ACC Tournament 2013: Dark Horse Teams to Watch out for in Greensboro

Patrick ClarkeCorrespondent IMarch 5, 2013

Jan 19, 2013; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; Maryland Terrapins guard Nick Faust (5) dribbles in the first half. The Tar Heels defeated the Terrapins 62-52 at the Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The top-ranked Miami Hurricanes and Duke Blue Devils will be the favorites to win the ACC tourney this March, the lead-up to the Big Dance.

But for every favorite, there is an underdog—a dark horse.

The 2013 ACC men's basketball tournament will begin on Thursday, March 14 at the Greensboro Coliseum in North Carolina, where eight teams will tip off the first round, with the conference's four best teams waiting to play the winners in the quarterfinals on Friday.

Although there is still some regular season basketball left to be played before the ACC Tournament seeds are locked in, here we'll take a closer look at some dark horse contenders to keep an eye on in Greensboro this March.

Let's begin.


Virginia Cavaliers

The Cavaliers earned a pair of impressive non-conference wins against Wisconsin and Tennessee early in the season and have since proven they are for real, knocking off North Carolina, NC State and Duke at home in ACC play.

Virginia isn't a lethal team in terms of scoring, ranking No. 10 in the conference, but excels on the defensive end of the floor, ranking tops in the ACC in scoring defense this season, allowing just over 54 points per game in 2012-13.

Virginia also ranks second in the ACC in 3-point percentage, hitting 40.3 percent as a team this year.

If junior guard Joe Harris gets hot to start the tournament, then there's no telling how far the Cavs can go. Harris is the team's leading scorer, averaging over 17 points per game this season on 50 percent shooting from the floor and 46 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Harris lit the Blue Devils up for 36 points in last month's upset win.


Maryland Terrapins

Like Virginia, Maryland has recorded some signature wins in conference play this year, topping NC State and Duke at the Comcast Center in College Park, Md.

Aside from some impressive victories, the Terps are the nation's third-best rebounding team and lead the ACC in that category, gobbling up more than 41 per game. Maryland's mark is significantly better than conference favorites Miami (36) and Duke (34).

A big reason the Terps are so strong on the boards is sophomore center Alex Len, a projected Top 10 pick in this summer's 2013 NBA draft (if he declares early).

Maryland is at its best when Len is playing inspired basketball. In the Terps' upset of Duke last month, Len scored 19 points, hitting 6-of-8 field goals and getting to the foul line several times to power his team past the Blue Devils.

If Len is playing with a chip on his shoulder on both ends of the court, and Maryland's guards aren't turning the ball over, then the Terps will be a tough out in Greensboro.


Wake Forest Demon Deacons

The Demon Deacons are one of the worst teams in the ACC when you look at the conference standings, but Wake Forest has actually earned some big-time wins since conference play began last January. Wake has knocked off Virginia, NC State and Miami at home this season, and even beat Florida State by 25 points in Winston-Salem.

Despite its poor conference record, Wake has some strengths.

The Demon Deacons are the second-best team in the ACC when it comes to stealing the ball, averaging 7.1 per game, trailing only North Carolina in that category. 

Led by senior sharpshooter C.J. Harris (15 PPG on 40.7 percent 3-point shooting), the Demon Deacons pose a huge threat this postseason as a low-seeded team coming into the ACC Tournament.

Wake has nothing to lose and will be playing the role of spoiler in an effort to earn an automatic bid to the 2013 NCAA Tournament like the rest of the conference's cellar dwellers.

Wake Forest will be playing with no pressure this March, and that's what makes it so dangerous.


Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

Follow _Pat_Clarke on Twitter