If you are a night owl who stayed up to watch a Pac-12 basketball broadcast with Bill Walton the past couple years, you’ve no doubt heard him call it the “Conference of Champions” a few hundred times or so.
But the ACC could make its own claim on that nickname based on current results. Clemson and North Carolina are the reigning champs in football and men’s basketball, of course. In addition, there are more than a few ACC baseball teams with a shot to turn a triple play for the 2016-17 academic year. (Not to mention the conference is home to the latest title winners in men’s and women’s lacrosse and men’s tennis.)
Right now, Oregon State is the favorite to win the College World Series. But Louisville, Clemson and North Carolina are all ranked in the top 5 of various polls. Virginia, the 2015 national champion, has surged a bit lately and climbed to No. 20 in the D1Baseball.com poll, while Wake Forest and its power-packed offense checked in at No. 24. All five rank in the top 11 of the latest RPI.
Baseball America’s projection for the NCAA Tournament field of 64 also looks promising for the ACC. It has seven ACC teams in the tourney with Florida State and NC State joining the aforementioned five. Baseball America predicts UNC, Louisville, Clemson and Wake Forest will host regionals and puts Virginia as a No. 2 seed. But count on the Cavaliers’ strength of schedule holding steady while the SOS of others decline.
Of course, regular-season dominance and high tournament seeds are nothing new for ACC baseball. However, College World Series titles have only come every 60 years.
The setup of the baseball tournament — double elimination four-team regionals, best of three super regionals and pool play to open the CWS — favors teams with deep pitching staffs over big offense and two or three good starters.
So while Virginia and Wake Forest, the last two ACC programs to win it all, are setting the conference on fire with their bats, both have staff ERAs over 4.00.
The conference’s best bet might be Louisville. The Cardinals are third in the ACC with a team batting average of .304. They also have a league-best 2.48 ERA. Brendan McKay and Nick Bennett give the Cards two ace-caliber pitchers; they are also one of the country’s best defensive squads.
Not that anyone should bet against the diamond Tigers or Tar Heels joining their ACC mates as national champions.
The baseball tournament can be as unpredictable as the basketball version, but the ACC has to like its chances of adding to its trophy haul.