The first ACC Tournament graced by the presence of the Pittsburgh Panthers and Syracuse Orange will be an immensely consequential one for both programs. That's just one of the realities of Championship Week, a time when great prizes are waiting to be won… and lost.
5 – COLORADO BUFFALOES
Yes, the Colorado Buffaloes should definitely be able to beat last-place USC in a Pac-12 Tournament first-round game on Wednesday afternoon. As long as CU tucks away that win, the Buffs should be safe as far as the NCAA tournament is concerned.
But if Colorado loses…
You get the point.
CU was snubbed for the NCAAs in 2011. Losing to USC and being relegated to the NIT would devastate coach Tad Boyle and his program. That's a lot to lose in one game. Colorado needs to take care of business on a neutral floor in Las Vegas, a city where dreams get shattered on a relentlessly regular basis.
4 – SAINT JOSEPH'S HAWKS
Saint Joe's just had to beat La Salle at home in its regular season conference finale to feel safe, but NOOOOOOOO. The Hawks just had to complicate their lives a great deal. If they don't win their Atlantic 10 Tournament quarterfinal on Friday afternoon, they'll probably miss the field of 68. No pressure, Phil Martelli. No pressure at all.
3 – ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS
Much like Saint Joseph's, Arkansas just had to beat an inferior conference opponent in its regular season finale to feel good about its NCAA hopes. A blowout loss to Alabama, though, has pushed Woo Pig Sooie back to the middle of the bubble. Winning both a second-round SEC Tournament game (against a 12 or 13 seed) and a quarterfinal against Tennessee are musts for the Hogs in Atlanta.
To underscore how crushing an NIT appearance would be for Arkansas, simply appreciate the extent to which this team flourished in the immediate aftermath of its win in Rupp Arena against Kentucky. Arkansas creamed Georgia and then hammered Ole Miss with ruthless efficiency. It seemed as though the Razorbacks had turned the corner as a program, but the Alabama face-plant brought back all the pre-Rupp road demons that have haunted this school in the Mike Anderson era. Missing the NCAAs would remove most (if not all) of the meaning of that win in Rupp, creating the kind of setback that derails programs and leaves permanent psychological scars that, in some cases, are never able to heal.
2 – PITTSBURGH PANTHERS
If Pittsburgh — like Colorado, a fifth seed in a conference tournament that must play a preliminary-round game against a double-digit seed (12 or 13) — somehow manages to lose, Selection Sunday will offer an avalanche of anxiety. As long as Pitt avoids that stumble, it will be able to breathe a little bit, but if the Panthers then get hammered by North Carolina in the ACC quarterfinals, they would still enter March 16 without total certainty that they're going to be in the field. If Pittsburgh could notch one impressive win before Selection Sunday, this team could alleviate a lot of concerns. It could also avoid the First Four, which is where it might end up if it beats the 12-13 play-in winner but then gets throttled by Carolina.
1 – SYRACUSE ORANGE
The Orange can play four NCAA tournament games in the state of New York. They know they'll play the first two games in Buffalo, but they have a chance to stay in the East Region and play the regionals in Madison Square Garden. No team has a better location-based path to the Final Four than Syracuse does. However, the Orange must make the ACC Tournament final to have a good chance of staying in the East Region. Duke and Virginia (within the ACC) plus Villanova, Wisconsin and Michigan could all get a 2 seed in the East and push the Orange to a different region if Jim Boeheim's team can't win a potential ACC semifinal against Duke on Saturday.
No Final Four contender has more to lose this week than Syracuse.