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Virginia Basketball: Magic Numbers as of 2/17

At 12-1, Virginia is guaranteed to finish in the top 5 in the conference. What will it take to guarantee a top four finish and a double bye in the ACC tournament? How about a regular season championship? Let's take a look!

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

With Saturday's 63-58 road win over Clemson at Littlejohn Coliseum, the Virginia Cavalier men's basketball team (21-5, 12-1) has guaranteed itself a finish of no worse than 5th in the conference by the end of the season. Since they can finish no worse than 12-6 in the conference, they can fall no further than a tie with Clemson and N.C. State, both of whom Virginia holds the head-to-head tie breakers over.

Here's the top 7 teams in the ACC as of Sunday night:

Team Conf Overall
Syracuse 12-0 25-0
Virginia 12-1 21-5
Duke 9-3 20-5
North Carolina 7-4 17-7
Pittsburgh 8-5 20-6
North Carolina State 6-6 16-9
Clemson 6-6 15-9

So we know for sure that Virginia can't fall out of this list. But what will it take to guarantee a finish a little higher than the "worst case" scenario of fifth?

First, let's talk about tie-breakers.

If two teams are tied, the first tie-breaker is head-to-head results. If teams play just once during the regular season, that game's winner takes the tie-breaker. If they play twice and a team sweeps, that team gets the tie-breaker. If the teams split their regular season contests, the tie-breaker would be the better record against the top team in the conference. If the record is the same, it goes down to the second-best team in the conference, etc.

If three or more teams finish tied, the overall record of each team against the other tied teams will be compared. I'm not sure what the second tie-breaker is here (perhaps the same as the two-team tie breaker) but it isn't relevant for this discussion anyway.

Interestingly, Virginia plays the other six teams in the top seven only once each. So the head-to-head result will be important. The Cavaliers currently hold the tie-breaker against UNC, Pitt, N.C. State and Clemson. They lose the tie-breaker against Duke. The Syracuse tie-breaker will be decided at JPJ on March 1st.

Alright, so let's get to it.

Magic Number for 4th place and a double-bye in the ACC Tournament: One

Virginia needs to win just one of its final five games to guarantee itself a finish in the top four of the conference and a double-bye in the ACC Tournament. If all of the teams above win out other than Virginia and Virginia wins just one game (going 1-4 the rest of the way), the Cavaliers would finish tied for fourth with Pitt, whom they own the tie-breaker over. Technically the above scenario can't happen since there are games remaining between Syracuse/Duke, Duke/UNC (2x), UNC/NCSU, NCSU/Clemson and NCSU/Pitt. But any other tie-breakers would still leave Virginia in at least 4th place.

Magic Number for 3rd place: Two

This is another scenario where the tie-breakers are helpful. Winning just two of our remaining five games would put us at 14-4 and guarantee us no worse than a head-to-head tie with North Carolina. Since we win that tie-breaker, we would take the third place slot from the Tar Heels.

Magic Number for 2nd place: Four

Unfortunately, Duke - who Virginia loses the head-to-head tie-breaker to - is sitting in third place right now, so to guarantee that we stay above in the seeding, we have to avoid the tie and stay at least one game ahead of them. As of right now, that means losing no more than one of our remaining five games.

Magic Number for ACC Regular Season Championship: Five

With Syracuse a half-game up on Virginia, the Cavaliers need to win out (including the March 1 game against Syracuse) to guarantee themselves the regular season championship. That's tough. But the good news here is that its possible - Virginia controls its own destiny in this regard. Just win, baby!

Bottom line here is that we have a lot of very positive scenarios. But we need to keep winning to secure ourselves the best possible scenarios (which, in my opinion, would be in the top four and on the opposite side of the bracket from Duke). That begins Tuesday at Virginia Tech.

Let's go Hoos!

Note: It's certainly possible my math or my understanding of the tie-breakers or remaining scenarios is a little off. Feel free to let me know in the comments and I'll update the article and take it into consideration in future updates of this series.