Barring some kind of monumental change to their resume — a run, for example, to the ACC semifinals which includes a couple wins over the likes of Duke, Virginia Tech or Louisville — the Clemson Tigers have no business deserving an at-large bid.
And that’s not to say that they aren’t a good basketball team.
They currently rank 29th in KenPom. They are 40th in the NET. They’ve played enough good teams close that we can pretty safely assume that they, themselves, are pretty good.
But the problem for this group is that they simply have not landed nearly enough good wins to get themselves onto the right side of the bubble. The Tigers have just one Q1 win on the season, and that came at home against Virginia Tech (11) when the Hokies were playing without Justin Robinson. The only other win they have against a team in the top 80 of the NET came at home against Lipscomb. Clemson does have five Q2 wins, but four of those five came on the road against sub-80 opponents, none of whom are bound for the NCAA tournament and three of whom are sub-100 league opponents.
And look, I get why Clemson’s metrics are good. They lost at home by two against North Carolina (7). They lost by one at Louisville (24). They lost by two at N.C. State (35). They lost by two at home to Nebraska (51). They lost by one at Miami (94). That’s five losses by a total of eight points, and it doesn’t count a five point loss to Creighton (52), an eight point loss at Syracuse (42) or a nine point loss at Florida State (17).
They might even be one of the 36 best teams in the at-large pool come Selection Sunday.
But as things stand, they are nowhere near deserving a bid to the NCAA tournament despite the fact that this is a historically bad year for bubble teams.
I say that because regardless of how much we value metrics like KenPom, at the end of the day winning games has to matter. When determining just how good a basketball team is, the first possession of the game and the last possession of the game really aren’t all that much different. But when determining what a team has accomplished during the season, there really should be a difference.
Otherwise what’s the point? The difference between winning a game by a point and losing by a point is just two points, but those two points mean everything. That’s why the split-second that a ball is in the air as the buzzer sounds is the most beautiful moment in sports.
This is the way that I look at it: Clemson’s metrics are proof that they are a good team and should be counted as such by the team’s that beat them.
Clemson’s metrics are not enough to put them into the NCAA tournament, not when the likes of Belmont, and Lipscomb, and Murray State are deserving NCAA tournament teams that didn’t have the opportunity to blow eight chances at quality wins like the Tigers did.
INDIANA (NET: 56, SOS: 24): Indiana got one step closer to actually being a team that is on the right side of the bubble on Selection Sunday by blowing out Illinois in Champaign on Thursday. That is the third Q2 win for the Hoosiers to add to their six Q1 wins. They’ve swept Michigan State (8), knocking off Wisconsin (15), Louisville (24) and Marquette (29) at home and won at Penn State. Perhaps the most important thing to note is that while Indiana has lost 14 games, they are 9-14 against Q1 and Q2 competition. They still have work to do, and I think they need to probably get to at least the Big Ten quarterfinals, if not the semifinals, but that’s doable. Especially if the team that showed up at Illinois decides to make the trip to the Big Ten tournament, too.
UCF (NET: 28, SOS: 59): The Knights beat Cincinnati (21) in Orlando on Thursday night, and with that they are going dancing. UCF has two Q1 wins — including at Houston (6) — and now sit at 8-5 against Q1 and Q2 with just one bad loss. The question at this point is whether they can play themselves out of the 8-9 game.
TEMPLE (NET: 57, SOS: 78): The Owls picked up a Q2 win on Thursday, knocking off UConn in Hartford. Temple has just two Q1 wins this year, and one of them is a win at Missouri (73). Their home win over Houston (6) is going to have legs, and beating UCF (28) on Saturday sure would help them out. That might be enough to get them out of the play-in game in they avoid a bad loss early in the AAC tournament.
LIPSCOMB (NET: 45, SOS: 236): The Bisons picked up a win over NJIT on Thursday night, sending them to the Atlantic Sun title game against Liberty and setting up the only situation possible for Lipscomb to be in the at-large picture: An Atlantic Sun tournament loss to Liberty (63) and only Liberty. It’s not all that likely, unfortunately. They have just three top 100 wins — including two Q1 road wins, TCU (53) and Liberty (63) — and only a 3-5 record against Q1 and Q2 opponents.