Clemson vs. Saint Mary's: Which Team Makes the NCAA Tournament?
Clemson: 20-10 (9-7 ACC); RPI: 60; SOS: 75
Saint Mary’s: 22-8 (11-3 WCC); RPI: 47; SOS: 103
Common opponent: Long Beach State (both won)
Why Clemson Gets in
Clemson closed out the regular season playing perhaps their best basketball of the season. The Tigers won three of four, a run capped off by a nine-point win over Virginia Tech this past weekend. Prior to that, they played Duke very tough in Durham before eventually falling to the Blue Devils on senior night.
In their last two games, Clemson certainly looked like a team that should compete in the NCAA tournament.
With a 9-7 finish in the ACC, Clemson was able to pull into a tie with Boston College and Virginia Tech for fourth place in the league. However, the Tigers were able to earn the fourth seed and a first-round bye in the conference tournament because of their head-to-head wins over both teams.
Wins over the Eagles and Hokies—in their only regular-season meetings—could give Clemson a bit of an edge on both for the ACC’s fourth NCAA tournament bid.
Clemson also beat—correction, dominated—Florida State in their second meeting of the season, at Clemson. The Tigers held the Seminoles, who were playing with Chris Singleton at the time, to 44 points and won by 18.
That win was probably the most impressive of Clemson’s seven home wins in ACC play. The only loss came to North Carolina, the ACC regular-season champion.
Why Clemson Is Left out
With Clemson losing just one game at home in ACC play, a 9-7 record means they won just two games on the road in conference. While three of those losses were to the ACC’s top three teams—UNC, Duke and Florida State—losses to Maryland, NC State and Virginia won’t do much to help the Tigers’ at-large case.
Road losses in a highly competitive league like the ACC are often forgiven by the selection committee. What may not be, however, is Clemson’s weak non-conference schedule. Their non-conference schedule strength ranks just above 200.
As we’ve seen in previous years, the committee will punish teams who do not challenge themselves more in their non-conference season.
Clemson faced three teams in the RPI top 100 when they played in the Paradise Jam, but the two teams they beat—Long Beach State and Seton Hall—are ranked 90 and 97, respectively. That won’t help them a whole lot.
Meanwhile, the Tigers whiffed on the two quality teams they did face—Old Dominion and Michigan. Outside of those games, Clemson’s best opponents were Wofford, East Carolina and South Carolina, the last of which they lost to.
Why Saint Mary’s Gets in
Saint Mary’s tied for the regular-season championship of the West Coast Conference. The Gaels equaled Gonzaga with an 11-3 conference record, and the teams split their two regular-season meetings, each winning on the other’s home floor.
For Saint Mary’s, it was their first win at Gonzaga in sixteen years.
It's certainly an impressive win, but it should be considered merely the second-biggest win of Saint Mary's year. A season-opening victory at home over St. John’s—which is potentially on its way to a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament—has been the gift that keeps on giving for Randy Bennett’s squad.
St. John’s was one of many NCAA tournament-caliber teams Saint Mary’s faced in their non-conference schedule.
The Gaels also played both juggernauts of the Mountain West, BYU and San Diego State, and went to Nashville to take on Vanderbilt. They came up just short against BYU, losing by one in the South Padre Island Invitational.
When you throw in the BracketBuster matchup with Utah State, Saint Mary’s faced five teams currently ranked in the top 26 of the RPI, and four in the top 20 of the polls. They also beat Mississippi State in Las Vegas, home of the WCC tournament.
Which team should make the NCAA tournament?
The Gaels’ non-conference schedule ranked 38th nationally. Randy Bennett seemed to follow the Gonzaga example quite well, scheduling tons of quality teams.
Why Saint Mary’s Is Left out
After the victory at Gonzaga in late January, Saint Mary’s did not play particularly good basketball over the final five weeks of the season. Immediately after the win in Spokane, the Gaels went down to Portland and lost by fifteen.
A couple weeks later, Saint Mary’s hit their low point on the season, losing three straight. The streak began with a loss at San Diego—which won just one other game in conference and just five others all season.
The Gaels then lost two straight key games at home. The first was to Utah State in BracketBusters, and the second was to Gonzaga in a game that could have clinched an outright WCC title and almost certainly an NCAA tournament berth.
After losing to Gonzaga a second time in the WCC final on Monday night, Saint Mary’s has lost four out of six to close the season.
In a league like the WCC, where teams are allowed only a couple slip-ups if they want an at-large bid, the 2-4 finish may be a little too much for the selection committee to accept.
Who Gets In?
Both these teams leave plenty to be desired. Clemson has struggled on the road and does not have any truly marquee wins on their profile. Saint Mary’s has struggled lately, and their best win came nearly four months ago.
Despite a fairly shallow profile, Saint Mary’s has 1) proven they can beat a top-25 team, and 2) proven they can win a very tough game on the road.
Also, with half of their eight losses coming to top 25 teams, Saint Mary’s clearly made a concentrated effort to challenge themselves.
Clemson did not, and without as many opportunities for big wins in this year’s ACC, they’ll pay the price.
Saint Mary’s: IN; Clemson: OUT
Boston College-Colorado State: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/626211-boston-college-vs-colorado-state-which-team-will-make-the-ncaa-tournament
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