The most exciting time of the year is upon us — March Madness.
There have been 14 schools which have punched their ticket to the Big Dance, leaving 54 spots open. Just 82 miles up the road from Rockingham in the Greensboro Coliseum, one school will join the NCAA Tournament field when it cuts down the nets Sunday afternoon after winning the ACC Tournament.
If the school which captures the ACC title isn’t named Miami, Duke, N.C. State or North Carolina, then one of the bubble teams across the country could be on the outside looking in when the NCAA reveals the tournament field later that day.
One of those teams may very well be Maryland. Even though the Terrapins appear to have an NCAA Tournament resume with a 20-11 overall record and an 8-10 mark in the conference, closer inspection says otherwise.
Maryland does have a signature home victories over Duke and N.C. State, but has accomplished little else along the way. Even though it racked up an impressive 12-1 nonconference record, the quality of opponents — Georgia Southern, Maryland-Eastern Shore and South Carolina State — will hurt its case on Selection Sunday.
While Maryland will be fighting for its NCAA Tournament life in Greensboro, another team may need one more victory to ensure its place. When Virginia pulled out an overtime victory in the regular season finale over the Terps, the win put the Cavaliers in the field of 68, well at least according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi.
However, it was as the last team in, which means another victory over either N.C. State or Virginia Tech Friday should have Virginia dancing next week. An early exit will have the Cavaliers pulling for regular season champions and “shoe-ins” the rest of the weekend in the other conference tournaments around the country.
Even though Virginia appears to be the one ACC school with the biggest to lose or gain this week in Greensboro, the truth is N.C. State and Miami share that mantle.
The Wolfpack were the darlings of the conference in the preseason after their surprising run to the Sweet 16 last spring. When it came time to produce this season, N.C. State fell way below expectations and finished tied for fourth in the ACC, but have locked down a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
In order to avoid last season’s run labeled as a fluke, N.C. State needs to have a strong showing over the next four days and get the bad taste of the loss at Florida State out of its mouth.
Until three weeks ago, Miami was in the discussion for earning the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Who could blame anyone for thinking this way, because at the time the Hurricanes were 22-3 on the season and 13-0 in the ACC. Then came the normal Miami backslide at the end of the year, losing at Wake Forest and Duke and at home to Georgia Tech.
The loss in Cameron Indoor Stadium was to be expected because of the beating the Hurricanes gave to the Blue Devils back in January, but the other two were shocking. Now Miami is needing a decent showing in the ACC Tournament to hold onto at least a No. 2 seeding when the brackets are released. An early exit could send the Hurricanes tumbling down to a fourth seed.
Conversely, if Miami were to run the table, it could snag a No. 1 seed and knock Duke down to a second seed.
The joys of March Madness are just beginning.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @scgolfer.