Clemson University

Clemson frustrated it’s not in NCAA Tournament. Up next? Regain focus for NIT

Clemson coach Brad Brownell talks NIT, missing NCAA Tournament

The Tigers are a No. 2 seed in the NIT and will face Wright State in the first round.
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The Tigers are a No. 2 seed in the NIT and will face Wright State in the first round.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell feared heading into Selection Sunday that his Tigers would be on the outside looking in for the NCAA Tournament. That fear turned into reality Sunday evening when the March Madness field was announced and Clemson was not included.

Brownell now has the task of getting his veteran team ready to play in the NIT after the expectation going into the season was that the Tigers would return to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season. Clemson reached the Sweet 16 in 2018 and returned four starters from last year’s squad.

“There’s no question it’s challenging. This isn’t the tournament that we wanted to be playing in right now. We wanted to be in the NCAA Tournament,” Brownell said. “(The NIT) is a prestigious tournament, obviously, with a tremendous history. You still have to have a really good season to play in this ... It’s really something that I hope our guys will approach the right way and play with enthusiasm and energy.”

Clemson was on the bubble entering Sunday and had some metrics working in its favor. The Tigers were No. 35 in the NET rankings, a tool the NCAA committee used to help seed the tournament, and Clemson finished 9-9 in the ACC, arguably the toughest league in the nation.

But in the end, the Tigers were on the wrong side of the bubble and instead earned a No. 2 seed in the NIT. Clemson will face No. 7 seed Wright State in the first round. Brownell spent time coaching at Wright State earlier in his career.

Brownell acknowledged that Clemson could have done a better job of finishing off games and helping its tournament resume (the Tigers were 1-6 in games decided by two points or less), but he also said it is hard going through the season and not knowing what metrics the committee is going to value the most.

“There are some things that don’t seem to make a lot of sense. You have the three top teams in the whole tournament and your league only gets seven,” Brownell said of Duke, Virginia and UNC being the top three seeds. “I think the part that is frustrating as a coach is wanting to know exactly the intel of the room. ... When you’re this close, it’s harder. And you’re not going to get that information probably.”

Brownell was also frustrated by some calls down the stretch in Clemson’s ACC Tournament loss to N.C. State.

The Tigers led by 16 at the half before falling 59-58 on a couple of Markell Jones free throws in the final seconds. Brownell said he has been in touch with the ACC and voiced his displeasure with how the game was officiated.

“They know how I feel,” Brownell said.


No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 7 Wright State

Tuesday, March 19, 7 p.m.