But the Pack faltered down the stretch both offensively and defensively, falling a game back of the Heels. After Virginia won on Sunday afternoon the Pack finds itself alone in fifth place in the conference – a game behind both the Cavaliers and the Tar Heels with four games remaining.
The tie-breaker situation is tricky. The Pack would lose a three-way tie between the teams by virtue of having the worst combined record against the other two at 1-2 (Carolina is 2-2 and Virginia is 2-1, so the Pack would be the fifth seed in such a scenario). The Pack would also lose a tie-breaker to Virginia since it lost the only head-to-head meeting.
If the Pack is tied for fourth with only Carolina, the tie-breaker scenario depends on how the rest of the season plays out. Since the teams split the regular season, the tie-breaker moves to their record against the top teams in the conference. As of today, Carolina would win such a tie-breaker by virtue of a 1-1 record against Virginia, but a loss to Duke in the regular season finale would give the Pack the tie-breaker since the Blue Devils will probably finish above Virginia in the final standings.
While getting the bye might not be important when it comes to winning on Friday or Saturday, history has shown that it's nearly impossible to win four games in four days. In a year with this much parity at the top of the league, anyone who grabs one of those top four spots gives itself a huge advantage when it comes to cutting down the nets on Sunday afternoon.
Warning, the rest of this column gets heavy into probability math so if that's not of any interest to you just stop reading now. Basically just root for the Pack to win out and the chances are pretty good you can ignore Thursday at the ACC tournament.
Ken Pomeroy's site, which ranks teams based on their offensive and defensive efficiency and provides predicts win probabilities for teams and also gives the likelihood of different conference win totals. Since Pomeroy has done some of the early legwork here, we'll just take his rankings and extrapolate them out. Pomeroy gives the Pack around a 45% chance of finishing with 11 wins, a 30 percent chance of 12 wins and 25 percent chance of 10 wins.
Virginia breaks down roughly the same way – 45 percent chance of 12 wins and a 25 percent chance of either 13 or 11 wins. Carolina's schedule leads to a little more uncertainty – there's about a 35 percent chance they finish with 11 or 12 wins but a 15 percent chance they finish at 10 and a 10 percent chance they finish with 13.
Using some conditional probabilities, we can determine the likelihood of different scenarios:
All teams finishing 12-6: 4.7%
All teams finishing 11-7: 3%
UVA 12-6, UNC and NCSU 11-7: 7%
UNC 12-6, UVA and NCSU 11-7: 3.9%
NCSU 12-6, UVA and UNC 11-7: 2.6%
UVA 13-5, UNC and NCSU 12-6: 2.6%
NOTE: The three bolded scenarios are the three mostly likely instances where NC State would receive a bye.
As you can see, those five scenarios cover only about 20% of the possible outcomes. With four games left and three teams in the mix there are a total of at least 20 different possible outcomes, I've just picked some of the more likely outcomes here to show scenarios. Some of these scenarios have essentially no chance of happening (for instance, all three teams losing out).
All told, the Pack's combined chances of getting Thursday off sit somewhere around 20 percent. But the most likely singular scenario is the one listed above where Virginia finished above the two Triangle teams, who both tie with the Pack getting the tie-breaker. The problem the Pack runs into in most of these scenarios is that they lose the tie-breakers, meaning that any event where they tie with Virginia or both teams results in them becoming the fifth seed.
Of course, things get substantially better for the Pack if they win out. In that scenario, the Pack's chances of getting a bye go from somewhere around 20 percent to somewhere north of 70 percent (UNC would have to also win out or go 3-1 with the loss not coming to Duke). If the Pack can put its most recent loss in the rear view mirror, it has a chance to go into Greensboro on a roll.