But it doesn't have to stay this way - and I don't think it will. Clemson has continued to improve, and outside of a dismal offensive performance in Durham, they have nothing to be embarrassed about. And if Clemson can continue to improve, win the games they're supposed to win, and steal a few they aren't, then Clemson could find themselves on the NCAA bubble.
Most people will probably say this isn't even worth pursuing, as it's too far-fetched. And maybe it is, but until Clemson formally plays their way out of the NCAA Tournament, we'll try to determine what they need to do to get in. As such, let's take a look at what Clemson needs to do find themselves on the NCAA Bubble, where anything can happen.
Clemson needs to scratch out at least 11 ACC wins, though 12 would make them feel more comfortable while waiting out Selection Sunday. As we've seen over the last few years, even a 9-7 record in ACC play no longer guarantees you a berth into the Tournament. If 2 games over 0.500 won't cut it during a normal year, with a normal 16 game schedule, then it certainly won't cut it in this year's ACC with an 18 game slate. Add in Clemson's inability to snag a key out of conference win, and it will take at least 11, if not 12 wins to land on the bubble.
Using 11 wins as the barometer, Clemson must improve their 2-3 record by going 9-4 over their final 13 conference games. The good news for Clemson is the unbalanced ACC schedule actually works in their favor as they only play Duke, UNC, & Maryland once, with the game against UNC at home. Of the teams they play twice, Miami is looking more legit by the game, but there is no guarantee how they'll be by mid February when Clemson sees them for the first time. Meanwhile NC State struggles on the road and FSU is streaky.
The easiest way to break down Clemson's chances is to split the remaining games into home and road. At home, Clemson needs to go no worse than 5-1. Assuming they are able to take care of GT, VT, & BC, that leaves games against UNC, NC State, & Miami, which Clemson needs to win two out of three.
Assuming Clemson doesn't slip up against the first trio, and can win two out of three against the second trio, then Clemson would need to go no worse than 4-3 on the road (where they've yet to win an ACC game). If you split the road contests in two groups, Clemson needs to steal one win against the tougher trio of FSU, Maryland, & Miami while losing no more than one game against the easier grouping of BC, VT, GT, & UVA.
(One thing that shouldn't be lost is if Clemson manages to get to 11-7, then they will be 7-3, or better, in their last 10 games, which is a small metric used in the selection process. They will arguably be playing some of the better basketball in the ACC as the season ends.)In addition to their ACC record, one thing Clemson needs to be wary of is the teams to which they win & lose, especially other bubble teams. One such team is FSU, which already has one win against Clemson. If Clemson is unable to pull out a road win tomorrow night in Tallahassee, FSU will own two wins over Clemson, which will make it hard for Clemson to surpass FSU on Selection Sunday. And while Miami looks solid after routing Duke, they could easily fall back to the pack and Clemson could find themselves in a bubble battle with them. Earning at least a split with every team on the schedule will prevent Clemson from being relegated to the bottom of the pecking order.
Again, we realize Clemson making the NCAA Tournament is a long shot. There is work to be done to garner an NIT invite; however, as we said earlier, until Clemson formally plays their way out of the Tournament, we will hold out hope and see what must be done to get them back to the Promise Land.