As reporters shuffled from courtside to the Bon Secours Wellness Arena press conference room Wednesday following Clemson’s 65-54 win over Georgia Tech that was closer than the score intends, one of my colleagues (not naming names here) said to me, “this team’s gonna lose at Boston College,” as in the Boston College that fell to 0-13 in ACC play and will host Clemson in the regular season finale March 5.
I tend to agree that the Tigers need to step up their game, or they’re in for a wake-up call with three road games in their final four regular season games, with the one home game coming March 1 vs. No. 7 Virginia.
But let’s pull the pessimistic train into the station here for a moment. Clemson has played 26 games, there are four left plus the ACC Tournament, and the Tigers are right there on the NCAA bubble – ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s latest field released Thursday morning bumped up Clemson two spots, and the Tigers are now the second team left out of the 68-team field. That’s rare air for Clemson.
So is the Tigers’ 9-5 ACC record, as head coach Brad Brownell agitatedly mentioned at the podium last night (undoubtedly after being prompted in private, with the statistic you’re about to read, by longtime Clemson basketball color commentator and historian Tim Bourret.)
Clemson has belonged to the ACC since 1953-54, and the Tigers have now won nine of their first 14 league games for just the fifth time in 63 seasons as members. A comparison I just came up with for fun: Clemson football has won 10 games, including at least one ACC Championship Game or bowl game, in five consecutive seasons.
“This team need to get a little more, you know, positive press about some things,” Brownell said. “I think there’s some times we think our tradition and history is a little better than it is. We’ve had pockets of success, and we’ve done some good things, and we’re trying to do more. But this team’s done some things that other teams in the history of the school haven’t done, and this league’s pretty good.”
Clemson finished 9-5 in 1966-67 and 10-4 in 1986-87 and ’89-90; the Tigers started 9-5 in ’07-08 with a 10-6 finish, and now they have an extremely real opportunity to reach 11 conference victories for the second time in school history. (Clemson was 11-4 in Southern Conference play in 1951-52.)
What makes this closing stretch so fascinating: there’s no telling what will occur. Virginia’s real good, but so were Louisville, Duke and Miami, and they fell at BSWA, where Clemson is now 13-3 this winter.
N.C. State, Georgia Tech and Boston College are real bad (7-32 in ACC games this year!!), but the Tigers are 2-6 in true road games, losing winnable games at Minnesota, Georgia, Florida State and Virginia Tech.
“I think that’s normal,” Brownell said. “The home team generally plays a little bit better, you feed off your crowd, some guys just play a bit better. When you’re on the road, you’re trying to put yourself in a position to win a game, and you hope your guys are good enough to do it.”
Now, the last time this Tiger Tracks blog took the temperature of Clemson’s NCAA chances, Clemson proceeded to lose three of its next four games. If Clemson does the same after today’s blog, you can forget the NCAA Tournament.
If Clemson splits the next four, it’ll probably be up to the Tigers’ ACC tournament finish as well as bracket-busting results around the country. To be honest, even that might be optimistic, with Clemson’s ghastly non-conference situation.
But if Clemson – which, again, plays three subpar opponents on the road plus a home game with Virginia, which is 4-5 on the road – can win three of four to close? History suggests the Tigers will go dancing.
I did some research Wednesday before the BC game, and it basically comes with the presumption Clemson can finish 12-6 in ACC play. As detailed above, that is far from a safe presumption.
But here you go: the last ACC team to win twice as many conference games as it lost and NOT make the NCAA Tournament? That would be Clemson, in 1977, when the Tigers went 22-6 overall and 8-4 in the ACC. That was 39 years ago – and back then, only 32 teams played in the four-letter tourney.
Granted, most of history is before the advent of mid-majors, the expansion of non-conference schedules and overall parity-fication of college basketball. Back in the 90s, an ACC team could be somewhere around the realm of 21-11 overall with a 9-7 ACC record and that was good for a top-20 ranking. Today, as Clemson is finding out (and kinda sorta found out two years ago), that’s putting yourself in position to not even make the field of 64.
Recent examples of solid resumes not being good enough to avoid a burst bubble are Virginia Tech in 2010 (25-9, 10-6 in the ACC, tied for third in the ACC standings) and Virginia in 2013 (23-12, 11-7.) But neither of those teams had a conference winning percentage above 65 percent, which should be a surefire ticket-puncher to March Madness.
Win three of four between now and Washington D.C., Tigers, and you should be safe. Your move.