With conference expansion swelling the ACC to 15 teams, the conference either had to pick a new tournament format or kick the bottom three teams out. I would have been OK with either decision, but the ACC is going to use the same tournament format as the one used by the Big East from 2009-2013.
The ACC office must have issued a press release with that little piece of info (probably over the summer), but I missed it somehow. In case anyone else missed out on the news, let’s take a look at the new ACCT (or old BE) format and also take some time to drive a few stakes in one more piece of nonsense that floats up every year during bubble discussions.
NEW TOURNAMENT FORMAT
The 15/16 team conference tournament format basically takes the concept of the LRI to the next level. (There’s an acronym that google won’t help you with.)
- On Wednesday, the bottom six teams play to determine who is going to move into 12 team format that the ACC has used for the last several years.
- On Thursday, seeds 5 thru 7 play the Wednesday winners along with the 8-9 game.
- Seeds 1-4 get byes to the first two rounds and play on Friday (just like the 12-team format). Semis on Saturday and finals on Sunday finish up the ACCT a couple of hours before the Sunday evening NCAAT Selection Show on CBS.
The ACC/BE tournament format is not one that I would have chosen, but I’m finding it hard to get too worked up about it.
- This format does reward teams for finishing in the first four slots, but is that really needed?
- The format isn’t really fair to the bottom six teams, but does it really matter? How far do you expect the bottom third+ of the conference to go anyway?
- The 64+ team NCAAT has essentially killed the drama from the old ACCT. The ACCT basically just boils down to the last chance for the bubble teams to get a big upset or someone looking for a #1 seed in the NCAAT. (You can be sure that Boeheim cares about the ACCT this year because he never wanted to move to the ACC and he’ll want to make a point.)
Bottom line…it is what it is. We can’t change it and it doesn’t totally suck. The biggest “issue” is going to come when teams tie for the 4th and 9th seeds….especially if the loser of the tie-breaker actually played a tougher conference schedule. But once again, it is what it is and I’m content with letting the print media or someone here break down the tie-breaker rules and various possibilities as the regular season comes to a close.
The more interesting analysis is what does the new format mean for the bubble teams?
HARD TO KILL (Part 2)
“Win one in the ACCT and then we’re in!”
People that spew this line about any bubble team are probably in the same demographic as those that watch the Sasquatch and UFO shows for late-breaking news on their respective phenomenon. The 12 team ACCT completely voided this concept, though a lot of people evidently didn’t get the memo. So let’s look at what we can expect from the 15 team tournament along with a little historical perspective from the 12 team ACCT.
In the 15 team ACCT, how many teams do you think will enter the ACCT with their ticket already punched or are looking to climb above the Bubble? I’m going to put the IN group at around 4-6 teams and the BUBBLE group at 2-5 teams most years (with more teams “IN” leaving fewer teams on the bubble). Another way to look at this issue is to glance at the new ACCT format and answer this question….In an average year, how many bubble teams do you expect to see playing on Wednesday with the #10 to #15 seeds? My answer is “probably none” (and definitely none this year).
But even if you have a bubble team playing on Wednesday, does anyone expect a victory over one of the worst three teams in the conference to mean anything? The Thursday games aren’t much better with the bubble teams playing either a team from the bottom half of the conference or another bubble team (at best). Let’s list the Thursday matchups just to be crystal clear:
- #5 vs #12/#13
- #6 vs #11/#14
- #7 vs #10/#15
- #8 vs #9
You would have to envision an insanely deep conference to imagine that any of these match-ups would produce anything resembling an impressive win to the NCAAT Selection Committee. At best, you will have one bubble team playing another bubble team. The more likely scenario is that a team that is already IN or on the bubble will play one of the dregs of the conference.
There are many, many examples to show that beating other bubble teams is not always good enough. Here’s one example that sticks in my mind from a couple of years ago. ASU was 2-0 over Arizona and didn’t get an at-large bid even though Arizona did. (Those two wins were the only ones ASU had versus the Top 50 and Arizona had better wins.) In the ACC, it also happened to VT in 2008 when they beat UM in the ACCT and went to the NIT while UM went to the NCAAT.
It doesn’t take much imagination to see how a loss on Thursday could move a team from the Bubble to OUT. But there is simply no matchup compelling enough that a win on Thursday followed by a loss on Friday to one of the Top 4 seeds would guarantee an at-large bid. Win on Friday and then you’ve got something worth talking about.
Now we’ll move past logic and take a look back at history. In 2008, VT finished 9-7 in conference play and earned the #4 seed. Miami was the #5 seed (8-8) and won their opening round ACCT game over #12 NCSU. VT won the Friday game against Miami easily (63-49) and lost a heart-breaker to the eventual champion UNC (68-66, with some questionable calls going UNC’s way). Net Result? VT got a #1 seed to the NIT.
Now compare the Wed/Thurs games in the new ACCT to the VT/UM game from 2008. The odds of a bubble team getting a better win on Wed/Thur than the one that VT got in 2008 (versus #34 Miami) are pretty small…damn near microscopic. Thus it is silly to make proclamations about what one ACCT win will do for a bubble team.
For those that are still not convinced, I’ve got one last stake. Here’s an article that boils down the bubble to 19 teams looking for one of the last 5 spots. The accuracy of this projection is not nearly as important as the concept that there are a lot of teams fighting for the last few spots. To be sure of capturing one of those last spots, a bubble team needs something positive, not just avoiding a big negative during the ACCT.
So just exactly how is a win against a bad team on Thursday followed by a loss to a good team on Friday supposed to move (or keep) your bubble team ahead of other teams that keep winning? Basically, anyone claiming that a Thursday win is all that is needed is also assuming that a bunch of other bubble teams across the country will lose as well. Possible?….yes. Probable?…not so much.
But even beyond the stupidity of betting on long odds, there is a serious problem with assuming that most bubble teams will lose early in their conference tournament. That possibility only helps your team, IF your team was out in front to start with. How sure can anyone be on that point?
If a team isn’t IN before the ACCT, then it needs something significant to be sure of getting in. No matter how you look at it, a win against a team from the bottom half of the ACC on Thursday won’t count as anything significant. You need to beat one of the Top 4 seeds on Friday before a bubble team has accomplished anything worthy of discussion.
PS: In addition to the obvious conclusion discussed above, I draw several other ones from the 2008 ACCT tourney:
- ACCT seeding doesn’t help with NCAAT selection or seeding.
- There is no such thing as a good loss.