GREENSBORO, N.C. – Clemson’s men’s basketball’s run in the ACC Tournament ended on a sour note, setting up what figures to be a stressful couple of days for the Tigers.
After cruising past NC State in the tournament semifinals Thursday, Clemson left Greensboro on the other end of the spectrum after being dealt a 20-point loss to Virginia 24 hours later. A surge at the beginning of the second half put the Cavaliers in control and kept Clemson (23-10) from adding another Quad 1 victory to its postseason resume.
But the Tigers’ performance didn’t change how head coach Brad Brownell feels about his team’s body of work, which includes a 7-6 record against the top two quadrants and four Quad 1 wins, three of which have come away from Littlejohn Coliseum. Clemson will have to wait until Sunday night’s NCAA Tournament selection show (6 p.m., CBS) to find out if the selection committee agrees.
“I think you have to prove that you can beat good teams, and some teams do it at home,” Brownell explained as part of his pitch to the committee following Friday’s game. “If you do it away from home and if you do it consistently versus the amount of games you get to play. Unfortunately our league didn’t have quite as many, and some of the non-conference games, tournaments and things we tried to schedule, the teams didn’t play quite as well. But the games we got to play, we were .500 or better in those Quad 1 games.
Brownell, whose team was picked in the preseason to finish 11th in the ACC, also made reference to the Tigers’ top-3 finish in the league and some of the advantages Clemson has in the head-to-head department with some of its conference counterparts, including some that are projected to go dancing. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has NC State and Pittsburgh – teams the Tigers went a combined 4-0 against this season – among his last four teams into the field while still having Clemson out in his latest bracket projections.
Jerry Palm of CBS Sports has the Tigers among the next four out after their most recent loss.
“There’s teams that (prognosticators) have in the tournament ahead of us, some in our league, that we’ve beaten. Some multiple times. Others at their place,” Brownell said. “In other leagues, we’ve beaten teams. So I think just for those reasons, if you’re truly looking for the 68 best teams, we’re one of the 68 best teams. Finishing third in this league, too, by the way.”
Junior point guard Chase Hunter echoed his coach’s sentiment, focusing on the quality wins the Tigers have. Those include a Quad 1 win over Duke and a non-conference victory over a Penn State team that many believe is a lock for a tournament now that the Nittany Lions have made a run to the Big Ten tournament semifinals.
“We’ve got a lot of great players playing in a tough conference with a lot of other great teams,” Hunter said. “We’ve beaten some teams that are in the dance. I think we definitely deserve an opportunity to go compete and show the nation what we can do.”
The conference is what fellow guard Brevin Galloway focused on with his plea to the committee. Clemson set a program record with 14 ACC wins during the regular season, nine of those coming by double digits. The Tigers were dominant at times, notching seven league wins by 18 points or more. Clemson added another one of those in the ACC Tournament with its 26-point beating of the Wolfpack.
The metrics on Clemson are mixed. The Tigers enter Selection Sunday at 57 in the NET rankings, 63 in KenPom and 49 in Sagarin. Freshman guard Dillon Hunter believes the eye test should count for something, too.
“We have a lot of quality wins,” Dillon said. “A lot of things we need to work on as a team, but still as a team overall, we’re a great team. Just look at us.”
Of course, it’s not all pretty, which is why the Tigers find themselves squarely on the bubble. There’s a loss to four-win Louisville (Quad 4) as well as non-conference setbacks to South Carolina (Quad 3) and Loyola Chicago (Quad 4) on the resume. Then there was Friday’s lopsided exit from the conference tournament, which matched Clemson’s largest margin of defeat all season.
Will that hurt Clemson in the eyes of the committee? There are dissenting opinions.
“The margin of defeat probably will play a factor into it, but at the same time, we played well (Thursday) night,” Galloway said.
Said Chase, “I wouldn’t say that. I think a loss is a loss. I don’t really know a lot about the metrics and other things like that, but a loss is a loss and a win is a win.”
At this point, though, Galloway believes the good outweighs the bad.
“Obviously we did take some bad losses throughout the year, but in terms of just being able to win 14 games in the ACC – 15 including the tournament – that’s a great feat,” he said. “Obviously we made a lot of history in terms of doing what we did at Clemson this year. I just hope they consider us.”
Hunter Tyson, a first-team all-ACC performer for the Tigers this season, said he thinks the committee should do more than that.
“I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m just looking for recognition of what we’ve earned,” Tyson said. “Like coach (Brownell) said, if you really want the best 68 teams, we’re one of them.
“I believe our body of work has earned us a spot in the tournament. Obviously I understand we have some tough losses, but at the end of the day, we should be in the tournament.”
Other teammates agree as well.
“If you look at some of the games we played this year, how we played on the road, how we played with our backs on the ropes late in games and finished, there’s not a doubt in my mind that we’re one of the best teams in the country and belong in the tournament,” star big PJ Hall said. “I say that wholeheartedly, and there’s nothing more to it.”
Said junior forward Ian Schieffelin, “I think we’ve proven ourselves. We’ve won enough quality games, and I think the numbers show it.”
Now that the resume is complete, all Clemson can do is wait.
Some players said they will be watching other conference tournaments going on over the next couple of days to see how those games might affect their at-large chances. Other perceived bubble teams such as North Carolina, Arizona State, Oklahoma State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Mississippi State and Nevada, have already lost this week. Others, including Utah State and Vanderbilt, are still playing.
Vanderbilt, which will meet Texas A&M in today’s SEC semifinals, is also out there as one of a few potential bid thieves, or teams that may not otherwise make the NCAA Tournament without winning their conference tournament.
“You know March is the best time of the year,” Galloway said. “I love watching college basketball, so being able to watch these games and seeing the intensity of it is definitely a beautiful thing. I’ll definitely be tuned in a lot, and hopefully Sunday we’ll hear our name.”
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