For a second straight year, the ACC enters March on the heels of a disappointing regular season. There's no clear-cut Final Four favorite, or even a surefire top-four NCAA tournament seed here. It adds up to a wide-open conference tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina.
ACC tournament basics
ACC tournament bracket
Duke joins Virginia, Miami as NCAA tourney lock
After a 17-8 (8-6 ACC) start signaled what looked like a disappointing campaign in Jon Scheyer's first year, a Duke team featuring four freshman starters surged to six straight wins down the stretch.
None of those six wins arrived against a ranked opponent, and only one — NC State — looks like a strong bet to make the NCAA tournament. The streak did include a season finale victory over a North Carolina team desperate for a win. Was the late-season surge a mirage, or has an inexperienced but talented roster found its stride at the right time?
Virginia has been the conference's strongest team for most of the season. But losses to Boston College and North Carolina in its last four games have raised questions about its March viability. Miami, meanwhile, secured the No. 1 seed in Greensboro behind the strength of ACC Player of the Year Isaiah Wong after being picked fourth in a preseason poll.
On the bubble: North Carolina on the verge of disappointment
In the span of 11 months, North Carolina's gone from an unexpected Final Four run to preseason No. 1 to the verge one of the biggest disappointments in college basketball history. No preseason No. 1 has missed the NCAA tournament since it expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
The Tar Heels revived their tournament life with a Feb. 25 win over Virginia for the first Quadrant 1 win of their season. But a loss to Duke on Saturday further exposed their offensive struggles and leaves them desperate for a run in Greensboro, where they'll need multiple wins to avoid ignominy. A potential quarterfinal matchup against Virginia on Thursday looms large and is only the second of four potential must-win games.
Clemson is likewise on the bubble and needs a strong effort in Greensboro to secure its place in the NCAA field. NC State and Pittsburgh aren't guaranteed tournament bids at this point, but will simply need to avert disaster to make the dance.
Sleeper pick: NC State
NC State had a strong campaign and a sixth-place finish after being picked 10th in the preseason media poll. The Wolfpack boast one of the league's most talented players in projected first-round NBA draft pick Terquavion Smith and own regular-season wins over Miami, Duke and North Carolina.
This is a team that can put together a run in Greensboro and build momentum for the rest of March.
Our Pick: Virginia over Duke
Duke and Miami face difficult paths that include a potential semifinal matchup against each other. Virginia's route to the final is less fraught if it can avoid a quarterfinal upset to North Carolina. It's wide open, but Virginia's draw gives it an edge over other top contenders.
The league defied expectations in 2022 by sending three teams to the Elite Eight before Duke and North Carolina met in the Final Four. Will it produce another strong March, or is the middling regular season a sign of things to come?