ACC Tournament 2014: Sleeper Teams Ready to Make Surprise Runs

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistMarch 8, 2014

Mar 4, 2014; Clemson, SC, USA; Clemson Tigers guard Rod Hall (12) drives to the basket while being defended by Miami Hurricanes guard Manu Lecomte (20) during the second half at J.C. Littlejohn Coliseum. Tigers won 58-54. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

In the first year of the new ACC, how many people expected to see Virginia enter the conference tournament as the No. 1 seed? That speaks to the outstanding work done by Tony Bennett and the parity that engulfs the sport right now. 

Along with Virginia, all the usual suspects will enter the tournament with high expectations. Duke and North Carolina have one final clash in the regular season before the postseason. Syracuse is trying to find a lifeline somewhere, but what about the other teams?

It's easy to get wrapped up in the big boys of the conference that we tend to forget this new ACC is deeper than ever before, with 15 teams vying for the automatic berth in the NCAA tournament. Which teams not generating headlines have what it takes to make a run?


Clemson Tigers (19-10, 10-7 in ACC)

Andrew Carter of the Charlotte News Observer raised a fair point in discussing Clemson's case for the NCAA tournament, which also doesn't speak well for its chances in the ACC tournament:

"Clemson lost its two most important non-conference games – Massachusetts and Arkansas – and outside of its victory against Duke, the Tigers have one victory, against Florida State, a team with a winning ACC record."

So why, based on that resume, will the Tigers make a deep run?

Seeding will depend on what happens in the regular-season finale against Pittsburgh—the winner gets the No. 5 seed, the loser will be No. 6—but either way, the Tigers are set up for a win in their first game. 

Notre Dame needed two overtimes to beat Clemson on February 11 and ended the regular season losing four of its last five games. Georgia Tech has already lost twice to Clemson. (Notre Dame and Georgia Tech will likely be a first-round matchup, with the winner facing Clemson.)

That puts the Tigers in the third round, with a potential matchup against Duke, whom they have already beaten this year. 

That's when the Tigers would, in all likelihood, end up playing Virginia. It's hard to see a scenario where they win that game, though they only lost by five points in their matchup on February 15. 

Two wins in the ACC tournament is nothing to scoff at, especially for a bubble team. It might be enough to push Clemson into the Big Dance. 


Florida State Seminoles (18-11, 9-8 in ACC)

DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 25:  Okaro White #10 of the Florida State Seminoles battles Matt Jones #13 of the Duke Blue Devils for a loose ball during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 25, 2014 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Following a midseason lull that saw them lose six of eight games from January 18 through February 10, the Seminoles have hit their stride with four wins in five games leading into Sunday's finale against Syracuse. 

Considering how poorly Syracuse has played lately, losing four times in five games, it's not going out on a limb to think Florida State will pull off the upset. If that happens, and Clemson beats Pittsburgh, the Seminoles would be the sixth seed in the ACC tournament. 

Getting that seed allows Florida State to avoid the top half of the bracket, giving it a potential matchup with Syracuse again in the third round. 

The Seminoles are an underrated shooting team. They don't score a lot of points, just 71.6 per game, but are efficient with a .468 field-goal percentage. That gives them a chance against teams that don't shoot well, like Syracuse. 


Deeper Sleepers: Notre Dame, North Carolina State

Don't expect anything big from Notre Dame or North Carolina State, but just know that both teams have played very well against the top teams in the ACC. The Fighting Irish have played well in their last three games, defeating Georgia Tech and losing by a total of six points to Pittsburgh and North Carolina. 

N.C. State isn't going to beat the big boys in the conference, but it does hold victories over mid-tier teams like Pittsburgh, Maryland and Florida State. The Wolfpack also played the third-toughest schedule among ACC teams and 17th-hardest overall. 

With 18 wins on the resume, N.C. State has been battle-tested and seems ready for this moment. 


Stats courtesy of

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