Lunardi explains position on Clemson’s NCAA Tournament chances

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Despite its ACC Tournament quarterfinal rout, Clemson supposedly still has work to do on its NCAA Tournament at-large hopes.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell and his players were strong in their belief following the Tigers’ 26-point win over NC State late Thursday night – Clemson’s fourth Quad 1 win of the season – that they’re a tournament team. Yet most of the updated bracketology still has the Tigers on the outside looking in heading into their Quad 1 matchup tonight against Virginia.

Among them is ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, who moved Clemson from the next four out to the first four out in his most recent bracket predictions early this morning. The Tigers could automatically punch their ticket to the Big Dance by getting to Saturday’s conference tournament title game and winning it. But if that doesn’t happen, Lunardi said a porous non-conference schedule could end up keeping Clemson out.

The Tigers have 23 wins, including seven against the top two quadrants. But Clemson has also played 11 Quad 4 games, two of which it’s lost, in part because of a non-conference strength of schedule that ranks 315th nationally.

“From an eye-test standpoint and a basketball standpoint, I think most of us would agree that they’re good enough,” Lunardi said during a media conference call. “But here’s what we know: If they get an at-large bid, it’ll be the worst non-conference schedule in the history of at-large bids. So is the committee, which varies in its priorities from year to year, going to alter the one consistent bubble evaluation element that they’ve always held true to? And that’s if you’re at the edge, you’re at the cutline and not firmly in, you will get banged for a bad non-conference schedule.

“So I guess the million-dollar question going forward here is are they going to break from that in two days for the first time? I don’t know the answer. If I did, we would never miss a team. But that’s where Clemson is.”

Lunardi also addressed the fact that he still has NC State solidly in the 68-team field as a 10 seed despite Clemson winning all three of its matchups with the Wolfpack this season by a combined 65 points. Head to head isn’t the end all, be all when evaluating teams over the course of a 30-plus game season, but the Tigers also finished higher than NC State in the ACC standings during the regular season and have the same number of overall wins as the Wolfpack, including three more against Quad 1 competition.

Lunardi said he’s basing that projection solely on precedence set by the committee rather than “common sense.”

“There is precedent for teams beating another two or three times and not making it ahead of them or finishing behind them on the seed list,” he said.

Lunardi doesn’t necessarily think Clemson has to be the team cutting down nets inside the Greensboro Coliseum come Saturday night in order to go dancing. He acknowledged the momentum for Clemson’s at-large hopes would be “extraordinary” with another quality victory tonight over Virginia and that he would likely move the Tigers into the field if the Tigers pull it off.

But he’s also not sold on that being enough to overcome a largely hollow non-conference slate in the eyes of the committee.

“I wouldn’t bet a mortgage payment – mine or yours – that the committee is going to deviate from the non-conference schedule stuff,” Lunardi said. “And if you don’t believe me, ask Texas A&M from last year. I still haven’t finished reading the 44-page term paper we got from Buzz Williams after their snub.”

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2023-03-10 16:51:29