Clemson Tigers’ NCAA Tournament Hopes Take Major Hit

One month ago, everything was going Clemson men’s basketball’s way.

The Tigers were first overall in the ACC standings. They had a winning record in Quad 1, a key component in the NCAA’s NET rankings. They looked every bit a team headed toward March Madness, and not just the ACC tournament. 

Then a little bit of regression occurred. Clemson’s players got worn down physically and mentally. Injuries and players returning threw a wrench into team dynamics. Defense wasn’t strong. A rebounding weakness showed up. The bench had a few production-less performances. 

Next thing you know, Clemson head coach Brad Brownell’s team entered this week’s college basketball slate no longer an NCAA tournament team. 

“Like many teams, we’re on the list, on the bubble and we have to finish strong to get it done,” Brownell said Monday. “What that means exactly, I’m not sure if anybody knows.” 

First off, Clemson has to stop the losing. The Tigers have dropped four of their last five games, including a season back-breaker at 4-win Louisville last Saturday. 

It wasn’t a must-win game. It was a can’t-lose contest. And Clemson lost. 

“Last three weeks, we haven’t played quite as well,” Brownell said. “Had some injuries. Hopefully (guard) Alex (Hemenway) can get going. Would love to have an older guy coming off the bench that can help us more offensively.” 

The Tigers were ESPN bracket analyst Joe Lunardi’s last team in the field of 68 before the weekend. Monday afternoon, he didn’t have Clemson in his latest mock bracket.

Clemson finds itself sitting squarely on the bubble, and with three Quad 4 losses in the NET, it’s hard to see them being on the right side of it as of now. 

The Tigers are 81st overall in the NET. None of the 80 teams ahead of them have three Quad 4 losses. Just one, No. 68 Yale, has two at this time. 

You can’t lose bad games to bad teams. The NCAA tournament committee will ding the Tigers hard for defeats against No. 242 South Carolina, No. 266 Loyola Chicago and No. 308 Louisville. 

It appears that weighs more heavily than wins over Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and Duke, three teams all ranked inside the top 65. 

The system isn’t great, but Clemson can’t blame the system. They simply haven’t played well.

“We have to win more games, and probably on the road,” Brownell said. “We need to finish very strong. We have four regular season games and then the ACC tournament.” 

The Tigers wrap up the regular season with Syracuse on Wednesday night. Then they hit the road to take on NC State on Saturday at noon followed by a short-turnaround game at Virginia on Feb. 28. They finish at home against Notre Dame on March 4.

The Wolfpack and Cavaliers are having excellent seasons. If the Tigers could somehow get both of those games, Clemson would probably jump about as many spots in the NET rankings as it has fallen in the last couple of weeks. 

But it’s a largely unknown formula that is hard to predict. Beating teams of that caliber in their buildings is also not the most realistic. 

A 2-2 split the rest of the way and an early ACC tournament loss isn’t going to get it done for the Tigers. Running the table or even getting to the ACC tourney championship game is an unreliable accomplishment. 

The team, however, can’t let the focus go that far.

If Clemson wants to salvage the recent dip and get into the NCAA tournament, which should be the expectation of a team that started so hot, the Tigers are going to need to figure out what’s ailing them first.

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