The Clemson basketball team finds itself in a position that not many people expected them to be in this season: in the mix to make the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers, who were voted to finish 14th out 15 teams in the ACC this season, are a surprising 15-6 (6-3 ACC) and alone in 5th place in the conference. Making the tournament seemed to be an unrealistic goal for the Tigers this season until they upset Duke in Littlejohn early in conference play. Clemson also got another resume builder when they defeated Florida State, who had an RPI of 32 at the time, on the road.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has Clemson in the Last Four Out right now, and as the Tigers travel to Syracuse this weekend, that is not likely to improve. Though the Tigers have easily outdone their expectations for the season thus far, they have a lot more work to do. For Clemson to have any chance to make the tournament they must do two things: get at least one more resume building win and take care of business against the teams they should beat. The Tigers have three more games this season against ranked opponents: Syracuse on Sunday and at home against Virginia and Pittsburgh. If Clemson can win one of these games it will go a long way to help their season. They also have two remaining games against .500 opponents (Maryland and NC State), both at home. Realistically, Clemson needs to win both of these games to get into to the tournament, but they may be able to get away with winning only one. Finally, the other four games remaining in their schedule are against teams with losing conference records. Losing any of these games would be devastating to Clemson’s chances to make the tournament.
As the Tigers start the second half of their conference schedule, they need to be able to take advantage of their strong start. Clemson has to find some consistency in its offense to have any chance to get another big win and must avoid let downs against the bottom half of the conference. They have a great chance Sunday against Syracuse to get a huge win. Though it will be very difficult, a win in the Carrier Dome would all but put the Tigers in the tournament. If the Tigers struggle any down the stretch they will be forced to have an impressive ACC tournament to get an at large bid. Ultimately, Clemson is faced with a difficult but by no means impossible path to the tournament.