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Clemson's NCAA Tournament Chances

The ACC is down this year.  Way down.  But a lot of other conferences are way down as well, which leaves a very weak bubble.  Therefore, the ACC will still be able to get 4 or 5 teams into the tournament, even if in past years those teams would've been undeserving.  Duke and UNC are locks for the NCAA tournament.  That means we will be fighting it out for the last 2 or 3 bids with FSU, VT, BC, Maryland.  That's 5 teams for 2, maybe 3 spots.

So, how do we stack up?

With a current RPI of 77, Clemson has the 7th best RPI in the ACC.  Although the RPI is not the end-all-be-all, it is a good indication of where you stand in the NCAA tournament picture.  One of the teams with a better RPI than us is Miami, who sits at 4-7 in the conference.  Miami is not getting into the tournament this year.  A .500 conference record or worse has no shot of getting into the tournament, which is what is going to happen to the Hurricanes. They did, however, do a better job of scheduling out of conference than we did, which is why their RPI is inflated.  BC, FSU, and VT all have better RPIs than we do.  BC (41) and FSU (44) have significantly better RPIs.  Although we did beat BC head to head, it was on our home court and won't make up for the large RPI disparity. 

The criteria for getting into the tournament seems to differ every year.  But, assuming these 5 ACC teams finish with very similar ACC records, the committee is going to need a way to distinguish between these teams.  One thing that I continue to hear every year is that the committee values impressive wins over bad losses.  I generally agree with this line of thinking, as a lot of bubble teams suffer bad losses, but not a lot of bubble teams prove they can play with the big boys.  This entrance criteria could work against Clemson.  Our best out of conference (OOC) wins this year are over Seton Hall (87) and at College of Charleston (77).  Compare those wins with the OOC wins of our main ACC competition:

  • FSU - Baylor (64), North Florida (162)
  • BC - Texas A&M (30), California (69)
  • VT - Oklahoma State (55), Penn State (70)
  • MD - @ Penn State (70), CofC (77)

Looking at these OOC numbers, BC and VT have better victories than us.  FSU's OOC victories are horrible, worse than ours, but they have an in-conference victory over Duke to hang their hat on, which puts them higher on the pecking order than us.  Maryland's victories are on par with ours.  Their victory over Penn State is better than any of our victories, but their win over CofC was at home whereas ours was on the road.

So what needs to happen?

  1. We must pick up victories against NC State, Miami, and Wake Forest to improve our conference record.
  2. Play competitively against Duke, so as to not leave a bad taste in the committees mouth about our ability.
  3. Beat VT at home the last game of the season.  We are in direct competition with VT for a spot in the tournament, so this becomes a must win game, assuming #1 has already occurred.
  4. Win 2 games in the ACC tournament, 1 of which will hopefully be against FSU, BC, VT, or Maryland.
Sounds easy, right?  Well, that's what happens when you play a cream puff OOC schedule.  If we can finish 10-6 in the ACC, with wins over BC and VT, and then pick up a second win over BC or VT in the ACC tournament, we may have a shot.  

My hope is that we will start to schedule more high profile OOC games, play in bigger early season tournaments, and get better ACC/Big 10 match-ups.  If we do this we will not only prepare ourself for the rigors of ACC play, but we will build a better overall NCAA tournament resume.