With the regular season drawing to a close and Selection Sunday less than two weeks away, the pressure is on Clemson, Florida State and Georgia Tech to make their cases for a trip to the Big Dance.
Since the start of the season, head coaches around the ACC have been publically lobbying the NCAA's Tournament Selection Committee to take an unprecedented nine teams from the 12 school conference. With 10 conference wins each, No. 8 North Carolina, No. 21 Virginia Tech, Virginia and Boston College appear to have locked up bids. Additionally, No. 14 Duke and No. 25 Maryland, especially after its win Sunday over UNC, are considered to be guaranteed tournament bids.
That leaves the Tigers, the Seminoles and the Yellow Jackets as the three teams that enter the final week unsure of what their futures hold.
Of the three, Clemson was expected to have the best chance to receive an at-large bid when regular-season play began in January. Since starting the season with an NCAA-best 17-0, however, the Tigers have collapsed down the stretch with a 2-9 record in their last 11 games. Furthermore, Clemson is 0-7 against the six ACC teams expected to make the tournament and does not have any notable out-of-conference victories to pad its resume.
The team closes out its regular-season campaign at home Wednesday against Miami before traveling to Blacksburg, Va. on Sunday to face the surprising Hokies.
"We need a win in the worst way," Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell said.
Florida State (18-11, 6-9) has also experienced late-season struggles of its own. After beating then-No.10 Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Feb. 4, the Seminoles dropped five straight before crushing N.C. State, 78-52, Feb. 25. With a solid strength of schedule rating of 14 and out-of-conference wins against then-No. 4 Florida and Providence, Leonard Hamilton's squad could make a case for tournament inclusion with a win at Miami on Saturday.
"We are at the point now where we need to worry about the things we can control," Hamilton said. "We have to now focus on playing well."
Still, Hamilton fears that the Seminoles will be unfairly snubbed by the tournament committee for the second straight year. He pointed out that many of the team's recent woes have come after an injury to guard Toney Douglas, who has missed the team's last five games and is not expected back until next week's ACC Tournament.
"I have been really confused as to the criteria and the emphasis [that the selection committee uses]," Hamilton said. "I have tried to tune out any of the thought process, because last year I was very, very disappointed in the fact that I thought we had earned the right to go. So with that said, what I've tried to do is just concentrate on our team."
Arguably the longest shot to make the tournament are the Yellow Jackets (18-10, 6-8), who will need to win two tough home games to reach .500 in conference play. Georgia Tech will square off against both UNC and Boston College this week, giving it an opportunity to play into the tournament despite an RPI of 51 and a strength of schedule of 46.
"As we move into this last stretch of the schedule, it's a tremendous opportunity for us to play against some very good teams," Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt said. "I don't know if we're going to make it into the tournament... but this team is playing very well, and if we do enough to get into the tournament I'm very confident we will be successful."
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