By William Qualkinbush.
Clemson’s big win last night means there are now five games between now and the end of the regular season. That means we can start sifting through the muck and trying to project where Clemson will end up when March Madness begins.
Conventional wisdom says there are five teams from the ACC that will make the NCAA Tournament field: Syracuse, Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, and Pittsburgh. All of those have good resumes and look and feel like tournament teams.
Beyond those teams, Clemson looks like the most likely to represent the league in the Big Dance. Florida State, Maryland, and NC State could also sniff a selection, but each has glaring holes in its overall body of work. The Seminoles’ best win in conference play is at Clemson, which is overruled by a bad home loss to Miami.
The Terrapins and Wolfpack are a combined 0-15 against RPI top 50 teams and 5-20 against the top 100—not terribly inspiring in the least. In addition, State has a bad loss to North Carolina Central, while Maryland’s whole body of work is pretty average.
Clemson’s entire season just seems better than any of those three teams to this point. Looking ahead over the final few weeks, I’d expect the Tigers to go 4-1 and finish 11-7 in conference play. I don’t expect better than 9-9 from any of the other three, although Maryland plays three of its last four at home and could get to 10-8 with a strong close.
Tournament selections are a product of simple math too. There are always 68 selections, so handicapping Clemson’s chances involves looking around the nation as well—just to see what else is out there.
Right now, there are 21 conferences that I would consider absolute one-bid leagues. As we get closer to Selection Sunday, those groups will break down further to include a group of one-bid leagues unless there is a conference tournament upset. But for now, this will do.
There are 11 other conferences that should get multiple selections into the Big Dance. At the moment, there are a bunch of teams still trying to play into the field of 68, and some are closer than others. This is clearly an inexact science, but here are the teams that I feel are solidly in the field barring some unforeseen epic collapse (and in some cases, even with an epic collapse):
ACC (5)—Virginia, Syracuse, Duke, North Carolina, Pittsburgh
American (3)—Cincinnati, Louisville, Connecticut
Atlantic 10 (4)—St. Louis, VCU, George Washington, UMass
Big 12 (3)—Kansas, Texas, Iowa State
Big East (2)—Villanova, Creighton
Big Ten (5)—Michigan State, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio State
Missouri Valley (1)—Wichita State
Mountain West (2)—San Diego State, New Mexico
Pac 12 (4)—Arizona, UCLA, Arizona State, Colorado
SEC (2)—Florida, Kentucky
That list makes 32 teams I feel would comprise the NCAA Tournament field if it started today, bringing our grand total to 53 teams. In each of the previous 11 leagues, I have identified 29 candidates for the remaining 15 slots. Obviously, some of these are long shots, but I tried to allow for ridiculous winning streaks or losing streaks at the end of the year.
In other words, Clemson has to compete with a slew of mediocre teams as a squad shackled by a weak out-of-conference schedule and featuring dueling quality wins and bad losses. Right now, the Tigers are a long shot with the opportunity to win a bunch of games down the stretch and improve their numbers.
There’s still a long way to go. Literally anything can happen. This list may look drastically different a week from now.
Ah, the beauty of March.