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Men’s basketball postseason outlook grim: Close losses could keep Tigers out of NCAA Tournament

Kim Montuoro, Photo Editor

Redshirt sophomore Marcquise Reed (2) has emerged as an offensive weapon for the Tigers.

The Tigers lost yet another tight-knit Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) battle on Saturday, Clemson Head Coach Brad Brownell was a bit apoplectic in his postgame press conference. 

“You feel for the team because you know how hard they’re working and the time they’re putting in,” Brownell told reporters. 

“It’s painful. It’s hard when you work and put your energy and effort and emotional side of you into all of these games, and you don’t get rewarded. That part is very difficult.”

The Tigers, who currently stand at 14-14 overall and 4-12 in ACC play, are firmly entrenched on the NCAA Tournament bubble, like they have been practically all season. 

Unfortunately for them, how a team plays this late in the season is a primary determinant come Selection Sunday. Although the Tigers have played well for the most part in recent weeks, not being able to come out on top in so many hotly contested matchups could ultimately keep them out of the Big Dance.

Since being served a rather strident wake-up call in early February when Florida State beat them by 48 points, the Tigers have righted the ship and competed well game in and game out. 

Although they have lost five of the six games played since the FSU defeat, the Tigers have lost by six or less points in all of those losses and have lost by only one possession on four of those five occasions. Furthermore, the Tigers have come up short by two possessions or less in a jaw-dropping 12 games this season, fully indicating the frustrations that Clemson has been forced to endure this year.

In a season filled with promise, a preseason injury to starting point guard Shelton Mitchell and the late eligibility of transfer power forward Elijah Thomas prevented the Tigers from developing consistency in their starting lineup prior to the start of conference play, contributing to their occasional lapses in play. 

However, Clemson has showcased its offensive prowess each and every game since the embarrassment in Tallahassee though they have not had luck on its side in late-game situations. 

Despite the fact that victories have been so hard to come by for Clemson in recent weeks, Brownell continued to focus on the positives moving forward.     “It’s hard not to be proud of this group of guys for the way that they’re playing in terms of good basketball,” he said.

A cold reality of college basketball, Clemson’s mediocre conference record and high number of late-season defeats could very well keep them from participating in March Madness. The NCAA Tournament selection committee cannot be expected to give Clemson preferential treatment based on the amount of slim losing margins contributing to their subpar record. 

Rather, the committee will hold the Tigers to the same standards that other at-large teams are held to. Therefore, as unfair as it may seem, not being the team to make the final shot on so many different occasions, both at home and on the road, might be the straw that breaks Clemson’s NCAA Tournament bid’s back.

One positive element of Clemson’s season that is working in its favor is the Tigers’ difficult schedule, which is the 11th hardest in the nation at the moment. That will certainly appeal to the committee in its scrutiny of the Tigers, as Clemson’s consistent play against solid opponents will indicate that the Tigers can indeed succeed on college basketball’s most contentious stage. Since the Tigers finish the regular season with two games against ACC bottom feeders NC State and Boston College, respectively, a quality win for Clemson will not be up for grabs until next week’s ACC Tournament, in which the stacked ACC will pose a hefty challenge for the hard luck Tigers. 

If Clemson, which has not played in the NCAA Tournament in six years, finds a way to come away victorious in close situations late in hard-fought in-conference battles over the course of the next two weeks, an NCAA Tournament bid could be sent the Tigers’ way. 

It will definitely take a continued commitment to the style of play that has gotten the Tigers this far, and, since this is the incredibly deep and talented ACC in question, it will be difficult to accomplish. 

Clemson has showcased its resiliency all season long and does not show any signs of relenting, and that is just the type of team attitude that makes for an NCAA Tournament-caliber team.

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