Thursday, February 13, 2014

Clemson Tourney Tracker - Post ND & Pre UVA Edition

When it's all said and done, Tuesday night's 2OT loss at Notre Dame may be the moment where Clemson realizes their dream of playing in the NCAA Tournament fluttered away. Before that moment, Clemson was 5th in the ACC, two games above 0.500, and right on the cusp of being a bubble team. Since then, Clemson has fallen to the bottom of the Next Four Out and seen their RPI ratings drop below those of many of their contemporaries.

But as a Clemson fan, it's hard to be too down on this team. The resiliency shown Tuesday night was something I have not seen out of a Clemson team in quite a while. While you could look at the missed opportunities, namely Rod Hall's free throws and KJ's 3 attempt, in reality, this team had no business even having a chance to win. They trailed by 7 with under 3 to go and 5 with 1:37 left in regulation and again by 4 with 10 seconds left in the 1st OT. If Notre Dame is able to make any sort of play in either situation, Clemson doesn't even have the chance to tie or win. For the game, Clemson had possession of the ball just 4 times with the lead. In those 4 possessions, they scored just one basket: when it was 16-15.

With that loss, Clemson has now lost 2 games in a row and has fallen to 15-8 (6-5). Saturday's home game against UVA is now a critical, must win game. Unfortunately, UVA is the hottest team this side of Syracuse. They have won 8 in a row and 11 of 12. The only loss in that stretch: 4 points at Cameron Indoor.

The good news is Virginia is nearly identical in style to Clemson, so Clemson should not feel uncomfortable with suffocating defenses and extended offensive droughts. Also in Clemson's favor is KJ McDaniels. He will be the best player on the floor and could be the difference maker in a tight, defensive game.

With us now knowing what's at stake, here's a breakdown of where Clemson stands and where they want to be:

Goal: 20 Total wins, 11 Conference wins, RPI around 50, and SOS under 100
Current: 15-8, 6-5, with 7 games remaining (5 home, 2 road)
RPI: 72 (using - 7-8 point tumble after ND loss)
SOS: 119 (using - 9 point drop)
Others: 54 (Pomeroy), 59 (ESPN's BPI), & 74 (Dance Card), Next Four Out (Bracketology)

Home Games:
Following Tuesday night's loss to Notre Dame, Clemson gets 5 of 7 contests at home. Even with how well this team plays at home, it is unreasonable to expect them to win each of those 5 games considering two of those games are against a streaking UVA team and a Pitt team that crushed Clemson by 30 earlier in the season.

Best bet it to split the UVA and Pitt games and snag the other 3 games, giving Clemson 10 conference wins and needing only one road win to reach 11.

What really happens? Clemson gets the UVA-Pitt split, but drops a game to Maryland or Miami, making Clemson 3-2 and giving them 9 total conference wins.

Road Games:
As predicted, Clemson was unable to steal a win at Notre Dame, but both of their two remaining road games remaining are winnable. Even with Clemson's Jekyll & Hyde play on the road, they should be able to snag at least one of these two games. If they get just one, the ACC Tournament becomes critical and Selection Sunday nerve-wracking. If they get them both, that would give them 5 road wins, which may be enough to get them in the tournament. If they get none, they better hope to sweep the home schedule.

What really happens? Clemson rebounds to lock down both GT & Wake, giving Clemson the 11 wins they need.

Clemson needs to find five additional conference wins among their final 7 games. In addition to reaching 11 conference wins, Clemson would also reach the 20 win mark. For a team picked to finish ahead of only VaTech, just getting the six wins they have seems like quite the accomplishment. To add five more seems unthinkable. But if Clemson plays defense the way they did against Duke, FSU, & GT, then anyone remaining on their schedule is beatable. However, if they turn in performances like they did at Pitt and UNC, then the six conference wins they have will be all they get.

No matter what anyone thinks, a ticket to the Big Dance is a viable option for this team. The good news is they are the only ones who can determine their future. The bad news is it won't be pretty.

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