NCAA Tournament Still Possible

It was just two weeks ago that it looked as though the Clemson basketball team was going to have problems just making the NIT. Now, the NIT is a foregone conclusion, but there's even talk about a possible berth in the NCAA Tournament.

WHAT: Georgia Tech vs. Clemson
WHEN: 2 p.m., Saturday
WHERE: Littlejohn Coliseum
TV: Jefferson Pilot/Raycom

Should the favored Tigers take care of Georgia Tech Saturday at Littlejohn Coliseum, they will finish the season 7-9 in the ACC, which is the exact same record that Maryland, Miami and N.C. State finished with last year.

Of those three, only N.C. State advanced deep into the ACC Tournament, which eventually earned them a trip to the NCAA Tournament, even though the Wolfpack had the lowest RPI (64) of any team since 1994 to receive an at-large bid.

Prior to Clemson's win at Virginia Tech Wednesday, the Tigers had an RPI of 72. With a win over the Yellow Jackets (11-15, 4-11 ACC) Saturday, that number should be close to the Wolfpack's a year ago.

However, much like N.C. State, the Tigers have to win Thursday in the first round of the ACC Tournament and follow that up with another win on Friday. Should Clemson (17-11, 6-9 ACC) reach Friday's game, it will face No. 1 seed Duke.

A loss to the Blue Devils, and all talks of the NCAA will disappear. However, should the Tigers manage the upset, then things will start to get interesting.

"I haven't spent a lot of time analyzing bracketology," Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said Friday. "If we could beat Georgia Tech Saturday, then win two in the tournament, that would put us on a flat-out roll if we're able to do that. If we win Saturday, we'll be playing as well as anybody in the league going into the tournament."

Other than RPI, one of the criteria the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee looks into is how a particular team as done over the last 10 games. Assuming all the previous stated scenarios occur, that would put the Tigers at 6-4 in their last 10 (that's with a loss in the ACC semifinals).

Now, if Clemson can somehow manage to reach the championship game, something that hasn't happened since 1962, then it would seem to be no doubt about their tournament future. However, 1962 is also the only year in which the Tigers have won more than one game in the ACC Tournament.

Purnell believes if Clemson can reach the semifinals, his team should without a doubt receive an invitation into the Tournament.

"We should, whether we will or not I don't know," he said. "There are certainly more than four ACC teams in the top 64 in the country. To say the ACC has only four teams in the top 64 is laughable. Some people say the level is down from last year. It's never going to be the same every year. In my opinion it's always the best league in the country year-in and year-out."

The one thing hurting the Tigers is they don't have what are deemed to be "quality wins," which are wins against teams ranked in the top 50 in the RPI. A win against Duke would change that, but is that enough to override the lack of other quality wins is the big question.

Of course, had the Tigers taken care of business against earlier in the year against N.C. State, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, all games where Clemson had a three-point lead with 10 seconds remaining in regulation and wound up losing in overtime.

Those games could ultimately cost Clemson a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

"I don't really play that what-if game because it's too painful," Purnell said. "If it seeps in, I try to push it out of my mind quickly. I choose to look forward. We're right there. We've got to get a little better, we've got to get over the hump."

Of course, all these thoughts are predicated on the fact that Clemson actually beats Georgia Tech.

"They've worked two new guys into the lineup," Purnell said. "That shakes things up a bit and gives you more energy. They'll be well-rested and well-prepared. In their last two games they had a win over Wake Forest and gave Duke everything they had. Those last two games are evident of how they're playing right now."

Georgia Tech (11-15 overall, 4-11 ACC)
G 33 Lewis Clinch (6-3, 190) 8.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg
G 5 Mario West (6-4, 208) 5.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg
C 44 Theodis Tarver (6-9, 245) 10.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg
F 4 Ra'Sean Dickey (6-9, 255) 13.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg
F 23 Anthony Morrow (6-5, 205) 16.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg

Clemson (17-11 overall, 6-9 ACC)
G 22 Shawan Robinson (6-2, 180) 12.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg
G 25 Cliff Hammonds (6-3, 197) 9.8 ppg, 3.1 apg
C 33 Akin Akingbala (6-9, 240) 11.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg
F 1 K.C. Rivers (6-5, 210) 7.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg
F 4 Steve Allen (6-10, 240) 3.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg Top Stories