Monday, February 10, 2014

Clemson's Tourney Tracker - Post 'Cuse Edition

If you poll most Clemson fans, you will find few who thought Clemson had a legitimate shot to knock off undefeated and #1 Syracuse. However, after that game, many Clemson people felt like it was Clemson who beat themselves more than Syracuse doing it for them. And so goes life on the road. Lose by 30 to Pitt & UNC, beat FSU, and play toe to toe with the top team in the land. And while moral victories play well at the water cooler, they do little for the selection committee. What Clemson needs now are wins. Five more, to be exact...

Clemson currently sits at 15-7 (6-4) and squarely on the bubble, though it is a bit crowded. Clemson has a better record and more conference wins than many of their bubble mates, but a weaker RPI and Strength of Schedule. For instance, Clemson sits tied for 5th in the ACC, but well behind fellow conference mates FSU, Maryland, and NC State in the RPI rankings. Same goes for other conferences as Clemson leads teams like Mizzou, Wisconsin, & Ohio State in conference play, but trail them in the rankings. Much like the BCS, these comparisons will begin to sort themselves out as the calendar turns from February to March.

But like any bubble team, the next game is the most important, and for Clemson, it's their first ever trip to Notre Dame. Brownell should feel right at home in Indiana, though I'm unsure how the remainder of the team will take to Atlantic Coast Conference play stemming from the Midwest. Notre Dame is a team many thought to be Tourney worthy, though they've struggled mightily in the ACC. Don't expect many tears from this Clemson team or fellow ACC alums.

One thing to expect from Notre Dame is a close game. Of their 12 losses, only three have been by double digits (Clemson has 4 out of 7 for comparison purposes). Surprisingly, all three double digit losses have come at home. Hopefully Clemson can add a 13th loss to Notre Dame's resume.

So, with the next game teed up, let's take a look at where we stand - and where we're trying to go:

Goal: 20 Total wins, 11 Conference wins, RPI around 50, and SOS under 100
Current: 15-7, 6-4, with 8 games remaining (5 home, 3 road)
RPI: 65 (using realtimerpi.com - definite uptick following 'Cuse loss)
SOS: 110 (using realtimerpi.com)
Others: 49 (Pomeroy), 59 (ESPN's BPI), & 74 (Dance Card), First Four Out (Bracketology)

Home Games:
Following Sunday night's loss to Syracuse, Clemson gets 5 of 8 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 ranked 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:
Each of Clemson's three 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 three games. If they get just one, the ACC Tournament becomes critical and Selection Sunday nerve-wracking. If they get two, 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 is unable to scratch out a win at ND, but rebounds to lock down both GT & Wake, giving Clemson the 11 wins they need.

Summary:
Clemson needs to find five additional conference wins among their final 9 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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