There are just under two weeks remaining in the college basketball season, and because of that, conference races are going to be decided soon. In the Big 12, Kansas has separated themselves. In the Big East, Villanova has ran away from the crowd. In the West Coast, Gonzaga has clinched the No. 1 seed. However, the ACC is still wide-open.
Right now, No. 8 North Carolina leads the powerful conference with an 11-3 record, as No. 7 Louisville and No. 10 Duke are right on their heels, at 10-4. North Carolina and Louisville face off tonight, in the Dean E. Smith Center, while Duke travels to Syracuse, who is fighting for their tournament lives.
With four games remaining for each conference title contender, the easy path seems to be in favor of the Tar Heels. North Carolina hosts Louisville and Duke, while traveling to Pittsburgh and Virginia, both of which have lost to UNC already.
Louisville’s toughest game is tonight against Roy Williams’ team, but after that, the schedule gets considerably easier. They will host Syracuse and Notre Dame, with a road trip to Wake Forest sandwiched in between.
Duke finishes with three of four games on the road, including trips to Syracuse and Miami (FL), which are both looking for signature victories to boost their resume. The Blue Devils will also welcome Florida State, a team that beat them by 16 earlier in the season, before taking on in-state rival North Carolina.
Even though each team has four more games; four more chances to solidify themselves as the best team in the best conference in the country, tonight will be their biggest opportunity to step up and grab an upper-hand on their adversaries. With that being said, let’s take a look at the different scenarios that could play out.
North Carolina beats Louisville and Duke beats Syracuse:
If the two rivals take care of business against fellow ACC opponents, they will potentially set up a winner-take-all in the final game of the season, in Chapel Hill. If this scenario plays out, North Carolina would be the favorite to take down Duke at home, on senior night.
North Carolina beats Louisville and Syracuse beats Duke:
Again, this would be a situation that heavily favors the Tar Heels, because not only would they be two games up on Louisville, but also Duke. Which would mean, even a Blue Devils victory in the final game of the season, would simply be a moot point.
Louisville beats North Carolina and Duke beats Syracuse:
This is certainly what Louisville fans want to see because they have already defeated Duke, Syracuse, and would have the head-to-head with North Carolina. In order for the Cardinals to leave tonight with a big time road victory, Donovan Mitchell must continue his hot streak. In this case, even though Duke would be tied for first place, they would need some dominoes to fall in front of them because of a loss at Louisville earlier in the year.
Louisville beats North Carolina and Syracuse beats Duke:
If the former Big East rivals grab victories tonight, it would certainly give the Cardinals room to breathe at the top of the standings. They would have a one game lead, and the tie breaker with Duke, and the head-to-head with the Tar Heels. Also, if the Orange were to take down a top-10 opponent in the Blue Devils, it would mean a lot for their tournament chances.
Now, with all of the information out there, I believe North Carolina and Duke will win their respective games tonight. Justin Jackson, Joel Berry II, and Co. have been dynamic all season, and are coming off their best all-around game in a 24-point beatdown of Virginia last Saturday.
As for Duke, the Blue Devils have won 7-straight games and are back to looking like the title contender that we all expected to see, namely because of sharp shooter Luke Kennard. But don’t expect either Louisville or Syracuse to make it easy. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if the Orange came out hot and earned their biggest win of the season.
There are a lot of different scenarios that could happen tonight, but one thing that is for sure, is Wednesday night will have the biggest impact on who is crowned ACC champions at season’s end.
Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated.