By JOEDY McCREARY
AP Sports Writer
Virginia won the Atlantic Coast Conference’s first national championship in six decades. Miami and Louisville look like the best contenders for the next one.
A loaded ACC Tournament begins Tuesday in Durham, North Carolina. Thanks to the Cavaliers’ run in 2015, the lingering question isn’t about the league’s long title drought but whether one of its teams can keep the trophy in the conference.
The ACC is the top-rated conference in the RPI, and six of its teams could have strong cases to host NCAA Tournament regionals next week.
“The eight teams that end up, so-called, ‘in the tournament,’ will all go to postseason play. There’s no doubt,” veteran Florida State coach Mike Martin said Monday. “We have that difficult a league, and the NCAA committee, I think, is recognizing that, and I don’t think there’s any question that you’re going to see nine or 10 teams in the NCAA Tournament.”
The Hurricanes and Cardinals have consistently been the best of the bunch.
Coastal Division champion Miami (43-10) holds the top seed in the weeklong, round-robin event at the Durham Bulls’ ballpark, while Atlantic champ Louisville (46-10) is the No. 2 seed.
Defending national champion Virginia (36-18) — which had to win a play-in game just to make the main ACC Tournament field, then went 0-3 during pool play — has the No. 3 seed. Perennial power Florida State (34-19), which won last year’s ACC Tournament, is seeded fourth.
The Hurricanes won their second regular-season title in three years and have won 13 of 15 down the stretch, with a season-ending loss to Florida State snapping a nine-game winning streak.
“We’ve had some hot streaks, and some real host streaks, to be honest with you,” Miami coach Jim Morris said.
The Cardinals matched a program record for regular-season victories, earned their second straight division title and enter the tournament having won nine straight and 16 of 17. They rank fifth nationally with a .325 team batting average and are third with a 2.69 ERA.
“That’s one of the best college baseball teams I’ve ever seen,” Boston College coach Mike Gambino said.
Some things to know about the ACC Tournament:
WILL’S POWER: One of the league’s top hitters has led Wake Forest back to the tournament. First baseman Will Craig, the ACC player of the year in 2015, shared the conference lead with 15 home runs and was second with a .392 batting average. Coach Tom Walter calls him “the best hitter in the league and arguably the best hitter in the country,” and says the Demon Deacons (32-23) took off once infielder Nate Mondou moved into the No. 2 spot in the order to protect him. Since 2002, Wake Forest’s lone NCAA Tournament appearance came in 2007.
DUKE’S DROUGHT: Duke, which plays Wake Forest in the first of two play-in games Tuesday, is trying to earn its first NCAA Tournament berth since 1961. The Blue Devils (33-21) have home field advantage, having played 27 games at the Triple-A Durham Bulls’ park. Duke has won 13 of its last 21 conference games.
HOSTING TIGERS: New Clemson coach Monte Lee says his Tigers “absolutely” deserve to host a regional next week. Clemson (38-18) is 10th in the latest RPI ratings with the third-most wins in the league. Lee is leading the Tigers into the postseason for the first time since he left the College of Charleston to replace the fired Jack Leggett last year.
FAMILIAR TERRITORY: Georgia Tech (35-20) is in a play-in game for the third straight year. The ninth-seeded Yellow Jackets, who open against eighth-seeded Boston College on Tuesday, won one in 2014 — then improbably went on to win the tournament — but were shut out by Virginia last year.
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