We're in the stretch-run of ACC basketball, six games left in Clemson’s regular season – three home (Miami, UNC and Boston College) and three road (Maryland, Virginia Tech and Miami), starting with the No. 3 ‘Canes coming to town Sunday.
The Tigers sit in eighth place (13-11, 5-7 ACC), which would set them up for a noon opener in Greensboro N.C.’s ACC Tournament, and with a win, a date with the No. 1 seed.
How far can Clemson rise with a strong finish?
They are currently a half game behind Maryland (5-6) and Florida State (5-6), and a game and a half from N.C. State (6-5) and UNC (6-5). The Wolfpack would have the tiebreaker, but the Tar Heels’ only date with the Tigers comes in Littlejohn.
Theoretically, Clemson can grab an ACC Tourney first-day bye with a monster close and a little help, and can also drop like rock with a losing streak.
The final stretch for the middle of the pack…
Clemson (5-7): No. 3 Miami, @ Maryland, UNC, @ Virginia Tech, Boston College, @ No. 3 Miami. The two home games (UNC/BC) and the trip to Virginia Tech are the most likely wins left, but few home contests are off the table with how Brad Brownell’s bunch tends to play in Littlejohn. Best-case scenario is still likely a split, finishing with a 8-10 record.
Maryland (5-6): No. 2 Duke, @ Boston College, Clemson, @ Georgia Tech, @ Wake Forest, UNC, Virginia. The Terps have been all over the place this season. Maryland entered ACC season 12-1, but don’t have a marquee win to their name in conference play. Best case, they go 4-3, but with their ups-and-downs, possibly 3-4, which would make the head-to-head meeting crucial for the Tigers come Feb. 23 in College Park.
Florida State (5-6): Boston College, @ N.C. State, @ Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, @ UNC, Virginia, N.C. State. Because they swept the season series, Clemson has to finish a game ahead of the ‘Noles in the standings, and FSU will be right on the line for getting three wins with that stretch. Two with a Wolfpack team in the hunt for an NCAA bid, a trip to UNC and Virginia will be tough, but if they can come out of Blacksburg with a win, they will likely stay ahead of the Tigers.
UNC (6-5): Virginia, @ Georgia Tech, N.C. State, @ Clemson, Florida State, @ Maryland, No. 2 Duke. The Tar Heels are trending up after a narrow loss at No. 2 Duke (73-68), but the Tigers can make things interesting with a win on Feb. 28 to gain the head-to-head edge.
From behind, Wake Forest, sitting in ninth-place, would have to finish a game ahead of the Tigers, needing a 5-1 or 4-2 finish to pass in tournament seeding (not happening). Boston College is the only other team with a legitimate shot, needing to go 5-2, but still has trips to FSU, Duke, NC State and Clemson left. Even with a 7-11 finish, an eighth seed looks like the bottom floor for the Tigers.
Projecting the ACC Tournament Pairings
Friday Matchup (Noon ET) – 1) Miami vs. Thursday Matchup (Noon) – 8) Clemson/9) Wake Forest
Friday Matchup (Around 9:15) – 2) Duke vs. Thursday Matchup (Around 9:15) – 7) Maryland/10) Boston College
Friday Matchup (7:00) – 3) Virginia vs. Thursday Matchup (7:00) 6) Florida State/11) Georgia Tech
Friday Matchup (Around 2:15) – 4) N.C. State vs. Thursday Matchup (Around 2:15) – 5) UNC/12) Virginia Tech
Moving into that sixth seed and avoiding Miami and Duke in round two is the key for Clemson to make any couple-day run in Greensboro. They will have to earn it with some big wins down the stretch - first opportunity on Sunday against Miami.
ESPN has five ACC teams in the field, with Miami and Duke as No. 1 seeds, N.C. State as a 7, UNC as an 11 and Virginia as a 12.
CBS only has four conference teams in – Miami (1), Duke (1), N.C. State (8) and UNC (10).