Tigers Earn No. 1 Seed in NIT

When average teams like Arkansas, Illinois, Purdue and Old Dominion receive at-large berths into the NCAA Tournament, it's speaks volumes as to just how big Clemson's collapse was this season. However, while the NIT isn't what the Tigers wanted, it's still a chance to salvage some dignity. Just ask South Carolina.

For each of the past two seasons, the Gamecocks have heard all the jokes about being the 66th-best team in the country. But in reality, everyone knows that's not the case. South Carolina was a solid team and by winning the NIT, it proved as much.

Clemson (21-10) will begin its trek toward the NIT Championship at 6 p.m., Wednesday night, when it plays host as the No. 1 seed to No. 8 seed East Tennessee State (24-9), at Littlejohn Coliseum. The game will be televised on ESPNU.

"When I saw we were No. 1 in the South (Region), I started to get excited about the tournament and the possibilities," Tigers coach Oliver Purnell said. "Then I was tempered when I saw we were playing East Tennessee State."

With Clemson getting the No. 1 seed in the South, it should have home games up until the semifinals in New York City. However, sports information director Tim Bourret said he was under the impression the third round game could be moved if deemed appropriate by the powers that be – namely ESPN and the NCAA, which owns the NIT.

One thing is certain, though, and that's if Clemson wins, it will play again the following Monday at home against the winner between No. 4 Mississippi and No. 5 Appalachian State.

The other teams in Clemson's regional include No. 2 Syracuse, No. 3 Missouri State, No. 6 San Diego State and No. 7 South Alabama.

The other three No. 1 seeds are Air Force, West Virginia and Mississippi State.

There was some surprise that Syracuse, Florida State, a 2 seed, and Drexel, a 3 seed, were not No. 1s since all three were on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

However, NIT selections committee chairman C.M. Newton, who chaired the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee for several years, said the seeds are proper.

"Who would you rather face, Clemson or Drexel? Who would you rather face, Florida State or Drexel?" he said. "That's why the seeds came out the way they did."

The Tigers were relegated to the NIT after going 4-10 down the stretch after starting 17-0 to start the season. Clemson's fall is considered the biggest in ACC history and is likely the biggest in the NCAA since the expansion of the tournament field to 64 teams in 1985.

"I understand why we didn't get in," Purnell said. "We didn't finish strong and we didn't win a game in the ACC Tournament. I held out hope all the way to way through the last bracket was announced."

Nonetheless, if the Tigers can bring the NIT title to the Palmetto State for a third straight year, Clemson, too, will show it was good enough to play in the NCAA Tournament. And just like South Carolina, the players will have something of which to be proud.

After all, which is more prestigious, winning the NIT, or beating Nevada in the MPC Computers Bowl in Boise, Idaho, like the Miami Hurricanes did this season in football?

"What a great experience and what a great feeling it would be to end your season on a high note," Purnell said. "Anytime you can win a tournament or a championship, whether it's in the beginning of the year or in the NIT at the end of the year, is special."

There are worse things than spending a week in New York City competing for a tournament involving 32 teams, many of which are steeped in basketball tradition.

Other top teams in the NIT include N.C State, Georgia, DePaul, Alabama, Oklahoma State, Michigan and Kansas State.

Tickets go on sale Monday and are $10 for adults and $4 for students. All tickets are general admission.

CUTigers.com Top Stories