After the first two days of the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, there was a sense of normalcy in the air around the ACC and college basketball world. Although limited, the Greensboro Coliseum was once again filled with fans cheering on their favorite team almost a year to the day from when everything in the sports world shut down and altered the course of human history forever. For the first time in a while, it appeared that the cloud that is the COVID-19 pandemic that has been hovering over the sports world for over a year now was beginning to clear. That was until Thursday morning.
Shortly before lunchtime on the third day of the tournament, news came out of Greensboro that the Duke Blue Devils would not play later that night in a scheduled quarterfinals matchup with the Florida State Seminoles after a member of the Blue Devils team had tested positive for COVID-19. The Blue Devils would announce the shut down of the remainder of their season later in the day, meaning they would not be playing in any postseason with it appearing that they would not be one of the teams selected for the 68 team field by the NCAA selection committee for the NCAA Tournament. The other three games, however, were able to go off without a hitch and the hope was that this was just going to be an isolated incident with the Blue Devils.
Unfortunately, that has not turned out to be the case. Earlier this morning just after 9:30 AM, news trickled out of Greensboro once again that another team was exiting the tournament, this time the No. 1 seeded Virginia Cavaliers, a team that was hoping to make another run at an ACC Tournament title after taking home their third regular season title in the last four years last week. More importantly, though, this is a Virginia team that was solidly in the tournament and as Tony Bennett said the team, is now “exhausting all options” when it comes to an NCAA Tournament that is set to have extremely strict safety protocols. In a statement released by the university’s athletic department earlier this afternoon, they said “Virginia’s status for the NCAA Tournament is to be determined.” The NCAA has put a deadline in place of 11:00 PM tomorrow night for teams to inform them of their availability.
So why am I writing about this on a site that covers the North Carolina Tar Heels in-depth? The news of the withdrawal of Virginia and the possible ramifications that it could have on their NCAA Tournament status really got me thinking, is it really worth it for the ACC to finish this conference tournament out?
It really starts with the NCAA and their decision to only leave five days in between the end of conference tournaments and the beginning of the NCAA Tournament, an idea that seemed ludicrous to me at the time and even more so now. As of right now, your looking at a realistic possibility that you could be missing a team that was on the three line heading into today in Kansas, who was forced to pull out of the Big 12 tournament today due to a second positive test on their team, and a team on the four line in Virginia because of the fact that there was not a period built in for circumstances like this ahead of everyone heading to Indianapolis. It seems cut and dry to me: the NCAA dropped the ball here, BIG TIME.
It also has to get you thinking, especially with the way this team has been playing as of late, is it worth it for the Tar Heels, and, to be honest, the other two teams remaining with a chance to play for an ACC Tournament crown, to continue playing? At this point, if any of these schools were to have a player test positive going forward, that would likely spell the end of their season. I know that winning an ACC Tournament championship and the confidence that this team might be able to build if they can do it might seem worth it, but the question is what is the ultimate goal here? Is it to win the ACC Tournament, something that I have downplayed for years, citing the ACC regular season title as the more impressive feat of the two, or is it to go and win an NCAA Tournament title? For me, the answer is a pretty simple one. It’s the NCAA Tournament all day and on championship Mondays.
I know what the arguments will be: what about seeding? While a win against Florida State might, and I repeat might, be able to jump the Tar Heels to the seven line, with Virginia out of the running and Georgia Tech lurking in the ACC Tournament Final, the chance to get to the six line appears to be extremely thin or possibly even out of the question as of right now. So what is the gain here? To be honest, I don’t think that being on the seven line is all that much of an upgrade over being on the eight line at this point. Joe Lunardi’s projected nine line definitely features some tough matchups like Connecticut, but also features a team like Rutgers, a matchup I’d really like for Carolina. If you move the Heels up to the seven line, Lunardi’s current projections have teams like Maryland and VCU, who have been playing good basketball as of late, as well as St. Bonaventure the No. 1 seed in the A-10 tournament, being the potential matchups. While VCU and St. Bonaventure will work there seeding out on the court on Sunday, that still a very tough group of matchups that could be facing the Tar Heels. The concern of many, though, could lie more with the second round matchups. It may seem like a no brainer that facing a team on the two line would be a better circumstance than facing someone from the one line, there are some interesting things to consider. Gonzaga has seemed invincible during the regular season, as they’ll enter this NCAA Tournament run undefeated. That means they will have to go undefeated to take home a national title, a demand that comes with a lot of pressure and their second round matchup could easily be their toughest game since facing Virginia back on December 26th. Illinois looks like they may be on that one line and while they are having a phenomenal season so far, this is a young team that has not been in these types of situations before, meaning anything after that first round has the chance of being a bit dicey. The two line, on the other hand, currently features Alabama and Iowa, two teams that aren’t great matchups for the Tar Heels and could also feature one of the hottest teams in the country in the Arkansas Razorbacks if they were to win the SEC Tournament. With all of this in place, is anyone else feeling like staying on the eight line wouldn’t be that bad of a draw?
Now, as we know, unless the conference calls the remainder of the tournament off, Roy Williams and the Tar Heels will be there playing tonight's game and I respect that. The statement from new ACC commissioner Jim Phillips seems to echo that the tournament will progress and attempt to crown a champion tomorrow evening in Greensboro. All I’m saying is, with the NCAA looking as if they have no plans of delaying the start of the tournament to accommodate those schools that have had positive tests, it might be best for the conference to step in and shut this down to, one, give as many teams in their conference a chance to play for a national championship, and two and more importantly, keep this from being a spread if it is being transmitted within the Greensboro Coliseum right now. With all the money around the conference tournaments, though, it seems unlikely that any conference, including the ACC, will take this path, unfortunately. All we can do now is hold our breath for the next month and pray the Tar Heels season doesn’t come to an end at some point due to COVID-19.