Pack Win Over Maryland Inspires Renewed Hope

Ellen Ozier-USA TODAY Sports

Hope is not dangerous this time. I hope.

A few weeks back we looked at the ACC's early NCAA tournament picture; in the accompanying poll, 46% of our intrepid readers concluded that the ACC would most likely get six teams into El Baile Grande. If that's the case, it appears seven teams are playing for one spot.

As of right now, Syracuse, Virginia, Pittsburgh, Duke, and Florida State appear to be locks, with only the Seminoles looking to have at least a possibility of playing themselves out of the tournament. Now, to repeat myself at length but in table form:

School (or Skool in the case of UNC)

Overall Record/ACC Record

KenPom Rating

ESPN RPI

Syracuse

18-0/5-0

3

6

Virginia

14-5/5-1

12

21

Pittsburgh

16-2/4-1

6

17

Clemson

13-4/4-1

32

75

Duke

14-4/3-2

20

18

Florida State

12-5/3-2

16

23

Maryland

11-8/3-3

70

72

Wake Forest

12-6/2-3

87

62

Notre Dame

11-7/2-3

86

89

Miami of Florida

10-7/2-3

60

78

N.C. State

12-7/2-4

99

67

North Carolina

11-7/1-4

48

58

Georgia Tech

10-8/1-4

158

144

Virginia Tech

8-9/1-4

170

178

Boston College

5-13/1-4

163

134

Clemson, based on the standings, would appear to be in the best shape of the bubble brigade to punch a ticket to March Madness. KenPom is a believer; however, the ESPN RPI rating has been slow to embrace the Tigers' surprise early success. That formula is supposed to replicate the NCAA's method, so Clemson, which has the ACC's second longest winning streak at the moment, might end up being one of the lowest ranked at-large teams to get a bid if it continues its winning ways. If the Tigers finish with 11-12 league wins, I can't see any way they don't get in. Of course, if those conference wins continue to mount, it will probably take care of their RPI problem in the long run.

North Carolina has the highest RPI of the bubble material at 58 and will likely get a bid if it can salvage something like an 8-10 league record due its brand and its impressive string of non-conference wins. But the way the Heels' season is imploding, it seems increasingly unlikely that they will get to or close enough to .500 in the ACC to get a bid (especially since it would likely mean the selection committee would have to pick them over several teams that will finish above them in the standings).

Wake Forest is next in line with an RPI of 62. The Deacs are one last-second, pull-out-my-heart-and-show-it-to-me-while-it's-still-beating win over the Wolfpack from being 1-4 and effectively out of this conversation. That last-second sadness is also the difference between N.C. State being in decent shape--13-6/3-3 and seventh in the standings--and needing a minor miracle to make a run at March Madness.

Last night's soul-soothing comeback over the lame duck Terps kept the Pack's pulse alive for now. A stretch of five perceivably winnable games to come will determine if that pulse remains feint or fades away. That stretch includes Georgia Tech, Florida State, and Wake Forest at home with UNC and Miami on the road. Four wins and the Pack are over .500 in the league and very much alive. Three wins and the Pack are 5-6 with roadies at Syracuse and Pittsburgh looming; there will be no more margin for error. Two wins out of the next five and we'll see you at the NIT loveblog.

Here's to hoping the second half last night was a turning point. The defensive effort was the strongest it has been since...? And the team did not fold when things went south. Just about everyone stepped up in the absence of Warren. If these guys can continue to all click together when Warren returns Sunday, winning four out of the next five suddenly seems doable. If so, the Pack could lose their three toughest remaining league games (@Cuse, @Pitt, @Clemson) and still get to 10 league wins. That, and a big road win over Tennessee, might just be enough.

Ultimately, I think we'll look back at the season and focus on three games as the make-or-break points for this team. One of those games has already happened: the aforementioned traveling show at Wake Forest. The other two are the FSU game at home and the roadie against Clemson. Not only would winning the latter two be excellent RPI builders, they would give the Pack some margin for error to overcome a misstep in a game they should win. If those games are won, the Pack would need six of eight against the lower half of the league (UNC and Miami home and away, Georgia Tech, Wake, and BC at home, and Virginia Tech on the road) to get to 10 league wins, which I am proclaiming to be the magic number despite no real evidence to support that conclusion. Just accept it.

There's a lot of hope in those last two paragraphs. Oh please don't let me get burned again.

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