CLEMSON - Welcome to the first day of March Madness. We know you're stoked for Albany-Mount St. Mary's and North Carolina State-Xavier, carried nationally on TruTV.
(If you have never heard of TruTV, call your cable provider. If you can find that on your TV guide in 12 seconds or less, call your shrink - you might have issues.)
Hey, you know what, a meek attempt to talk you into the NIT for just two nights before your bracket takes over. The first round can be kind of fun, just to see how teams respond from being sent to the golf clap of playoff college basketball tournaments. Admit it: you totally were tuned in to the end of Robert Morris' upset over Kentucky last year.
If you hadn't heard, Clemson is back in the postseason for the first time in three years, an NIT 3-seed hosting No. 6 Georgia State tonight at 9 p.m. televised by ESPNU.
Know this about the National Invitation Tournament: 13 of the 32 teams in the 2013 NIT are in the 2014 NCAAs. Eleven of those were the top 16 seeds, including Virginia (No. 1 seed in this year's East bracket), Kentucky (preseason No. 1), Providence (Big East champion) and UMass (beat Clemson in the Charleston Classic championship in November.)
Baylor beat Iowa in last year's NIT championship in Madison Square Garden. Both teams were briefly ranked in the top ten this year, and they're both dancing this year - as is NIT semifinalist Brigham Young.
Of course, it can go the other way, too. Maryland made the NIT semis last year. The Terps' season is already over this year.
But there is this: Baylor, Iowa, BYU and Maryland were all either 2- or 3-seeds in the NIT. Maybe Clemson's sitting pretty at No. 3, joined by No. 2 Illinois and No. 1 St. John's.
"We're taking it one game at a time, but the ultimate goal is to go to New York," Clemson forward Jaron Blossomgame said Monday. "We don't just want to come out here, mess around and lose some games just because it's the NIT. We're going to take it seriously, like it's the NCAA tournament."
Hey, look at it this way: you probably know where ESPNU is on your dial.
KJ's ouchy shoulder
Most players are injured somehow, someway at this point of the year. It just so happens K.J. McDaniels' physical ailment is more noticeable.
The Tigers' first-team all-ACC forward played both ACC tournament games with a wrap over his left (non-shooting) shoulder, and played more tentatively than normal in Greensboro. His game clearly was affected: against Georgia Tech and Duke, he totaled 30 points on 9-of-24 shooting and 9 rebounds, well below his normal totals. He also had just three blocks in the two games (low for him) and turned it over seven times against just one assist.
McDaniels said Monday the shoulder has been bugging him for 4-5 weeks. Nothing is torn, but there's no time to rest - at least not until after Clemson either loses a game or wins the NIT championship April 3.
"I'm feeling a lot better," McDaniels said. "My shoulder isn't bothering me as much, so I've been rehabbing and taking meds, trying to get it right for the tournament."
Looking to next year
Any fans wondering why Clemson wasn't closer to the NCAA bubble need to know this: there are 349 teams in Division I men's college basketball. Clemson's non-conference strength of schedule was the 270th most difficult; or the 80th easiest. Only nine teams from the seven power conferences had a weaker non-con slate, and only one from the ACC (Georgia Tech.)
With prospectively the entire roster returning in 2014-15 (pending McDaniels' NBA decision), that'll change next fall.
"Yeah, we'll schedule a little bit harder," Brownell said. "I think our schedule was good for us this year."
Already, before Brownell and his crew sets out to craft a 12-game slate, the schedule should be naturally tougher. Clemson goes to South Carolina, on the upswing under Frank Martin, and hosts Arkansas and Auburn, led by Mike Anderson and Bruce Pearl, hired on the Plains today.
Interesting trend with Martin, Anderson and Pearl: they each have Elite Eight experience at a different school than the one they coach now. Martin went with Kansas State, Anderson with Missouri and Pearl at Tennessee.
Throw in Clemson's re-inclusion to the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and maybe one more marquee opponent, and the Tigers could position themselves to impress the NCAA tournament committee more so next year. Of course, wins trump all.
"It's who you can get to play you, now," Brownell said. "It's a two-way street; somebody else has to agree to play you. That's not always easy."