Saturday, February 16, 2013

Miami at Clemson: Much to Play For

We held tight to the dream that this Clemson basketball team was capable of making a run at becoming a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament. And while we were ultimately wrong (shocker, right?), we were dang close. Just think - if Clemson is able to close out double digit leads vs both FSU & NC State (and if those guys could miss a three in the clutch), they'd be sitting at 7-5 in the conference, rather than 5-7. And as soft as this bubble is, 7-5 and 4th in the ACC would put you squarely on it. The outside of it, perhaps, but on it nonetheless.

However, as in typical Clemson fashion, those guys did bury those shots and Clemson is left playing the “what if” game. And unfortunately, the selection committee and computers don't focus on what nearly happened, but rather on what did happen. And you see, what had happened was, Clemson lost those games and sits at 5-7 in the ACC with no chance of making the NCAA Tournament and needing some wins to make the NIT.

But this season is not lost and it should not be cashed in. While Clemson’s NCAA dreams may be over, there is still one very important streak that remains achievable: Finishing at least 0.500 in conference play.

Over the last five years, only two teams have finished at least 8-8 each season: Duke & Clemson. Yep, just us. Not UNC (2010) or Maryland (just twice over the five years) or FSU (2008). Just Clemson & Duke. Duke & Clemson.

How's that taste Chapel Hill (just ignore that other streak and the title)? How's that make you feel John Swofford? Hey Georgia Tech - jealous? You should be, considering you have the opposite streak going (you haven't sniffed 8-8 or better since 2006 - when you went 8-8).

But the path to 9-9 will not be easy. Not when you're down two games with only six to go. And with four of those games against teams above Clemson in the standings, Clemson has some work to do.

So, if Clemson wants to get to 9-9, here’s a quick summary of how they get there:

Home Games:
To get to nine conference wins, Clemson only has two losses to play with. And it would be great to hold those for the road games. However, the home slate is tough, with Miami & UNC coming to town. Assuming Clemson takes care of BC, you still need to split Miami & UNC just to give yourselves a chance to get to 9 wins. This won't be easy considering both teams have superior athletes that like to run - the opposite of Clemson's skill set.

Best Case: 3-0
Worst Case: 1-2
What really happens: Clemson plays hard against Miami, but comes up short in the end. Clemson bounces back to defeat a tight UNC team hoping to make the tourney. By going 2-1, they give themselves a shot at hitting the nine win mark.

Road Games:
At most, Clemson will have two losses to play with; however, they may need three as their schedule takes them to Maryland, VT, & Miami. Miami has yet to lose a conference game and Maryland only has two home losses - a tight one to FSU early in the season and their last game to a hot UVA team. VT is last in the league, but still a tough out in Blacksburg.

Best Case: 2-1
Worst Case: 0-3
What really happens: Clemson is able to snag one of the two games against either Maryland or VT and will roll into Coral Gables at 8-9 looking for a win to keep the streak alive; however, senior night on South Beach is not kind to the Tigers and the streak comes to an end.

If Clemson wants to keep the streak alive, they must win Sunday. If they don't, then Clemson needs to steal two ACC road wins, when they only have one so far.

So, the drive for #6 starts Sunday night. Can they do it? Absolutely! This Clemson team has played well at home, and while Miami has yet to lose a conference game, they've had some close calls on the road (60-59 over BC and 79-78 over NC State).

But will they pull off the upset and will they get to 9-9? Who knows, but let’s hope they do.

Go Tigers!

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