Despite Clemson’s loss at Syracuse on Saturday, the chips fell in the Tigers’ favor as they landed the No. 4 seed and the coveted double bye in the 15-team ACC Tournament this week in Brooklyn. Clemson finished one of the best regular seasons in program history with a 22-8 record and an 11-7 mark in the rugged ACC. The Tigers, however, have lost four of their last six games and will look to return to peak form as they enter tournament play — both in the ACC and NCAA.
Clemson’s section of the bracket includes three teams against which the Tigers compiled a 4-1 record in the regular season. No. 12 seed Boston will play No. 13 seed Georgia Tech at noon on Tuesday, with the winner taking on No. 5 seed N.C. State on Wednesday. The winner of that second-round game will then face Clemson in a Thursday afternoon game at 2 p.m., with the winner of that tilt likely facing off against No. 1 seed Virginia in the Quarterfinals — unless the Cavaliers are upset by the winner of the 8/9 game between Louisville and Florida State.
The Tigers have certainly not had their best stretch of the season over the last couple weeks, and with that in mind it’s nice that they are able to advance to the Quarterfinals without having to play a game. The rest and extra practice time should be beneficial even though the team can’t technically prep for a particular opponent until Wednesday evening. There is always the possibility of coming out slow or looking rusty as the team with the bye vs. being the team who has already played a game, but the preference is always to have as few games to play as possible.
N.C. State is dangerous right now (having won 5 of its last 6), and Clemson surely wouldn’t mind seeing the winner of the 12/13 game knock off the Wolfpack to give the Tigers an easier (and presumably more tired) opponent in their first game. Although it’s more likely Clemson gets N.C. State and has to play very well to advance.
Even if the Tigers do advance, it’s probable their run ends in the Semifinals if they are tasked with taking on No. 1 seed Virginia. Clemson would need its best effort of the season to knock off the Cavaliers, and that’s a very difficult thing to count on. But, hey, it’s March ... so who knows what to expect. For what it’s worth, Louisville and Florida State both played extremely competitive games with Virginia this season, so maybe the winner of that game could do Clemson a favor and dispose of the tournament favorite Cavaliers.
Anyway, a realistic goal for the Tigers would be to win their first game and play a competitive game in the Semifinals. That would be a quality showing that would hopefully instill some faith in the selection committee that Clemson is not fading without Donte Grantham and is a team deserving of a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.
All in all, it’s just great to see the Tigers playing meaningful games in March again.
The Favorite: Virginia
The No. 1 seed isn’t always the bona fide favorite to win the ACC Tournament, but it’s certainly the case this season. The Cavaliers are experienced, talented and well-schooled, and have put together an incredible season with a sparkling 28-2 record. They boast a steady backcourt of ACC first-teamer Kyle Guy and third-teamer Ty Jerome, and have the conference’s defensive player of the year in Isaiah Wilkins. Throw in perhaps the ACC’s best all-around player in Devon Hall, and the Cavaliers present a very tough challenge for any team looking to oust them from this tournament.
The ACC has eight surefire bids to the NCAA Tournament, with three more teams very much on the bubble and in need of impressive showings in Brooklyn.
Louisville has dropped two straight (including a complete and utter give-away of a win against Virginia that would have clinched a bid) and appears to be dead on the cut line. Odds are a win over Florida State would be just enough to get them in, but a loss could cripple their chances.
Syracuse likely staved off elimination with its win over Clemson on Saturday but is probably two wins away from feeling at all comfortable about earning a spot in the dance. That would include beating Wake Forest in the opening round and knocking off No. 6 seed North Carolina the next day. That would probably get them to the cusp, but a subsequent win over No. 3 seed Miami would surely lock up a spot.
The truly interesting case study is Notre Dame. The Irish have played a large portion of the season without ACC preseason player of the year Bonzie Colson, including a stretch of seven straight ACC losses, but they have worked their way to 18-13 (8-10 ACC) and now have Colson back in the fold. That not only makes the Irish immediately a tournament-caliber team, but also presents an interesting situation for the committee to consider (i.e., how much are they willing to forgive Notre Dame for its performance without its star player). Regardless, the Irish need to take care of Pitt in the opening round and follow that up with a win over No. 7 seed Virginia Tech to have any prayer of sniffing the field. Even then, they would probably need to upset No. 2 seed Duke to really feel confident that the committee would deem them worthy of inclusion. But with a player like Colson back in the mix, that may not be a far-fetched as it sounds.
Players to watch
Jerome Robinson, Boston College
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
Deng Adel, Louisville
Al Freeman, NC State
Justin Robinson, Virginia Tech
Joel Berry, North Carolina
Kyle Guy, Virginia
Marcquise Reed, Clemson
Marvin Bagley, Duke
Lonnie Walker, Miami