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Why Clemson basketball coach Brad Brownell will be back despite missing March Madness again

By Scott Keepfer, Greenville News,

2023-03-14
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CLEMSON – Clemson basketball coach Brad Brownell believed his team belonged in the NCAA Tournament.

So too did college basketball analysts Dick Vitale, Seth Greenberg, LaPhonso Ellis and Jay Bilas.

But most importantly, so did Graham Neff, which is why Brownell will remain the Tigers’ coach for at least another year.

“We weren’t selected … but I view us as an NCAA Tournament team,” Neff said.

Neff issued a statement after the 2021-22 season that said the expectation for the program is to make the NCAA Tournament on a regular basis; in his eyes, the Tigers did.

Besides, one cannot justifiably fire a coach whose team places third in the Atlantic Coast Conference – eight spots above its projected finish – wins 23 games, defeats NC State and Duke four times by a collective 73 points and sets a program record for ACC victories in a season (14).

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Brownell’s team may not have reached its ceiling, but it certainly could jump up and touch it.

So what was Neff’s reaction to Clemson’s rejection by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee?

“Disappointment,” Neff said. “Frustration is a good word.”

Despite the painful ending for what should have been Brownell’s fifth team to make the NCAA Tournament field (the Tigers were left out of the field in 2013 despite a 23-win season and 10-8 ACC mark), Brownell would like to see his team steel itself, dunk the negativity and win the NIT.

It won’t erase all of the pain, but it would prove to the world that yes, the Tigers belonged in March Madness.

March Madness has been redefined for this team.

“A little bit angry about what’s taken place with the selection committee,” Brownell said Monday. “I adamantly feel like they made a mistake.”

In the meantime, Brownell would be best served by finding ways to beef up the Tigers’ non-conference schedule, which apparently was the primary culprit in sending his team to the NIT.

Unfortunately, the ACC has done Clemson no favors in that regard.

I get that Duke and North Carolina wear shades of blue and that their track history of success comes with privileges and preferences not afforded the vast majority of the league’s “other” teams, but should that justify those two teams receiving the most desirable matchups in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge every single year?

No, of course not, but that’s precisely what has happened since the Challenge’s inception 23 years ago.

Duke has been paired with 16 ranked opponents while North Carolina has been paired against 20 over those 23 years.

Clemson? One.

The Blue Devils and Tar Heels have played Big Ten bigwigs Indiana and Michigan State a combined 19 times. Clemson has never been presented the opportunity to challenge either.

“This is a complaint that I’ve stated to the league office for years,” Brownell said. “We’re not all treated the same in the league.”

It’s a valid complaint.

“In the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, I’ve been the coach at Clemson for 13 years and I find it unbelievably ironic that in one of those years we can’t play Indiana,” Brownell said. “I’m from southern Indiana. That’s not a good TV story? We can’t sell that? They’re usually one of the best teams in the Big Ten. We can’t bring them to Clemson one time, or I can’t go back to Indiana, or Purdue for that matter?

“Those are challenging games that obviously if we would win them are very rewarding, right?

"It’s the same with some of the non-conference tournaments – Battle for Atlantis and the Maui Classic. Those are rotated every four years, but Carolina and Duke and a lot of the bigger name basketball program blue bloods they get to go to all those more than we really ever do, so we’ve got to go find other things.”

That’s unfair in anyone’s book because it deprives teams of resume- and metric-building opportunities that they should be receiving on a rotational basis.

“My point to that is it’s a challenge and we’re not getting a lot of help,” Brownell said. “That’s something that I’ve been beating the drum on for years that’s fallen on deaf ears sometimes. I’m hopeful it’s going to get changed a little bit because the league getting five teams in here recently, it’s not enough. I don’t think it’s right, I think there should be more.”

Six would have been a good number this year.

Just ask Vitale, Greenberg, Ellis and Bilas.

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