Monday, February 3, 2014

NCAA Tourney Tracker - 2014 Version

This time last year, we began a segment called "Tourney Tracker" as we tried to determine what Clemson needed to do to earn an NCAA Tournament berth. Following publication of said article, we were routinely panned, flogged, and ridiculed as no one else gave that Clemson team a chance. Unfortunately our hope was unfounded as Clemson lost 10 of their last 11 to finish 13-18 (5-13).

So, when Clemson started ACC play 4-1, needless to say we were a little cautious. Optimistic, but cautious. But after seeing what Clemson was able to accomplish in Tallahassee, we are beginning to believe again. Maybe not fully, but enough to think maybe this team can get back to the Tournament.

But before we go all Gene Chizik, I mean Dabo, on this team, I think it prudent to take a hard look at where this team is and how it gets to the Tourney.

With ACC expansion, the performances of previous ACC and Big East teams should be considered. From the ACC, we've seen multiple teams with 9-7 records not get selected (much to the chagrin of Dick Vitale), but in the Big East, we've seen eleven teams make it, though all had at least 9 conference wins prior to the Big East Tournament. When you factor in a top heavy ACC, the non-balanced conference schedule, and Clemson's soft non-conference slate, Clemson needs to plan for at least 11 conference wins, including the ACC Tournament, to get selected.

In addition to 11 conference wins, Clemson needs to raise their RPI and Strength of Schedule profile. While there are no exact numbers or requirements to guarantee a selection, generally an RPI around 50 and a Strength of Schedule under 100 are added benefits.

Goal: 11 Conference wins, RPI around 50, and SOS under 100
Current: 5-3, with 10 games remaining (6 home, 4 road)
RPI: 73 (using realtimerpi.com)
SOS: 129 (using realtimerpi.com)
Others: 46 (Pomeroy), 57 (ESPN's BPI), & 68 (Dance Card), Next Four Out (Bracketology)

Home Games:
The Clemson home slate is back loaded as only 3 of Clemson's first 8 games were played at home, leaving the Tigers with 6 of 10 contests at home. Even with how well this team plays at home, it is unreasonable to expect them to run the next 6 games. Throw in two of those games are against a solid 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 4 games, giving Clemson 10 conference wins and needing only one road win to reach 11.

What really happens? Clemson ekes out an ugly game against GT Tuesday, gets the UVA-Pitt split, but drops a game to Maryland or Miami, making Clemson 4-2 and giving them 9 total conference wins.

Road Games:
In all honesty, outside of the trip to Syracuse, the road schedule is actually easier than the home schedule. Clemson should be able to grab at least one, if not two wins between Notre Dame, GT, & Wake. 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 six additional conference wins among their final 10 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 five wins they have seems like quite the accomplishment. To add six more seems unthinkable. But if Clemson plays defense the way they did against Duke & FSU, then anyone remaining on their schedule, other than Syracuse, is beatable. However, if they turn in performances like they did at Pitt and UNC, then 5 conference wins will be where they remain.

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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