Down The Stretch They Come

Our final regular season preview of the week that lies ahead in the Athletic Coast Conference examines bubble teams, tournament positioning, and a best-case scenario for the Irish.

Our weekly breakdown of conference action -- the week that was, the week ahead, and in this case, the tournaments that await -- is highlighted below.

FINAL POSITIONING
Three matchups helped crystallize the ACC Tournament picture:

-- Notre Dame's Feb. 24 home loss to Syracuse, coupled with Duke's home win over the Orange four days later likely earned Duke the league's No. 2 seed as the Blue Devils would have to lose twice this week with the Irish winning twice for Notre Dame to surpass them. (At 13-3, Duke owns a potential tiebreaker vs. 12-4 Notre Dame.)

-- 10-6 North Carolina's home loss to 8-8 North Carolina State clinched at least the No. 4 seed for the Irish who cannot be surpassed by the Tar Heels due to a head-to-head victory in Chapel Hill.

Notre Dame and 11-5 Louisville will square off Wednesday at the KFC YUM! Center Wednesday for -- at least temporarily -- positioning for the No. 3 seed in the forthcoming ACC Tournament. Should Louisville beat the Irish, the Cardinals still have a home date with Virginia on the docket. The Cavaliers are 31-3 over the last two years in conference action.

The Bigger Tournament: Wins by Notre Dame at Louisville and against Clemson would likely guarantee Mike Brey's Irish a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. A No. 3 seed could be achieved if the Irish win both, then win two conference tournament games as one of those would be against either Duke or Virginia, both of which are in line for a No. 1 seed in the Field of 68. (With a third or fourth-place regular season finish, It's highly unlikely a quarterfinals ACC Tournament loss would drop Notre Dame to No. 5 in the eyes of the Selection Committee. The regular season is weighted immeasurably more than the conference tournament.)

Barring an ACC Tournament championship victory, a No. 2 seeding in the NCAA Tournament is likely off the board for Brey's resurgent Irish.

BUBBLE WATCH
With Syracuse out of contention due to self-imposed sanctions, the ACC has five locks for the NCAA Tournament (noted above) and a trio hopefuls, each mired at 8-8 in conference play: North Carolina State, Pittsburgh, and Miami.

The Panthers and Hurricanes face off this Wednesday in the Steel City while the Wolfpack travel south to take on a fourth 8-8 squad, Clemson. Unlike their trio of 8-8 brethren, the Tigers resume does not include a win over a top 10 quality team.

-- North Carolina State: Beat No. 2 Duke by 12 in January and handled No. 15 North Carolina in Chapel Hill last week. Trump card is a nine-point victory at No. 9 Louisville when the Cardinals were at full strength.

-- Pittsburgh: Earned home wins over then-No. 8 Notre Dame and No. 12 North Carolina. Likely needs a 2-0 week against Miami an Syracuse to move from "just out" to "just in."

-- Miami: Famously murdered Duke in Durham, 90-74, and likewise took out North Carolina State head-to-head. Travels to Pittsburgh for a de facto elimination game Wednesday night. Miami is the least likely of the trio to earn a bid and would likely need not only a 2-0 finish, but wins over the likes of Notre Dame and Duke in the forthcoming ACC Tournament to be considered.

-- Clemson: Won out of conference vs. Arkansas in December and beat Pittsburgh but lost to fellow 8-8 teams Miami and NC State. Has a home rematch with the Wolfpack Tuesday. Finish with a potential statement game at Notre Dame Saturday.

Team of the Week (Feb. 23-Mar 1): Pick your future No. 1 NCAA seed. Duke distanced itself from Notre Dame with a 2-0 week, winning at Virginia Tech in overtime before handling Syracuse Saturday. (The Irish lost to the Orange Wednesday). Virginia secured at least a share of the conference crown by winning twice last week including a ridiculous 70-34 margin at capable Wake Forest on Wednesday.

Took it on the chin: It wasn't a good week for the aforementioned ACC bubble teams with two dropping a game vs. lesser foes. Pittsburgh suffered a road loss to Wake Forest Sunday, one that likely puts the Panthers in need of a two-win week to remain on the Selection Committee's radar.

After winning handily at North Carolina, the Wolfpack lost by 16 points at 2-14 Boston College Saturday.

-- Tough Sledding This Week: Virginia and Louisville. The two square off at the KFC YUM! Center on Saturday to conclude the regular season but both will be tested previously with the Cardinals hosting Notre Dame and the Cavaliers on upset watch at Syracuse tonight.

Clemson hosts a Wolfpack team that cannot afford a loss, then travels to Notre Dame.

-- Easy Street: Not for anyone of relevance. The final week of ACC play includes a trio of top 15 matchups with each member of the top five facing off against another at least once.

Upset alert: North Carolina at Georgia Tech Tuesday; Virginia at Syracuse tonight.

STANDINGS AND SCHEDULE
Virginia (27-1; 15-1) -- At Syracuse Monday; at Louisville Saturday
Duke (26-3; 13-3) -- Host Wake Forest Wednesday; at North Carolina Saturday
Notre Dame (24-5; 12-4) -- Travel to Louisville Wednesday; host Clemson Saturday
Louisville (23-6; 11-5) -- Host Notre Dame Wednesday and Virginia Saturday
North Carolina (20-9; 10-6) -- At Georgia Tech Tuesday; Host Duke Saturday
Syracuse (18-11; 8-8) -- Host Virginia Tuesday and travel to North Carolina State Saturday
Pittsburgh (19-11; 8-8) -- Host Miami Wednesday and travel to Florida State Saturday
Miami, FL (18-11; 8-8) -- Travel to Pittsburgh Wednesday and Virginia Tech Saturday
NC State (17-12; 8-8) -- At Clemson Tuesday; Host Syracuse Saturday
Clemson (16-12; 8-8) -- Host NC State Tuesday; At Notre Dame Saturday
Florida State (15-15; 7-10) -- Host Pittsburgh Saturday
Wake Forest (13-16; 5-11) -- At Duke Wednesday and at Boston College Saturday
Georgia Tech (12-17; 3-14) -- Host North Carolina Tuesday
Virginia Tech (10-19; 2-14) -- Host BC Tuesday and Miami Saturday
Boston College (10-18; 2-14) -- At Virginia Tech Tuesday; host Wake Forest Saturday


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