play so far, and the Yellow Jackets can tie UNC and Virginia at 2-1 if they beat N.C. State on Saturday. But in the event of a three-way tie, the team with the best overall conference winning percentage in the regular season would advance. That would be North Carolina. Of course, Virginia can nullify all of these questions with a win against the Tar Heels, because the Cavaliers would be a perfect 3-0. UNC will send freshman righty Alex White to the mound against Virginia senior lefty Casey Lambert, who closed for most of the season before moving to the rotation to replace struggling freshman Matt Packer. North Carolina is overflowing with talented lefthanded bats, so the southpaw Lambert could give the Cavaliers a slight edge. Not that most of those lefthanded UNC bats have too much trouble hitting lefthanded pitching.
As for the NCAA tournament ramifications of the action in the Division B bracket, it seems possible for both the Tar Heels and Cavaliers to earn national seeds if UVa. wins. UNC is ranked fourth in the RPI and has the advantage of having won the regular season crown in the ACC’s Coastal Division, so it still has a chance at a national seed even with a 1-2 showing in the conference tournament. If South Carolina gets eliminated from the SEC tournament today, that would seem to open up the last national seed for the Tar Heels. Of course, if South Carolina bounces back and makes a run, it is likely to earn a national seed. If that happens, and Virginia beats UNC, expect the Cavaliers to get the edge over the Tar Heels thanks to a stronger finish and a 3-1 record against UNC this season. If Virginia loses tomorrow, it probably also squanders its chance for a national seed.
One flaw in the ACC tournament’s new format is that the games just don’t mean as much as they would in a double-elimination setup. The Wolfpack, for instance, found out they were eliminated from winning their bracket before they ever took the field against UNC last night, because Virginia’s victory over Georgia Tech earlier in the day ensured the Cavaliers all the tie-breakers over N.C. State. To be sure, the ‘Pack still has plenty to play for, because a win against the Yellow Jackets would help their case to earn a No. 2 seed in a regional. But I think I prefer the less convoluted double-elimination setup.
If you followed all of that, give yourself a pat on the back. We’ll shift the microscope to other conferences shortly.