For an ACC baseball school, getting into the NCAA Tournament is as easy as qualifying for the conference tournament. Since the first round of realignment added Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech to its ranks, the league's sent at least seven teams to the national tournament with a couple of exceptions where they sent six. In recent years, sending seven or eight teams has become commonplace as the league's taken a slot next to the SEC as the nation's preeminent baseball conference.
As a result, getting into the conference tournament and performing well in Durham should be enough to qualify a team for the NCAA Tournament as long as the team doesn't lay a virtual egg in its non-conference games.
Last season, Boston College baseball went 27-27 with a 10-19 league record. Although they finished in last place in the Atlantic Division, the race for the ACC Tournament was as competitive as ever, with four games separating the last team in (Georgia Tech) with the last place team in the league (Pittsburgh, at 9-21).
The last league team to qualify for the NCAA Tournament was NC State, a team that went 15-14 in league play. NC State (36-23) finished with four more regular season wins than Georgia Tech (32-23), illustrating the premium on wins at all points of the year and showing the margin for error if a team qualifies for the ACC Championships or if a team gets into the coveted double-elimination regionals.
Last season, BC missed out on opportunities by that much. The Eagles split two games with NC State but had their third game of the series canceled due to inclement weather (canceled games in the ACC are not made up). They lost three one-run ballgames to Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina. If those four games fall for the Eagles, they're now 14-16 in the ACC play and replacing the Yellow Jackets as the 10th seeded team in the ACC Tournament.
That then means there's a road map of sorts for BC to follow with the hope of getting into the ACC Tournament. The conference schedule lines up so each team plays three-game series across a weekend against all opponents scheduled. Teams play each other program in their division, meaning the Eagles will play 18 games against Atlantic Division opponents. They also play four crossover series against teams from the other division, giving BC 12 games against Coastal Division opponents.
But baseball's a funny sport. The movie Bull Durham has a great quote on the topic. 25 hits in 500 at-bats is 50 points, meaning the different between hitting .250 and .300 is 25 hits. In a six-month season, one extra hit per week, a "gorp," a "dying quail," a "Baltimore chop," or the ever-infamous "groundball with eyes" is the difference between being a journeyman and an All Star at Yankee Stadium.
But that's where the challenge resides in the ACC. By getting into the league tournament, a program has a 60%-70% chance of getting into the national field of 64. But getting into the league tournament requires going through some of the toughest teams in the nation. Last season, only Pittsburgh finished below .500. 10 teams won 30 or more games, including one, Duke, that didn't make the league championships in their own backyard.
Within those teams, 21 players were drafted in the first 10 rounds of the MLB Entry Draft, including five in the first or second rounds. Seven of those 21 players played in the Atlantic Division, and a team with no players drafted - Notre Dame - wound up finishing second in the division and going to the national tournament. Half of the teams in the ACC Tournament finished the year ranked - three of which were in the top 10.
There's also the element of who everyone else is playing. While the Eagles clearly have to take care of business on their end, the slim margin for error exists for everyone else. While Virginia Tech drew crossover games against Louisville and Notre Dame, who finished 1-2 in the Atlantic Division last year, they play 16 league games against teams who missed the ACC Tournament altogether, including BC. In their division, they play Duke and Pittsburgh, with crossover games against Wake Forest and the Eagles. When the difference between being in and out is three or four games, that's a major assist to a Coastal Division club.
With a 55-game schedule, there's plenty that can happen. This is the most competitive the ACC has been in years, and the Eagles are expected to be right in the thick of it. It's an incredibly long season unlike any other in college sports, but it also flies by because one game now can impact what happens later.
The Eagles open up in February against non-conference opponent Northern Illinois.