Road to Louisville: Birdball Alive in ACC Tournament Hunt

Road to Louisville: Birdball Alive in ACC Tournament Hunt

By Anthony Iati 

After a weekend series loss to the Miami Hurricanes (22-22, 12-11 ACC), the Boston College Eagles (17-24, 7-17 ACC) find themselves in a precarious situation as they try to get back to the ACC Tournament for the second straight year. The results of this past weekend’s series in the ACC that affected BC’s tournament hopes were as follows:

  • BC (7th in Atlantic Division) loses 2 of 3 vs. Miami (3rd in Coastal Division)
  • Notre Dame (6th in Atlantic) wins 2 of 3 vs. Duke (5th in Coastal)
  • NC State (5th in Atlantic) sweeps Virginia Tech (6th in Coastal)
  • Florida State (4th in Atlantic) loses 2 of 3 vs. Virginia (2nd in Coastal)
  • Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech played non-conference series 

Under an expanded format, 2017 will be the first time 12 teams qualify for the ACC Tournament. Only two teams will miss the cut. The tourney will be held in Louisville from May 23-28. Click here to view the current ACC standings. As of May 1, with six ACC games to play, let’s assess the Eagles’ chances of qualifying for a trip to Louisville. The only parameter is that BC must finish ahead of two ACC teams based on conference record. 

Mathematically cannot catch… North Carolina (19-5), Louisville (17-4), Clemson (16-8), Virginia (14-10).

“Would take a miracle to catch”…Wake Forest (13-8), Miami (12-11), Florida State (11-12). The Seminoles and Hurricanes each have a tiebreaker over BC based on head-to-head record. The Eagles will play Wake Forest next weekend in Winston-Salem but the Deacons are six ahead in the win column and even further ahead in the loss column.

Realistic territory… Georgia Tech (6-15), Virginia Tech (8-16), Duke (9-15), Pittsburgh (8-13), Notre Dame (10-14), NC State (11-13). Okay, here is where the Eagles can make some noise. Again, they only need to jump two teams from the six in this group. It should go without saying that the Birds need to win at least four of their remaining six (three at WF, three vs. ND) to truly give themselves a chance. 

Georgia Tech

First things first, staying ahead of Georgia Tech is paramount for Coach Gambino’s team. GT is the only team with fewer ACC wins than BC. What complicates this race is that the Yellow Jackets have nine ACC games left to BC’s six. Georgia Tech will play three each vs. Pittsburgh, at Duke, and vs. Virginia. This will certainly make the Eagles big UVA Cavaliers fans at the end of the season. Even though BC is also chasing Duke and Pitt, the Birds are probably best off if either Duke OR Pitt sweeps GT– but not both. Exactly one of those two teams sweeping the Jackets would essentially ruin BC’s chances of catching the team that sweeps GT, but it would put the Eagles in prime position to bury Georgia Tech and focus on catching someone else.

So for argument’s sake, let’s say BC goes 4-2 the rest of the way. That would put them at 11-19. To stay ahead of GT, BC would then need the Jackets to finish no better than 4-5 and end up at 10-20. A tie between BC and GT would appear to favor GT. Since there were no head-to-head meetings this year, the ACC lists the next tiebreaker as “Head-to-head competition of the tied teams compared to common opponents with the highest overall conference winning percentage and continuing until one team gains an advantage.” Assuming UNC stays atop the conference in winning percentage, the Jackets would edge out the Eagles because they went 1-2 vs. the Heels while BC went 0-3. 

This seems doable. Given that Georgia Tech is scuffling along at 6-15, for it to go 5-4 against a very good team in UVA and two contending squads in Duke and Pitt is a lot to ask. The Birds should be able to fend off the Jackets.

The Field

We have established one team BC can reasonably expect to beat out if the Eagles take care of their own business. Which other team do they have the best chance of surpassing to qualify for Louisville? The possibilities are Virginia Tech (8-16), Duke (9-15), Pittsburgh (8-13), Notre Dame (10-14), and NC State (11-13). Some things to note regarding ties and current games behind:

  • BC owns the tiebreaker over Duke (2-1 head-to-head) and is 2 GB.
  • BC owns the tiebreaker over NC State (3-0 head-to-head) and is 4 GB.
  • BC will play Notre Dame in mid-May and would presumably need to win that series to have a chance. So let’s give the Birds that tiebreaker, too. BC is 3 GB.
  • Virginia Tech owns the tiebreaker over BC (Eagles are 0-3 head-to-head). BC is 1 GB.
  • If my tiebreaker calculations are correct, Pitt also owns the tiebreaker over BC due to common opponents. BC is 2.5 GB and Pitt has three games in hand. 

The Eagles are closest in the standings to VT. The sweep they suffered at the Hokies’ hands in early April really stings now. But here’s the good news: VT faces North Carolina, easily one of the nation’s top teams, for three games and then travel to play an improving Miami team. It would take phenomenal play from the Hokies to play above .500 ball in these six games. If they go 3-3 (which would likely have to include stealing a game from UNC), BC would need to go 5-1. Tough task, but I think it’s more likely VT goes 2-4 or worse. Then BC can pass the Hokies by going 4-2. 

How about Duke? The Eagles trail by two games but only need to make up two games because they took the series in Durham on Easter weekend. The Blue Devils host Georgia Tech and close with three games at UNC. It seems like 2-4 or 3-3 are the probable outcomes for Duke. BC will be rooting hard for UNC to sweep their Tobacco Road rivals as the Birds try to close that two-game gap. 

NC State plays at Pitt and hosts Clemson. Could the Wolfpack go 1-5 and the Eagles go 5-1? Maybe, but given that the Eagles need to make up four games, it’s hard to see passing NCSU unless the Birds improbably run the table. 

Despite a three-game Eagles deficit, passing Notre Dame is more doable than I initially thought. ND hosts Louisville and then comes to the Heights. If Louisville sweeps the Irish and BC can take two games at Wake Forest, the Eagles would be one game back when the Irish come to Shea Field. A series win would get the Birds past ND- the Birds wouldn’t even need to sweep to edge out the Golden Domers. So, Eagles fans: root hard for the Cardinals to sweep Notre Dame this weekend. 

Finally, Pittsburgh. The Panthers play at GT, host NC State and travel to Wake Forest. Again, operating under the assumption that BC finishes 11-19 in the ACC, Pitt would have to win only two of its remaining nine games to finish worse than 11-19. This is highly unlikely as Pitt has already weathered the storm of facing UNC, Louisville, and UVA. 

Got all that?

To sum up: as I see it, below is the ranking of BC’s chances to pass each contending team, with the lowest number being the team easiest to jump and the highest number being the hardest.

  1. Georgia Tech
  2. Virginia Tech
  3. Notre Dame
  4. Duke
  5. NC State
  6. Pitt

There is certainly a lot of subjectivity involved in that list, and getting help from the conference’s behemoths is involved in just about every scenario. As we all know, baseball never plays out the way prognosticators think it will. The point is, Sunday’s 9-2 win over Miami was massive for Boston College and the Eagles are totally alive to make it to Louisville. If the Eagles can play at least .667 ACC baseball in May, they should have an opportunity to play some postseason Birdball.