Tournament talk? At least Clemson's in the conversation again, for now
CLEMSON - There are many hurdles before Clemson can work itself into the NCAA or NIT tournament conversation.
But for a change, it isn't a ridiculous conversation in the first place.
With a 10-3 start, its finest in three years, Clemson is at least positioning itself to play through to mid-March. After garnering its first road victory in more than a year's time Saturday (62-60 at Boston College), Clemson faces a critical two-home-games-in-three-days stretch hosting Florida State on Thursday night and No. 16 Duke on Saturday afternoon.
The Tigers have the No. 101 RPI in RealTimeRPI's simulation of the NCAA measuring stick, with losses to No. 19 Massachusetts, Arkansas and Auburn and no victories over a team listed on any AP ballot.
But Clemson is No. 35 in the Ken Pomeroy (KenPom.com) ratings, which place high emphasis on offensive and defensive efficiency. KenPom projects Clemson, boasting the nation's lowest scoring defensive average at 53.3 points allowed per game, as having the No. 7 most efficient defense against an average Division I offense.
"We're all still trying to figure out how good can we be? Are we good? How good are we?" Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. "We're playing well at times, we're blowing some people out, but ... we're all still trying to figure out, can we put it all together?"
Particularly in matchups like the last one (BC) or next one (FSU), Clemson can't exactly make or break its tournament chances in one night.
"We take it one game at a time, but we know certain losses and wins can hurt us and help us," sophomore guard Jordan Roper said. "We don't think about it in terms of tournament time, I don't think. We expect to win every game, and we take it seriously each game."
Brownell keeps his senior-less squad's focus on the basketball court, not projections like ESPN's Joe Lunardi's Bracketology, which briefly listed Clemson on the bubble in early December.
"I don't think our guys worry about that. They're worried enough about how good are they. There aren't thoughts of NCAA and NIT and postseason," Brownell said.
"I don't know that guys worry about a lot of things we as adults worry about. It's what's right in front of them. They don't see past their nose too many times. When you start talking a month from now, that's too far in advance. They just want to have a good day - which is sometimes a good way of looking at it."
However, it's not like the Tigers are immune to the ultimate goal. That is, after all, why they came to an ACC school.
"We definitely want to make it to the NCAA tournament or NIT. Since I've been here, we haven't gone to either one," junior forward K.J. McDaniels said. "This year, we have to do something. We have to win in order to get there. We want to keep playing in March and get Clemson back on top."
The Tigers last made March Madness in Brownell's first year, winning a First Four game over UAB before bowing out to West Virginia in the round of 64.
That concluded a four-year stretch in the NCAAs (2008-11), following an NIT runner-up finish in 2007.
Since then, the offseason has begun with the ACC tournament's completion.
"We don't really think about it. It's in the back of our minds," freshman forward Jaron Blossomgame said. "We just focus on each game, but we do want to make the NCAA tournament.
"Our biggest focus right now is Florida State."
As soon as that game ends around 9 p.m. Thursday, the Tigers immediately shift into quick prep mode for Duke, which is out of the top 10 for the first time since 2007, at 2 p.m. Saturday.
That won't make the Blue Devils susceptible. In fact, Brownell isn't pleased that the first of three instances he has one full day to get ready - and only one with a total of fewer than 48 hours in between tipoffs - comes against the ACC's perennial power.
"No, it's not as good. We obviously would prefer to have the same amount of practice time that they're going to have," Brownell said. "They're going to practicing for us starting today, and we've got to worry another game. It's part of this kind of scheduling. It's going to happen to everybody at certain points. It probably puts the team with less time to prepare at a disadvantage."