North Carolina (24-3, 10-3 ACC, No. 2 RPI): Despite starting the conference slate with an 0-2 record and facing a 2.5-game hole from the ACC cellar, the Tar Heels won 10 straight league games to regain control. While Saturday's second-half collapse at Maryland left many observers scratching their heads about UNC's defensive shortcomings, the emergence of Ty Lawson (19.4 points per game over last five outings) puts North Carolina in good position to make a deep run in the guard-dominated NCAA Tournament. The intriguing question for the Tar Heels at this point is – provided they close strong – which region's No. 1 seed will they be awarded?
Clemson (22-4, 8-4 ACC, No. 10 RPI): Head coach Oliver Purnell's squad has won six of its last eight ACC contests, thanks in part to consistency across the board – the Tigers rank in the top-three of 11 league statistical categories, most notably steals (9.8 per game, 1st ACC), turnover margin (plus-3.25, 2nd) and 3-pointers made (8.6, 2nd). Despite a weak nonconference schedule, Clemson's RPI ranking is high enough to earn a No. 4 seed or better in the NCAA Tournament, provided late season matchups at Florida State and Wake Forest don't end badly.
Boston College (20-9, 8-6 ACC, No. 48 RPI): The Eagles were selected 11th in the Preseason Media Poll, but head coach Al Skinner continues to cement his reputation as a stealth recruiter with a solid coaching acumen. With likely first-team All-ACC member Tyrese Rice (17.8 ppg) leading the way, Boston College has posted signature victories over North Carolina and Duke, despite relying on underclassmen in supporting roles. Barring a three-game losing streak to end the season (which includes games against N.C. State and Georgia Tech), Boston College can begin making reservations for a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Florida State (21-7, 8-5 ACC, No. 19 RPI): Head coach Leonard Hamilton has struggled to guide the Seminoles into the NCAA Tournament during his six years in Tallahassee. But with solid nonconference wins over Florida, California and Cincinnati, as well as winning five of its last seven ACC contests, Florida State has positioned itself nicely for a NCAA Tournament birth. A tough closing stretch (Clemson, @ Duke, Virginia Tech) will tell the tale, but taking one of those three games should be enough.
N.C. State (15-10, 5-7 ACC, No. 87 RPI): The Wolfpack has beaten up on the bottom fourth of the ACC this season, winning four games against Georgia Tech, Virginia and Miami. But head coach Sidney Lowe's squad has won three of its last four league outings – including a signature upset over Wake Forest – to put itself in contention for a postseason appearance. Despite boasting the ACC's worst field goal percentage defense (.471), the emergence of Javi Gonzalez (11.8 ppg over his last four games) as an adequate point guard has N.C. State most likely headed to the NIT. But if the Wolfpack can pull the shocker against Wake Forest in Winston-Salem on Thursday night, a NCAA Tournament bid becomes worthy of discussion, with winnable games against Maryland, Boston College and Miami remaining.
Virginia Tech (16-10, 6-6 ACC, No. 65 RPI): Head coach Seth Greenberg complained after the 2007-08 season about his squad not earning a place in the Big Dance. But after dropping early-season contests to low-end major conference opponents in Georgia (10-17, 1-11 SEC) and Seton Hall (14-12, 5-9 Big East), the Hokies could ill-afford to lose ACC games that they were supposed to win if they wanted to avoid déjà vu this March. Oops. Virginia Tech has lost three in a row and five of its last seven, including a devastating 14-point loss to archrival Virginia. The Hokies will have to pull off a miracle to sneak into the NCAA Tournament, with games against Clemson, Duke, North Carolina and Florida State to close the season.
Duke (22-5, 8-4 ACC, No. 3 RPI): The Blue Devils had lost two of its previous four ACC games before holding off Wake Forest on Sunday night for a 10-point victory, temporarily righting the ship behind Gerald Henderson's strong play (20.2 ppg in ACC play). Head coach Mike Krzyzewski currently has his squad positioned for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but a final stretch that includes road games at Maryland, Virginia Tech and North Carolina, as well as a home visit from Florida State, means that Duke still has some work to do to avoid playing in Thursday's opening round at the ACC Tournament.
Wake Forest (20-5, 7-5 ACC, No. 17 RPI): Second-year head coach Dino Gaudio seemingly had the Demon Deacons on track to win its first ACC Regular Season Championship since 2003, following a 3-0 start that included a victory over preseason favorite North Carolina. But Wake Forest has lost five of its last nine games, highlighted by a 27-point loss to Miami and an inexcusable defeat to lowly Georgia Tech. Four of those losses have occurred on the road, but while the youth excuse may have been valid in explaining that trend in 2007-08, it doesn't hold water this season.
STUCK IN NEUTRAL
Maryland (17-9, 6-6 ACC, No. 54 RPI): In recent years, it's been nearly impossible to get a grasp on Gary Williams' squad in College Park. Despite no longer being the conference powerhouse that they were earlier this decade, the Terrapins still find a way to amaze and shock observers all at the same time. This season is no different – an early-season victory over No. 9 Michigan State was offset by a mind-boggling home loss to Morgan State. Maryland added a valuable signature win to its resume by upsetting North Carolina on Saturday, but visits from Duke and Wake Forest and road trips to N.C. State and Virginia present the opportunity for a 7-9 finish every bit as much as a 9-7 finish.
Miami (16-10, 5-8 ACC, No. 46 RPI): If Boston College and Florida State are the surprises of the 2008-09 season, Miami holds the title as the biggest disappointment. Head coach Frank Haith's squad was voted 4th in the ACC Preseason Media Poll, but the inability for the Hurricanes to find a secondary option alongside sharpshooter Jack McClinton (23.1 ppg in ACC play) has hindered those lofty expectations. Miami lost six of seven games before knocking off Boston College on Saturday, but the Hurricanes are not out of the NCAA Tournament race quite yet – they will most likely be favored in their final three regular season games (@ Virginia, @ Georgia Tech and N.C. State.)
Virginia (9-14, 3-9 ACC, No. 100 RPI): You have to give credit to head coach Dave Leitao for not allowing his team to pack it up during a difficult season – especially with underclassmen such as freshman guard Sylven Landesberg (18.3 ppg) playing key roles. The Cavaliers have won two of their last three games, with the loss coming after a late rally in Raleigh came up five points short on Saturday. But contests against Wake Forest and Clemson during this final stretch all but secure Virginia the No. 11 seed in the ACC Tournament.
Georgia Tech (10-16, 1-12 ACC, No. 160 RPI): Head coach Paul Hewitt better be on his knees praying to the basketball gods for his recruiting ability, because even with a decent roster that includes two McDonald's All-Americans, the 8th–year head coach has only won one conference game this season. If it were not for the nation's top-rated recruit (Derrick Favors) headed to Atlanta next season, investors would be short selling the Hewitt and Co. stock all the way to the bank.