Life on the Bubble – Will these ACC teams make the NCAA Tournament?

By: Chris O’Brien

Another crazy year for the ACC where more than 10 teams are in the mix for the NCAA Tournament. Even Florida State and Miami, who I have listed as Locks, they could drop to the Bubble as soon as next week. And those are two teams that have spent time in the Top 25!

This will likely be a 10-team year for the ACC (maybe more). Jamen, Keith, Nicholas, I don’t know how you guys do it. The Big 12 is getting a ton of hype right now for being the top conference, but I think it’s gotta be the ACC.

Here’s how it looks right now:

Note – this is being published on Sunday, January 21st. I’ll do an update for the ACC in a few weeks and will have other conference breakdowns going up in between.

Jamen runs “Letters to Coach K.” Keith runs “Keith’s Carolina BBQ”. Nicholas runs “ND’s Corner.”


Locks – Virginia, Duke, Louisville, Clemson, North Carolina, Florida State, Miami. Seven locks by late January! That’s an insane mark.

Bubble: Notre Dame (13-7) Kenpom: 30

Make the case for: Gotta love that Top 30 Kenpom. Resume win over Wichita State. Important bubble wins over NC State and Syracuse.

They also have a completely legitimate excuse with the injury bug. What will be interesting to watch is if Bonzie Colson can come back at the end of the season, or at least conference tournament. If the Irish can weather the storm, even if they are 8-10 in ACC play, I think they would get in because of the dramatic difference having Colson back makes for this team.

Case against: Started out 3-0 in ACC, now have lost four in a row. Out of conference losses against Ball State and Indiana really hurt too. I’m looking at their remaining schedule, it’s a brutal road.

@ Duke, @ UNC, @ NC State, @ Boston College, then closing @ Virginia

If all five of those are losses, at best Notre Dame finishes 9-9. But like I said above, 8-10 with Colson coming back may be enough to get in.

Bubble: NC State (13-6) Kenpom: 65

Make the case for: The big one: a win over Duke. Also have that early season win against Arizona down in the Bahamas (it seems like every team in college basketball has an early-season win against Arizona in the Bahamas). A nice win over Clemson too.

Case against: NC State has two mid-major losses that could come back to bite them. First, Northern Iowa. Had they defeated Northern Iowa down in the Bahamas, the Wolfpack would have met Villanova in the championship game.

Now obviously a win over Villanova would have been huge (pairs nice with their win over Duke), but let’s say they lose my hypothetical matchup. That would put them at 14-5 with losses against Villanova, Virginia, Notre Dame, Clemson and…

UNC Greensboro. Not a bad mid-major, UNCG is right there in the mix to win the Southern conference (side note – Southern has a sneaky shot at being a 2-team league if UNCG or East Tennessee State wins the auto-bid and Wofford finishes second. Wofford has that signature road win @ North Carolina). But swap that loss to UNCG with a W and NC State is 14-4, on the bubble of the Top 25, not the NCAA Tournament bubble.

Bubble: Syracuse (13-6) Kenpom: 49

Make the case for: The computers love them. Top 50 Kenpom. Beat Maryland. A neutral loss to Kansas, nothing wrong with that.

Case against: Similar to NC State, that loss to St. Bonaventure is costly. UNCG at least has a shot at winning their conference, St. Bonaventure and Northern Iowa are near the bottom of the Missouri Valley and A-10 respectively right now.

And the Orange have to start winning some conference games. This upcoming stretch of Boston College, @ Pitt, @ Georgia Tech, then home against Virginia could make or break their season. Win all four (doable) Syracuse is suddenly 17-6 with a signature win over Virginia.

Go 2-2 (or worse), with no win over Virginia, and Syracuse will likely be fighting it out on the bubble the rest of the way.

Bubble: Boston College (13-6) Kenpom: 73

Make the case for: There’s no stronger case than a win over Duke. Also, BC is currently ahead of Florida State, Miami, and Notre Dame in the conference standings.

Case against: 73 in Kenpom is not terrible, but it is behind bubble teams like Oregon, UCLA, Nebraska, Georgia and then fellow ACC squads NC State, Virginia Tech, Syracuse.

Bubble: Virginia Tech (13-6) Kenpom: 54

Make the case for: Very similar resume to Syracuse. Instead of the out-of-conference loss to Kansas, theirs was to Kentucky. Syracuse Kenpom 49, Virginia Tech almost there at 54.  No real signature win, but again, similar to Syracuse’s win over Maryland, VT has one over Washington, who is likely a tournament team.

No real bad losses in the conference either.

Case against: That road ahead is BRUTAL. Two games against Duke, @ Virginia, @ North Carolina, two against Miami, @ Notre Dame, @ Boston College, @ Georgia Tech, then home against Louisville, Clemson, and NC State.

Sitting at 2-4 right now, let’s say the magic number is 8-10 (and that’s still dangerous bubble territory since they don’t have the injury storyline like Notre Dame with Colson), I just don’t see a path to six more wins.

Virginia Tech needs a couple “yeah, but they beat” victories. One advantage of the ACC is you have a lot of chances to pick up signature wins. That list above is brutal but it is nine attempts at getting Top 40 Kenpom wins.

Here’s how crazy the ACC is

So let’s imagine VT picks up a home win against Duke then steals the one @ Virginia. Then let’s say they win out their home games, sneak road wins over Notre Dame, BC, Georgia Tech. That is best case scenario to the max and would make Virginia Tech one of the hottest teams in the country heading into the tournament.

But their win/loss: Just 22-9, 11-7 in conference.

When looking at ACC teams on your bracket in March, I’d almost say the translation rate would be to shave four losses off. A 21-10 team from the ACC will be comparable with a 24-6 team from say the Big 12, Big East, Big 10, SEC, Pac 12.

The Big Bubble Almost Ready to Pop: Georgia Tech (10-9) Kenpom: 112

Make the case for: It’s probably crazy to even have them on here BUT if you look at the current ACC standings they are 3-3 in conference which has them ranked above the likes of Florida State, Notre Dame, Miami, Virginia Tech, and Syracuse.

The case for has got to be their remaining schedule. They’ve already got their North Carolina game out of the way and one of their Virginia matchups. Only have to see Duke once, and that’s a home game.

There’s a legitimate path to finishing 9-9 or even 10-8 in conference.

Case against: But even at 10-8, that’s an overall record of 17-14. That’s pretty ugly. Or imagine 9-9, could the selection committee really let in a team at 16-15?

The losses that will come back to haunt Georgia Tech are Grambling, Wofford (the Terriers are quietly 2-0 in ACC play), and Wright State. Had they won those three, looking at 13-6, a much higher KenPom ranking, and a spot higher on this list.

Looking at my crystal ball

I’m pretty confident in the seven locks staying put.

I would buy shares of Syracuse and NC State.

Hold on shares of Notre Dame and Boston College.

Sell shares of Virginia Tech.

And you know what, dammit, I’m doing it; buy shares of Georgia Tech! They are my obscure cryptocurrency, barely over .500, outside the Top 100 KenPom, but I’m liking them to go 3-3 over the next six keeping them on that steady course to go 9-9 in the #1 conference in America.

Next edition of this ACC Life on the Bubble will be either Feb. 11 or Feb 18, that will give this race some time to sort itself out.

I am currently looking for a Syracuse and Louisville super fan to write on this site. You get to be the go-to for your team and the goal is to publish once every two or three games. Or if you’re a fan of another team in the ACC, email me ( to make your case. My theory is fans know their teams way better than me and so I want to create a site where fans are reading from someone equally as obsessed about their team. Send me an email, let’s get you started!

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