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The Tiger

Clemson Tigers appear NIT-bound

Savannah N. Miller, Photo Editor

Sophomore forward Donte Grantham (15) sets up for a shot at a home game.

The Clemson Tigers’ Saturday afternoon victory over the Boston College Eagles was merely a formality for Head Coach Brad Brownell’s squad. Clemson’s home loss to the Virginia Cavaliers last Tuesday sealed the Tigers’ fate; the NIT awaits.

In the world of Division I college basketball, the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) is the little brother of the NCAA Tournament. It brings with it no madness or bracket busters or Cinderella stories like the NCAA Tournament. Instead, the NIT is the “Big Dance” for the teams who were not quite good enough to earn an invitation to the true “Big Dance.” 

Featuring 32 teams competing in a bracket-style tournament with a trip to Madison Square Garden for the semifinals and championship game on the line, the NIT is not a huge deal, but it is important. Yet, Clemson should not be satisfied with participating in the little brother of postseason college basketball tournaments, especially after its glorious January run.

After defeating three ranked opponents in three consecutive games for the first time in program history in January, the Tigers appeared poised to make a run at the ACC title. Now, a month and a half later, the ACC Tournament title is the only thing that could salvage Clemson’s NCAA Tournament hopes. Winning the ACC Tournament in the nation’s capital this week would earn the Tigers an automatic bid into the Big Dance, but anything short of that will result in an NIT berth.

Speaking after Clemson’s loss to Virginia last Tuesday, Brownell said, “We just aren’t great at any one thing. We’re pretty good at a lot of things, but one of them breaks down in games, and we aren’t good enough or strong enough to overcome it.” 

This speaks volumes to the strange downfall of the Tigers during the final month of the regular season. The losses endured were sporadic and inconsistent. Some losses featured impotent offense on behalf of the Tigers and others helpless defense. A team that had all the makings of becoming an NCAA Tournament dark horse quickly devolved into a mediocre bubble team in less than a month, and that is almost too unbelievably bad to be true.

As unrealistic as it might seem, Clemson stands a decent chance of winning the ACC Tournament this week, and the Tigers proved that by their remarkable January play. However, consistency on both ends of the floor is required. 

The primary reason for the undoing of the Tigers in February was the lack of quality play on both offense and defense. Each game seemed to feature excellence in one and inferiority in the other. Therefore, if Coach Brownell wants to save his team’s season, and quite possibly his job, he must instill consistency into the hearts and minds of his players as they prepare for the most important week of their season thus far. Clemson’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 2011 looms large, but it is definitely attainable. 

Consistent, well-rounded play is the lock, and, for the Tigers, a return to January form is the key.

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