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Unexpected Ascents

ACC teams that weren't expected to do well but did anyway.

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NCAA Basketball: Hampton at Virginia
Dec 22, 2017; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Virginia Cavaliers head coach Tony Bennett smiles on the bench against the Hampton Pirates in the second half at John Paul Jones Arena. The Cavaliers won 82-48. 
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Virginia’s rise from preseason obscurity to first-place ACC finisher is quite impressive. Even if the Cavaliers don’t win at Louisville tonight, or handle Notre Dame with a physically reclaimed Bonzie Colson, the 2018 ACC preseason player of the year, they’ve clinched a perch atop the regular-season standings and a certain top-5 finish in the AP poll.

But their rise from unranked to ACC leader is not as rare is one might think. The ’18 Cavs are the fifth ACC team this century to start unnoticed nationally, only to finish with a piece of first place in the league.

In fact, it happened as recently as 2013 when Miami went from preseason poll obscurity to ACC leader. The Hurricanes went on to sweep through the ACC Tournament, capturing the conference’s official title. Of the four unrecognized to transcendent regular-season ACC teams since 2000, the Canes are the sole tournament winners.

Prior to UVa this year, two of the four teams that started unranked went on to grab a share of first – Virginia in ‘07 and Maryland in ‘10. Neither apparently impressed poll voters. Amazingly, Dave Leitao’s 2007 Cavs ended the regular-season still unranked despite tying UNC at 11-5 atop the conference race, while the 2010 Terps coached by Gary Williams finished ranked 24th.

Interestingly, of 20 teams this century that finished with a piece of first, only nine won the ACC Tournament. Discounting tied first-place finishers, so we’re not counting twice, that’s only a 50 percent success rate.

ACC First-Place Finishers, Preseason Through Regular Season in Polls
(Through Games of March 1, 2018)
Year School Prior End ACC Tournament NCAA Result
2018 Virginia 0 1 TBD TBD
2017 North Carolina 6 6 L, semis v. Duke Title
2016 North Carolina 1 8 title v. Virginia Title Game
2015 Duke 4 3 L, semis v. Notre Dame Title
2014 Virginia 4 5 title v. Duke Sweet 16
2013 Miami 0 6 title v. North Carolina Sweet 16
2012 North Carolina 1 4 L, final v. Florida State Elite 8
2011 North Carolina 8 13 L, final v. Duke Elite 8
2010 Duke 9 4 title v. Georgia Tech Title
Maryland 0 24 L, quarters v. Ga. Tech 2nd round
2009 North Carolina 1 2 L, semis v. Florida State Title
2008 North Carolina 1 1 title v. Clemson Final Four
2007 North Carolina 2 8 title v. NC State Elite 8
Virginia 0 0 L, quarters v. NC State 2nd round
2006 Duke 1 1 title v. Boston College Sweet 16
2005 North Carolina 4 2 L, semis v. Georgia Tech Title
2004 Duke 2 6 L, final v. Maryland Final Four
2003 Wake Forest 0 9 L, semis v. NC State 2nd round
2002 Maryland 2 2 L, semis v. NC State Title
2001 Duke 2 2 title v. North Carolina Title
2000 Duke 10 4 title v. Maryland Sweet 16
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