NIT return to Littlejohn brewing?

BY AARON BRENNER
abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner

CLEMSON – It would seem the Tigers’ basketball season won’t be ending with the ACC Tournament for the first time in three years.

Nobody on Clemson’s roster has played in a postseason game, but by all indications that will change barring an epic collapse by the Tigers in their final 10-plus games. (Just don’t rule that out totally: Clemson started 12-8 last year but finished 1-10.)

Bracketology update: ESPN’s Joe Lunardi lists Clemson as the No. 2 team left out of the NCAA tournament, and CBS’ Jerry Palm also has the Tigers just on the outside looking in. Clemson’s in the high 60s in the latest unofficial RPI releases via ESPN and CBS.

A blog called Big Apple Buckets that tracks NIT contenders currently lists Clemson as a No. 3 seed in the consolation tournament which commonly springs up-and-coming programs to the Big Dance in future years.

During my sitdown with Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich spanning a number of topics you’ll read about in the next week or two, he was quite open to the idea of hosting an NIT game if Clemson has the opportunity.

“I believe this would be a year when we probably could do that,” Radakovich said. He’s referring to Littlejohn Coliseum being stripped down and rebuilt starting at the end of next season, meaning NIT home games are probably out of the question in 2015.

“It’d be good for the program. Any time you can get in the postseason, that’s a positive, especially if you’ve been away from the postseason for a couple of years.”

Clemson hasn’t played in the NIT since its run to the 2007 final, where it lost to West Virginia in Madison Square Garden. Led by K.C. Rivers, the Tigers hosted and defeated East Tennessee, Ole Miss and Syracuse in March 2007.

Clemson is 9-3 all-time in hosting NIT games, but it lost those three games between 1979-82 and has a nine-game winning streak ever since, beating Auburn, Georgia and Butler along the way.

By the way, to no one’s surprise, head coach Brad Brownell is having none of this blather as he prepares the Tigers (15-6, 6-3 ACC) for their road trip to Syracuse and Notre Dame.

“You know, I don’t really want to talk about that now,” Brownell said. “I’m not worried about postseason, and what all that means. I don’t think that’s what our team needs to hear. I don’t think we need to be talking about it. I don’t need to talk about it, they don’t need to think about it. We need to think about grinding away. It’s hard enough for us to win games.”

After losing by a combined 52 points at Pitt and UNC to close out January, Clemson pounded out 4-point victories at Florida State and vs. Georgia Tech to open this month.

Midway through ACC league play, Clemson’s fifth in the conference standings, with three games left against top-25 RPI squads (@Syracuse, Virginia, Pittsburgh), two others in the top 60 RPI (NC State, @Wake Forest) and four games against lower foes (@Notre Dame, @Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami.)

“Our goal at the beginning of the year was to be playing in March with a chance to advance. Our goal was to play in some postseason this year, and see what that is,” Brownell said. “But we haven’t made a big deal about NCAA, NIT, any of that stuff. It’s hard enough for us to just win games. So we’re focusing on those things we can control and not worrying about the things on the outside. I think that’s better for us.”

Radakovich was asked by the Post and Courier on Oct. 18 for his expectations of the basketball program, which had hit a lull in Brownell’s second and third years and was pegged to finish 14th in the 15-team ACC Standings at Media Day that week.

Radakovich preached progress. Three and a half months later, he’s seen it.

“Sure have. I think that this team is scrappy, they fight hard, they play well together, they enjoy one another,” Radakovich said Friday. “It might not always be artistry, and Brad talks about that occasionally. But at the end of the day, they play together very well.

“They’ve done some things so far to put themselves in a really nice position right now. They’ve got to finish. This is a very difficult league, early in the year, middle of the year and late in the year, certainly the ACC Tournament. But yes, there’s been progress.”

-AB

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