Will close losses doom Clemson’s NCAA tournament hopes?


Following Clemson’s win over South Carolina on Dec. 21, the Tigers looked like a sure bet for an NCAA tournament bid. But a series of narrow losses against league foes have jeopardized the program’s chances of returning to the Big Dance.

Victories over UNCW and Wake Forest following South Carolina gave Clemson a nine-game winning streak and an 11-2 overall mark. But then the Tigers began a six-game ACC losing streak with an 89-86 overtime loss at home against North Carolina.

The Tigers dropped subsequent games to Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Virginia, Louisville and Virginia Tech.

The Tigers left South Bend feeling like they let one get away, falling 75-70. They would leave the court at Littlejohn Coliseum with a similar feeling against both the Cavaliers and Hokies, as they dropped a four-point decision to UVA and a heartbreaking one-point loss to Virginia Tech. The defeat at the hands of the Hokies marked four ACC losses by five points or less for the Tigers in seven outings.

In CBS Sports’ bracketology, updated following the loss to Virginia Tech, the Tigers were on the outside looking in. Clemson is among the first four teams out, along with Michigan State, Memphis and VCU.

ESPN’s Bracketology lists the Tigers as one of the last four in.

Saturday’s game at Pittsburgh has taken on a whole new meaning for Brad Brownell’s troops.

At 11-8 overall and with an RPI of 50, Clemson has very little remaining margin for error. The Tigers are 10th in the ACC in RPI and tied with the Panthers at the bottom of the league standings at 1-6. CBS Sports labels Pitt among the last four in, while ESPN has the Panthers as one of the first four teams out.

Clemson’s realistic NCAA chances hinge not only on beating Pitt, but in winning upcoming home games against the likes of Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Wake Forest, NC State and Boston College.

If the Tigers can’t hold court at home, beating Florida State, Duke or Virginia Tech on the road in February won’t matter much.