As the calendar flips to March, things are getting down to the wire for the standings for the 2014 ACC tournament.
A few big tournament wins, and of course the conference championship, can propel a team to a spot in the NCAA tournament it might not have anticipated otherwise, so the stakes are high.
With the ACC field deeper than ever before thanks to the addition of Syracuse and Pittsburgh, teams are desperately jockeying for positioning over the course of the final week of games.
While some of the conference's most important games have already happened, others are yet to be played. Either way, there are some truly important ACC matchups to consider for the tournament.
North Carolina 60, Virginia Tech 56
The Hokies might be dead last in the ACC, but they still pushed the Tar Heels in this one.
UNC might’ve been tempted to take Tech lightly, given the squad’s 9-18 record headed into the game, but the Heels needed this win and are lucky to have it.
James Michael McAdoo had an up-and-down month of February, but he took over down the stretch in this one, scoring 12 of his 15 points in the second half.
The win was UNC’s 11th straight victory, and it was a meaningful one for the tournament, according to WFMY anchor Brian Formica:
The Heels are red-hot right now, despite starting ACC play by going 1-4.
Virginia, Syracuse and Duke may all be ahead of them in the standings, but now that they’ve clinched a double bye in the tournament, they’re very well positioned to make some noise in Greensboro.
Maryland at Clemson, March 2
The Clemson Tigers have been a bit of a surprise in the ACC this season, and they’ve got the potential to finish with a top-six seed for the conference tournament.
But should they falter against the Terps at home, they could be in for a big slide.
They sit at 8-7 in the conference, with both Maryland and Florida State lurking at 7-8.
Given where the Tigers stand as the NCAA tournament approaches, they need a high seed to guarantee a win or two in the ACC tournament.
Right now, Clemson comes in at No. 69 overall in RPI, with its biggest win coming against Duke.
While the strength of the Tigers’ schedule helps, the fact that they haven’t really capitalized on these big matchups has surely stung, losing big to Pitt and Syracuse.
But if they can beat Maryland, hold onto the sixth seed and get to face a team like Notre Dame or Boston College—the teams likely to be facing off in the first round of the ACC tourney—then they’ve got a shot.
Adding another win or two in the ACC tournament is absolutely crucial for a team’s chances to get off the bubble and into the bracket, and it all starts with the Terps.
They still have home dates with Miami and Pittsburgh to consider, but Maryland is the first step toward the conference positioning they need.
And the Terps will be an even matchup for the Tigers. After all, they’re only six spots behind Clemson in RPI and have a greatly superior strength of schedule at No. 22 in the nation.
They’ll be gunning for ACC positioning as well, so it’ll be up to K.J. McDaniels to carry the Tigers through.
If he can, the Tigers are able to dispatch Miami and at least be competitive with Pitt, they could very well go dancing.
But considering their tenuous position on the bubble, according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, these games are going to be absolutely huge for the Tigers and the ACC:
Updated bubble (w/Monday results). LAST IN: BYU, Georgetown, Providence, Florida State. FIRST OUT: WVU, Missouri, Saint Joseph's, Clemson.— Joe Lunardi (@ESPNLunardi) February 11, 2014
If they can cap off the season with some quality and stay hot in the tournament, the Tigers can certainly be the year’s surprising team.