Around this time last season I shared with you all my exuberance for a long standing tradition I enjoy each year that involves what some may call a “schedule deconstruction”. The way my simple brain sees it is why lose sleep over the challenge of managing a 20 game ACC schedule when you can break it down into something much simpler, something that has shown over time to be a good indicator of tournament positioning, and something that’s just downright fun for the whole family. No, not LaserX Laser Tag. Three Game Pods.
If you missed my rousing synopsis of the three game pod approach last year I’ll give you a brief summary as to what it is, why I do this, and why it’s important (trust me, it’s important). The three game pod approach is simply breaking down the ACC schedule into the equivalent of multiple three game series. Win each series (i.e. 3-0 or 2-1) and the odds of getting a double bye in the ACC tournament are upwards of 94% since the Cards joined the conference back in 2014. That is, finishing 12-6 or better in conference play has landed you on the 1-4 line at the end of the year 18 out of 19 times. And why you may ask is the double bye important (I knew you would ask, typical you), well since conference expansion in 2014 only one team outside the Top 4 has won the tournament (2017, #5 Duke), meaning that 80% of the time the squad rocking fresh t-shirts and flat billed hats as the confetti falls has had the substantial advantage of receiving that delightful double bye.
The tricky part about the 2019-2020 season is the updated change to the conference schedule, where teams have jumped from eighteen games to twenty (thanks ACC Network). This not only means a more challenge schedule overall but also means the math doesn’t come quite out as clean and we now have a two game series at the end of the season to factor into the equation. Since no one knows how those two games will impact conference records and the percentages I referenced above (not even you Ken Pom!) I’m going to take an educated guess and say that a split (1-1) or series win (2-0) would still position your team for a top four seed, meaning the new line in the sand separating the top dogs from the rest of the pack is likely 13-7.
Seven games into the ACC schedule we are seeing the cream begin to rise to the top, but the head on this ACC beer is very thin, and the hops and barley floating below the surface appear to be more of the bottom of the barrel swill than the high priced microbrew at your favorite Nulu joint. While the Cards are looking good as of late and should be aiming higher than a Top 4 seed in the ACC, a very similar 7-1 start last year ended with a final record of 10-8, and the Cards were on the outside looking in when the fight for the Top 4 spots wrapped up. Let’s break down what we’ve seen so far and what we might expect to see as we slide out of the first third of the expanded conference slate.
[W] @ Miami
[L] Florida State
Pod Record: 2-1
Conference Record: 2-1
Coming into the Florida State game the Cards had already won the pod, but a victory against one of the top teams in the conference, at home, would have been a nice way to start off conference play and sweep the opening “series”. While at the time we were unaware of the lackluster mid-tier league play we knew this one may factor into some tie breakers when the dust settles. Fortunately, Cards get another shot at time traveling Leonard Hamilton and the Noles later this year.
[W] @ Notre Dame
[W] @ Pittsburgh
Pod Record: 3-0
Conference Record: 5-1
Tip of the cap to the scheduling wizards who gave the Cards two repeat opponents only six games into conference play. Maybe run that excel macro through the ringer a few more times before you smash publish on the 2020-2021 slate, Swofford. I digress. The good news is that whether the Cards play at home, away, or in a zoo of headband wearing goons, they wrapped up the early double dip with Pitt and Miami at 4-0. Toss in a victory at the Joyce Center and this went as well as one could have hopped. Sorry Mike Brey. Sweeping the second pod steals a win they may need later and keeps them in a great spot to keep fighting for their first ACC regular season title (I know that isn’t a real thing….but it’s still real to me dammit).
[W] @ Duke
[W] Georgia Tech
*Projected Pod Record: 3-0
*Projected Conference Record: 8-1
There is really only way to express in written form the Duke win at Cameron…#%@!*&#~^$%^. Beating Duke on the road is huge in relation to conference rankings, national rankings, and picking up a massive Quad 1 win. Starting off pod number 3 with a victory in a game where a loss would have been considered at least understandable put Louisville in an excellent spot. Even with the lackluster performance last night against the ‘Fighting Pastners’ the Cards have already won this pod now as well and look to go for back to back sweeps in the three game series. If you can peel off six wins in a row in conference play I don’t care how you do it, thats impressive. While Tech folded a bit down the stretch as 8-10 teams tend to do, Clemson on the other hand worries me as we may get the team who now owns 57.3% of the state of North Carolina (three straight wins over NC State, UNC, and Duke and a win over Wake) or the team that lost to South Carolina, at home, by double digits. I don’t think PEDs, piped in crowd noise from the bench, and hometown line judges are enough for Bownell’s squad to pull off the upset in Louisville and the Cards successfully sweep back to back pods.
Now, as we get to the point in this post where I start to enthusiastically prognosticate, things could get a bit sketchy, and our opinions may start to differ, but just know that no matter what happens down in that comment section I still love all of your latex allergy covered faces, and no amount of Chron bucks could change that. Let’s get after it.
[W]* @ Boston College
[L]* @ NC State
[W]* Wake Forest
Projected Pod Record: 2-1
Projected Conference Record: 10-2
While I’m fairly certain that myself, eight Card Chronicle readers, and Luke Hancock could walk into the high school gymnasium known as Conte Forum and beat BC, crazy things happen on the road sometimes and the recent play of Derryck Thornton has made BC a formidable opponent. While I do think the Cards leave Boston with a victory in hand it makes me nervous that for the second time this year they will play back to back road games with only three days rest and this time…this time I think it bites them. Kevin Keatts finally gets his team at full health and has his squad ready for a Saturday contest against a likely Top 5 Louisville team. Bates, Funderburk, and Bryce lead the way for the Wolfpack, and Pitino coincidentally tweets about his Greek squad that same evening…but Cards still win the pod because....Danny Manning.
[W]* @ Georgia Tech
[L]* @ Clemson
Projected Pod Record: 2-1
Projected Conference Record: 12-3
Overcoming my own mental challenge of “I’ll believe it when I see it” I do think the Cards find a way to beat a struggling Virginia team at home by taking advantage of the guard play on both ends of the floor. Once again though, for the second pod in a row and three of the last four, the Cards play back to back road contest with the second of the two being a Saturday afternoon showcase game on ESPN. The Cards again fall victim to the challenge and Brad “I don’t know what to do with my hands” Brownell’s season of over-achievement continues while the Tigers meet at the paw and throw $2 bills around like they invented the currency. Cards still win the pod.
[W] North Carolina
[L] @ Florida State
Projected Pod Record: 2-1
Projected Conference Record: 14-4
We own Syracuse. No further discussion required. Without question UNC will find their stride the game before Louisville and probably get Cole Anthony back healthy just because thats the kind of thing that always seems to happen. Roy will give them a stimulating “ceiling is the roof” type speech and the Cards are in a fight for their life at home late. Amped by ‘Joker And The Thief’ at the under eight timeout Cards separate a little and hold on for the win . After a couple tough battles teh Cards are back on the road to FSU where unfortunately they just do not match up well with the Noles this season. I think we have a much closer contest than what we saw back on January 4th but the home crowd and the height of FSU creates a problem, allowing them to take both contests this year, but…as you guessed, Cards still win the pod.
[W] Virginia Tech
[W] @ Virginia
Projected Pod Record: 2-0
Projected Conference Record: 16-4
Virginia Tech basketball is going to finish sixth or seventh in the ACC. If nothing else comes true in this entire post that’s what I’m betting the house on. Since the arrival of Buzz Williams we have seen teams rise and fall dramatically, but VT consistently remains on the outside with their face pressed firmly on the window looking in to see the top teams celebrating in the “Double Bye House” year after year. They’re so close every season, almost as if they put their left foot in, and then decide to put their left foot out, quickly realizing that is not what it’s all about (it’s a hokie pokie joke people, and this site is still free). Cards keep them window licking and grab the ‘W’ on Senior night at the Yum! Center. Then, in a somewhat unprecedented move Mack gets the team ready to play in the final game of the year at JPJ and…wait for it…sweeps the Virginia Cavaliers. Tony Bennett tells Mack he’s super proud of him, and offers to wash his car and then pay for his kids college, or whatever it is that painfully nice people do.
If my predictions hold true (who are we kidding, I’m solid) the Cards finish the season a perfect 7 for 7 in pod “series wins” and a hold a record that would undoubtedly place them in a double bye scenario. Neglecting the national scene for a moment a final record of 25-6 (16-4) would surpass my preseason expectations and give this team the best overall record we’ve seen from Louisville basketball in a Power 5 conference since the last time they cut down the nets. We still have a lot of time left for things to get crazy and this season in particular has shown us that nothing, and I do mean nothing, is out of the realm of possibility. Pull up a stool….to sit on….and let’s chat about it. How does this thing play out?