WASHINGTON, D.C. — The ACC is back in D.C. for the first time in more than a decade. Maryland’s no longer in the league, but the conference can still claim the mid-Atlantic metro area as a midpoint of the footprint and collection point for several ACC schools. If the college basketball power brokers wanted to schedule a neutral site game between Virginia and North Carolina, Washington, D.C., would be the most logical choice.
That’s why it’s working out well for the ACC that Saturday night’s final will feature two teams in the mix for a No. 1 seed in the 2016 NCAA tournament that also happen to be quite familiar with the area. It’s got to be particularly rewarding for Virginia considering the sea of orange in the Verizon Center this week. After bringing fans by the busload to Greensboro, North Carolina two years ago for a tournament final against Duke, the Wahoos get to host what will likely be a home game in Washington against UNC.
Virginia and North Carolina played a great game earlier this year in Charlottesville, a 79-74 win that came, interestingly enough, after a loss at Miami. After beating the Hurricanes 73-68 on Friday night, Tony Bennett’s team is one win away from its second ACC conference tournament title in the last three years.
After beating Duke in 2014, Virginia earned a No. 1 seed and broke its seven-year run without an NCAA Tournament victory in Raleigh. Beating North Carolina would almost certainly send them back to Raleigh, possibly as a No. 1 seed again.
There are other pieces that need to fall in place for this to work out for either team, but with Kansas as the only apparent lock for the top line there’s plenty of room to make a case. North Carolina, currently a No. 3 seed in Jerry Palm’s latest Bracketology, won the ACC’s regular-season championship and with a tournament title win the Tar Heels have a great argument — like the Wahoos did in 2014 — to jump up into the top line.
Virginia, currently a No. 2 seed in Palm’s bracket, would have two more quality wins on its profile (Miami, UNC) to help break ties with the other one-seed contenders in the eyes of the selection committee. Given some of the carnage in other parts of the country this week in these conference tournaments, there is a chance that Virginia’s rocky start in conference play won’t end up holding them back in March.
Seeding won’t be on the mind of the players on Saturday night. These are two teams loaded with veterans meeting after several competitive meetings, including UNC’s win in last year’s Greensboro-based tournament semifinals. Now Virginia gets a rematch on its home turf and the Tar Heels get to feel like a visitor for once in the ACC tournament.