A Look at the ACC in the NITPosted by Charlie Maikis on March 14th, 2017
March Madness is now upon us, but let’s take a moment to consider a different postseason tournament as the ACC is sending three teams to the NIT this season. In a year where many observers thought the NCAA Tournament bubble was one of the weakest in years, the Selection Committee was not particularly kind to the conference. Of the three ACC bubble teams, Wake Forest made the field of 68 while Syracuse and Georgia Tech were left at home. Clemson joins the Orange and Yellow Jackets in this year’s NIT, meaning that the 12 of the 15 ACC teams were invited to one of the two prestigious postseason tournaments. Before the NCAA Tournament vacuums all the oxygen in the college basketball universe, let’s discuss the trio of ACC teams playing in the NIT.
Syracuse was a curious case as the Orange were left out of the NCAA Tournament presumably because of a lackluster non-conference performance. Teams that go 10-8 in what is widely regarded as the nation’s best conference usually get an invitation to the Big Dance, but that factor alone clearly wasn’t enough this season. The result was Syracuse’s placement as the top overall seed in the NIT bracket, but perhaps in the toughest region of the four. Their region also contains four other power conference teams, and the average Kenpom ranking of of the group is five spots better than the rest of the field. Luckily Syracuse doesn’t have to play the other seven teams but just the ones in front of it, starting on Wednesday night at home against UNC-Greensboro. Remember, after Jim Boeheim blasted the city of Greensboro (site of ACC headquarters and numerous ACC Tournaments) at last week’s ACC Tournament in Brooklyn, the municipality fired back:
— City of Greensboro (@greensborocity) March 8, 2017
Not only does it show that the NIT has a sense of humor in matching these two teams in the first round, but it also provides a little extra drama to drum up interest in the event. Kudos.
According to Kenpom, the Tigers were the strongest team that failed to make the Field of 68. Ranking 35th overall using his metric, Clemson is six spots higher than the next-best team that was left out, TCU. A host of brutally close and unlucky losses were the culprits this season, so the Tigers will have to settle for a #2 seed in the NIT. They drew the weakest quarter of the bracket by average Kenpom rating, including the weakest #1 seed of the bunch, Iowa (#69). The #3 seed is Alabama, a team Clemson has already beaten twice this year. Add in that the core of Brad Brownell’s team has some experience in the NIT, and Clemson could be set up for a run. The Tigers were a #3 seed in 2014, making it all the way to Madison Square Garden before losing to SMU in the semifinals. Senior big men Jaron Blossomgame and Side Djitte were freshmen on that team.
The weakest of the three ACC teams in the NIT, Georgia Tech should still consider this season a success. Despite finishing the regular season closer to the bubble than Clemson, the Yellow Jackets were only rewarded with a #6 seed in the same bracket as Syracuse. Much of this could be because of their mediocre advanced metrics, but they have still overachieved in a big way. While Georgia Tech will have to go through Indiana and possibly Georgia — two of the tougher teams in the field — to reach the quarterfinals, you certainly cannot count this team out. They have been proving people wrong all year, and like Clemson, have some NIT experience on their side. The team made a run to the quarterfinals of the event last season, and four of their major contributors (Tadric Jackson, Josh Heath, Quinton Stephens and Ben Lammers) were a part of that team.