Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What to Expect: ACC Tournament Edition

When the Tigers stroll into the DAC, they will have many things on their mind, ranging from staying safe* to securing a regional host bid to winning the tournament.

*Looking through crime statistics tells me a few things:
  1. 1. The South is not the safest place to be
    2. There are areas in the South that are perfectly okay
    3. Durham is not one of them
    4. Neither is Greensboro
    5. But Columbia is by far the worst of all

While dodging crime sprees, Clemson will try to accomplish two major feats: 1) Repeat what they've done in each of the last 9 tournaments, and 2) Do something they've never done. If they can pull off the latter, then the former takes care of itself. And since the latter controls the formal, let's break it down first. We'll follow with general observations of the format and teams, so everyone is prepared come this evening.

The Latter
As a Clemson fan, we love history and statistics (just ask any USC fan), but occasionally the history and statistics lesson backfires. That is the case with the ACC Baseball Tournament. Since 1994, Clemson has claimed just one Tournament trophy - the 2006 version, or the final year of the traditional double-elimination format. Since the implementation of the round-robin format, Clemson has never won all three pool games and has never advanced to the Championship game.

This weekend doesn't bode well for the Tigers getting their first shot as their half of the bracket is "stacked" with all four teams having a Top 20 RPI, including the nation's #1 team in UNC. Additionally, being snookered out of the 4th seed by NC State means Clemson has no 3-way tiebreaker options. They must win their pool outright.

For Clemson to "lock down" a regional host bid, they need to do something they've never done: win their pool in round-robin play and advance to the Championship Game.

The Former
The good side of history and statistics shows us a different side of the ACC Tournament - consistency. While Clemson may only have 1 ACC Tournament Championship since 1994, they've earned at least 1 win in each of the last nine seasons, and thirteen out of the last fourteen. Since the round-robin format is only five years old (and let's hope it stays that age), Clemson has never left this format empty handed.

With Clemson sitting just one win away from the magical 40 win mark, they need to “Keep on keeping on” and do something they've done each of the last 9 years and grab a win. This only strengthens an already solid resume, and should be enough to pencil them in as a regional host.

The Format
By finishing 5th, Clemson is paired with the 1, 4, & 8 seeds, all of which have a Top 20 RPI. By far, this is the stronger pool, and Clemson will need to play well, and catch a few breaks to make it to Sunday.

Like any good bracket, the higher seed dictates schedule, meaning Clemson opens w/ NC State tonight, followed by a day off on Thursday, UNC on Friday, and finished with Miami on Saturday.

Overall, Clemson actually received a favorable schedule by having two night games and a midafternoon game, though playing at night in Durham never makes you, or the patrons, feel very safe. The one downside is the two night games are against the locals, meaning they’ll be a pseudo road game rather than neutral (remind me again why Greenville was deemed too close to home?)

The Draw
The one fact that gives Clemson their best chance of doing some damage in Durham is that they will miss all three teams’ primary starter. Clemson will not face NC State’s top draft pick Rodon as they will send freshman Brad Stone to the mound. He will undoubtedly strike out a few Tigers, but hopefully they can do better against them this time around and get to him early. On Friday, Clemson will get UNC’s #2 as ACC Pitcher of the Year Emanuel goes for them on Thursday against Miami. On Saturday, Clemson will get Miami’s #3.

This, along with Clemson’s arms, will give them a chance in all three games.

The Teams
Random fact: Clemson played all three teams on the road, and lost two of the three series. And each series played out totally different.

Against NC State, the Clemson bats came to life and Clemson won the first two games in rather easy fashion, but faltered in the third when going for the sweep. NC State will throw Brad Stone at Clemson, the freshman who shut them down the first time. With Gossett going for the Tigers, the goal will be to jump out to an early lead and let Gossett get into a rhythm; however, the NC State bats are some of the most potent Clemson will face.

At UNC, Clemson took the opposite approach as they lost the first two games in rather convincing fashion, only to salvage the series with an extra-inning win over. The win marked Clemson’s 16th win over a top ranked team, and gave UNC only their second loss of the season. This time, Clemson will get Saturday starter Benton Moss, who was perfect through 2+ innings before the skies opened up. Clemson’s best chance is to play a quick, low-scoring game, and hope for a few timely hits – something they couldn’t do in the last two games at FSU.

Against Miami, Clemson won the opening game, but lost the series as the bats never left the state. Gossett made a single run stand in the opener, but Clemson scored just one more run over the weekend, and ended the series with 16 straight scoreless innings. Both teams have much at stake, and much to lose, but what makes this game so difficult is the uncertainty of it. It could be for everything, or it could be for nothing, and odds are nothing will be on the line when the first pitch is thrown. The question will be which team stays mentally prepared.

The Result?
For Clemson, tonight’s game against NC State means everything. If Clemson loses tonight, they no longer control their destiny as they will lose all tie-break scenarios. And if NC State were to also win against Miami on Friday morning, Clemson would already eliminated before they even play their second game.

Additionally, the Clemson bats are very streaky. If they get off to a hot start, the hitting could continue through the weekend. Conversely, if they get off on the wrong foot, it could be a long week.

The good news for Clemson fans will be the Clemson arms. As witnessed last weekend at FSU, the Tiger pitching staff has good stuff. Stuff so good, it could carry them to the championship. The problem is the bats aren’t consistent enough to overcome a subpar pitching performance. And chances are, playing 3-4 games in the 4 nights will present at least one opportunity where the bats will need to bail out the arms.

Let’s hope that happens Sunday afternoon, and not later tonight.

Look for Clemson to steal a win tonight over a hot NC State team, only to struggle to score runs against UNC & Miami. In the end, UNC continues their ACC dominance with a win over a surprisingly game VT team to claim the title.

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