Despite losing four of five, Clemson remains in prime position to receive an NIT bid. The Tigers sit at 15 wins and although three probable losses loom on the schedule, they are still in position to finish with about 17 wins before postseason selections are made. At the start of the season, we said reaching that 17 win mark would be needed to get Clemson into the NIT, and it now looks like it would make the Tigers a virtual lock.
In 2006, the rule restricting bids to only those teams with .500 or better records was removed, but even still no team below that mark has cracked the field. According to DRatings.com, this year could be different. They are currently projecting Florida, South Carolina, Michigan, and Colorado in the field of 32 despite the distinct possibility that they slip below .500. In fact, Florida is projected as a #1 seed due in large part to a top five strength of schedule and they will most likely finish below .500 (UK remains on the schedule). South Carolina's strength of schedule ranked inside the top 30. They only have 13 wins, but two of their final three games are at home so they should be able to muster 15 wins.
Some other interesting tidbits about the emerging NIT Field:
- 11 of the 14 eligible ACC schools are projected into the NCAA or NIT tournaments with Pittsburgh and Miami battling for a one seed in the NIT. They play in the season's final week in a game that could decide who gets a #1 seed. Pittsburgh gets Miami at home and after a rough start to conference play looks poised to finish strong and end with 20+ wins. If they can manage that, they may even sneak into the NCAA tournament, a feat for which Jamie Dixon should earn commendations.
- Clemson, Georgia Tech, and Florida State are the other ACC schools projected to make the NIT field with Clemson as a #5 seed, Georgia Tech as a #7 seed, and FSU as an #8 seed. Florida State has a brutal stretch to close the season with Miami, Louisville, and Pittsburgh all remaining. Meanwhile Georgia Tech gets another shot at Clemson this coming weekend. A win would make it a season sweep following a 10-game losing streak to the Tigers. They then get UNC while Clemson would still have two more games so it is hard to imagine GT jumping Clemson unless they can win out.
- Some potentially juicy matchups make the NIT field intriguing. Florida, projected as a #1 seed, could end up with a rematch against FSU who is projected as a #8 - though I believe both will drop from those current projections.
- Obviously the most intriguing matchup from our perspective is Clemson vs. South Carolina. Ideally, Clemson makes a run through the NIT and wins the whole thing, but we haven't seen enough consistency to consider that realistic. Clemson lost by 23 to the Gamecocks earlier in the season, but since then the Chickens have fallen (fast) back down to earth while Clemson has improved. This is evident in the converging KenPom rankings. Early in the season, there were nearly 100 teams between them, but now they sit at 73 (SC) and 87 (CU). Knocking the Poultry out of a postseason tournament would add some pop to a season that has been generally negative with regression from a season ago, the end to the GT win streak, and more nonsensical non-conference losses. Depending on how the rest of the season concludes, it's not unrealistic for Clemson to leapfrog SC in the seedings, which could set-up a #4 vs. #5 rematch at LJC. Could there be a better final game in LJC before the remodel?