Evaluating Clemson’s NCAA Tournament ResumePosted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 6th, 2014
With college basketball halfway through conference season and the NFL finally finished, sports fans across the country are starting to look more closely at this season’s version of bracketology. My microsite colleague Chris Kehoe did a nice rundown of ESPN’s latest bracket focusing on the six ACC teams currently in the projected field. In this post we will take a hard look at a seventh ACC team that appears to have the best chance to join the others in the Big Dance this season. But as we will see, the Clemson Tigers have a lot of work ahead of it in order to merit serious consideration from this year’s NCAA Selection Committee.
After Tuesday night’s low-scoring home win over Georgia Tech, Clemson has a nice ACC record of 6-3 that is good for fifth place in the league standings. That puts them ahead of two teams that most pundits believe are going to the NCAA Tournament — North Carolina and Florida State. Of course, it doesn’t matter where you are right now, but rather how you are viewed by the Selection Committee on Selection Sunday. So with that in mind, let’s try to project where Clemson will be after the ACC Tournament concludes and its resume is complete. Below we list the Tigers’ remaining schedule along with Ken Pomeroy’s current ranking of each opponent and his predicted outcome for each game.
Two things immediately jump out about this lineup of games. The most obvious is that Clemson is projected to lose the next three times it suits up. The other is how close most of these games are expected to be, with three of the projected losses and two of the projected wins by just one or two points. If the Tigers follow Pomeroy’s predictive model (not likely but the best guess we have at this point), they will end the regular season with an 11-7 ACC mark and a 20-10 overall record. Let’s then assume that Clemson performs according to seed in the ACC Tournament, winning an opening round game and losing in the quarterfinals. That would leave the Tigers with a 21-11 record (12-8 ACC) going into Selection Sunday. Will that be good enough? Let’s look at a few teams from the past three seasons that have had similar resumes to what Clemson would have under this scenario. Specifically, we looked at teams from major conferences with between eight to 12 losses that also had very weak non-conference schedules. It’s been proven time and again that the Selection Committee puts a high emphasis on a team’s RPI non-conference strength of schedule, and will often use it as an eliminating factor for teams on the bubble.
As we can see from this table, if a team has a non-conference strength of schedule ranking of #200 or higher, it shouldn’t plan on making travel plans to the NCAA Tournament if that squad also has more than 10 losses. Clemson’s overall strength of schedule will improve to near-top 100 status by year’s end, but that nasty #298 non-conference mark is not going away, and it will probably be the Tigers’ undoing. The most obvious comparison is with Virginia last season – a team that finished 11-7 in the ACC but could not overcome that horrific non-conference schedule. The Virginia situation also raises another point regarding the common misconception that big wins can overcome such a resume deficiency. Just ask last year’s Cavaliers and Virginia Tech’s 2011 squad, both of which thought court-rushing home wins over highly-ranked Duke would be enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament. Clemson also has enjoyed one of those this year (a home spanking of Duke), but it won’t help them much if the Tigers cross over that 10-loss limit, which appears to be a threshold that recent Selection Committees have set for teams with non-conference schedules similar to Clemson.