CLEMSON -- Brad Brownell says he does not actively seek out the latest online NCAA tournament projections from Joe Lunardi or Bracketology101. But the first-year Clemson coach hears about them from video coordinator Lucas McKay and graduate assistant Adam Gordon.
"I'm not immune to it," Brownell said. "If they have it on SportsCenter, I'm certainly not going to turn my eyes the other way.
But I'm not on the (web)sites checking it out."
With three games remaining in the regular season -- including today's 4 p.m. home date against last-place Wake Forest -- Brownell knows the Tigers reside on the tournament bubble.
Sports Illustrated and ESPN have Clemson as one of the first four teams out in their projections. Bracketology101 has the Tigers in the "next four out group."
What does it mean? The Tigers (18-9, 7-6 ACC) are still in the tournament picture, but it is an arduous road ahead with a three-game stretch including a trip to Duke on March 2 and a home game against a solid Virginia Tech team (March 5). The Tigers know they cannot afford another misstep. The ACC is so tightly packed after Duke and North Carolina that Clemson could finish anywhere from third to ninth in the conference.
But unlike recent seasons, the Tigers are playing some of their best basketball as March approaches.
"This year we are not stumbling into the postseason," Clemson forward Tanner Smith said. "We are playing better than we were at the beginning of the year."
Brownell also notes the Tigers have improved throughout the season, further growth exhibited in a road win at Miami on Sunday.
"At the beginning of the year, it sounds like a simple goal -- we just wanted to have a team," Brownell said. "A group of guys that really care about each other that want to spend time together and are unselfish. In all honesty, we didn't have that for while. I think through the course of the year we have become much closer.
"The next process is what we talked about going into Miami: having a collective determined spirit that we are going to get some things done."
No players are more determined than seniors Jerai Grant and Demontez Stitt. They have been to the NCAA tournament in their first three years and they don't plan on ending their careers with an NIT appearance.
"We want to make the best of it, especially this being our last year," Stitt said. "It's really important to make the tournament and win some games in the tournament."