The postseason is upon us, and the ACC is stronger than ever.
For reference, observe the NCAA Selection Committee’s Top 10. As of October 29, five of the top seven teams belong to the Atlantic Coast Conference. Clemson is the no. 4 team in that ranking. Wake Forest is no. 1, North Carolina is no. 3, Duke is no. 6, and Notre Dame is no. 7.
While these rankings have the potential to change as the upcoming conference tournaments proceed, they testify to the high level of competition that the Tigers face on a weekly basis. Every team in the ACC is a threat; top 25 teams stuff the middle of the pack, and bottom dwellers like Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Boston College are all capable of poaching wins against superior competition.
As a result, the 2017 edition of the ACC Men’s Soccer Tournament presents considerable challenges to even the best teams.
Check out the bracket:
This year’s tourney features a number of teams that could feasibly snatch the title. Wake Forest is the favorite to win it all, and with good reason. The Demon Deacons, the defending champions, boast some excellent offensive production. The midfield is clicking on all cylinders and the defense is solid. Clemson, North Carolina, Duke, Louisville, and Notre Dame are all strong contenders too. Of the challengers, Louisville has the clearest path to the semifinals. Boston College is relatively weak, and Virginia just doesn’t boast any marquee wins. The Cavaliers have plenty of talent, but they have yet to prove it on the field.
Of the underdogs, North Carolina State might have the best shot at shaking things up. The Wolfpack is inconsistent, but at its best this squad can compete with any team in the country. NC State already nabbed wins against Clemson and North Carolina and a draw against Virginia. If this team can get through a tough Virginia Tech team, Wake Forest waits in the quarterfinals. Despite a 3-0 victory earlier in the season, the Demon Deacons should be nervous.
Of course, putting any amount of faith in NC State athletics is a pointless, self-defeating exercise. If you predict a victory, the Wolfpack will find some way to lose in spectacular fashion. If you predict a crushing defeat, however, they will emerge with an inconceivable, absurd win. Even contemplating the tangential circumstances surrounding NC State athletics is a foolish endeavor. The Demon Deacon himself is well aware of this fact. He presided over the 1981 wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Wuf, back when the two mascots were just young wolf heads on human bodies. He was there in 2011 too, to help the supposedly happy couple renew their vows. He could only shake his head as the two mascots shoved their carpet faces together and engaged in a motion that Rodger Sherman generously defined as a “creepy mascot kiss.”
The horror! The horror!
You cannot avoid the enigma that is NC State. At some point every college sports fan must confront it.
Despite the absurdity of making any predictions when NC State is involved, I will attempt to paint a picture of what I expect from the tournament. Here is my makeshift bracket:
So far, Clemson has returned mixed results against top competition. The Tigers lost close heartbreakers to both Wake Forest and Louisville, but also dismembered a good Duke team. Now that it’s tournament time, though, I expect this Clemson team to start putting opponents away. This team is built for deep tournament runs; the starting XI combines experienced veterans with dynamic young talents, and the bench is deep. Alex Hemmingsen is developing into something more than a role player before our eyes—he is becoming a star. Oliver Shannon, Diego Campos, Grayson Raynor, Michael Melvin, and Saul Chinchilla know what it takes to win a championship game. The forward group is deadly. Malick Mbaye and Patrick Bunk-Andersen form one of the best center back pairings in the league.
Syracuse is better than their no. 12 seed suggests, but Clemson is the heavy favorite. The Tigers will peel the Orange once again. The quarterfinals matchup against Duke will pose more challenges, but Clemson has already won in Durham this season. The Blue Devils will make this one close, but the forward line will prove to be too much for the no. 4 seed.
A victory against Duke will push Clemson into a revenge tilt against Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons are on fire, and they will be tough to beat in Winston Salem. However, Clemson took them to the wire earlier in the season and only lost in extra time. I think Clemson has a deeper bench, and that will come into play at this late stage. This match will be a battle, but I expect Diego Campos to pull out his best performance here. He tends to shine when the spotlight is brightest. Clemson will win on a late goal from Campos.
The Tigers will roll into the championship match in Charleston with plenty of momentum. I think North Carolina will eke out a close one here, though. The Tar Heels are hot and can score goals in bunches. They play an exciting brand of soccer. Cam Lindley is one of the best players in the country, and Jelani Pieters is an athletic threat. The North Carolina bench is stocked with former top recruits and future stars. The Tar Heels also receive a first round bye, while Clemson does not. In the championship match, the fatigue will begin take its toll. The Tar Heels will win a barnburner.
Regardless of the events that unfold, I’d like to note that the ACC Championship is not the final frontier. Clemson is already an NCAA tourney lock and, bragging rights aside, the conference tournament mainly represents an opportunity to capture a top seed. If Clemson performs as I expect, the Tigers will be lock for a top seed. An opening round loss to Syracuse would be the only reason to worry about Clemson’s tournament outlook.
Before the postseason begins, though, let’s review the last match of the regular season.
Clemson: 1 vs Louisville: 2 (Friday, 10/27)
Starting XI (4-3-3):
- GK: Ximo Miralles
- LB: Michael Melvin
- LCB: Patrick Bunk-Andersen
- RCB: Malick Mbaye
- RB: Grayson Raynor
- CDM: Alex Hemmingsen
- CM: Oliver Shannon
- CAM: Tanner Dieterich
- LW: Diego Campos
- ST: Jason Wright
- RW: Saul Chinchilla
Louisville: Tanner Schmitt (‘19), assisted by Mohamed Thiaw; Tim Kubel (‘60)
Clemson: Diego Campos (‘38), finished Oliver Shannon’s deflected shot
This Clemson performance was disappointing. The Tigers had 21 shots to Louisville’s 5, but finishing was an issue. Oliver Shannon had 7 shots on his own; he couldn’t finish one of those chances. He has to play better. The good news for Tiger fans is that their team dominated possession. The staggered midfield has clicked, and the fullbacks—especially Michael Melvin—provide the needed width. Jason Wright must assert himself more then he did in this match; Clemson needs him on the ball. The back line is good, but Bunk-Andersen needs to cut out the mental errors. With some minor corrections this Clemson team can make a deep run in postseason play.
Don’t read into this loss. The match came at an odd time, and Clemson still looked good on the ball. The grand prize is still in front of the Tigers, and this team has the necessary talent to seize it. Watch out.
Clemson vs. Syracuse
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Date: Wednesday, 11/1
Media: ACC Network Extra
Somebody help him. Please.
The celebration is great, but we all miss the flow.