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Thursday, March 17, 2011
Clemson's schedule first flaw of First Four

By Eamonn Brennan

It was only a matter of time before we found something wrong with the First Four. That is, unless you dislike the fundamental idea of the First Four, which is a nice bit of idealism but not exactly pragmatic given the nightmarish alternative. If you live in the real world, the First Four has been, well, fine. But like everything else -- except the 64-team bracket -- it's not perfect.

That imperfection? Scheduling.

After its win over UAB Tuesday night, Clemson became the first high-major, at-large team to emerge from the preliminary round in Dayton, Ohio. As their reward, the Tigers received a spot in the real first round of the NCAA tournament. But because of scheduling oversight, Clemson also received one of the tougher scheduling turnarounds you'll see in college hoops.

Clemson's first-round NCAA tournament game versus No. 5 seed West Virginia tips off Thursday at 12:15 p.m. ET in Tampa, Fla. Clemson finished its win over UAB at around midnight Tuesday night, and probably left an hour or two after that, as players and coaches finished in the locker room, talked to the media, got on the bus, and got to the airport. That means Clemson will have to turn around and play WVU less than 36 hours after flying across the country in the middle of the night.

Throw in the relatively short turnaround before the First Four -- Clemson played games Friday and Saturday in the ACC tournament -- and by 2 p.m. Thursday Brad Brownwell's Clemson team will have suited up four times and traveled 1,448 miles in the past seven days. Amateur athletic travel doesn't get much worse than that:

Brownwell addressed the subject this week, and while he didn't exactly complain, he clearly regarded the logistics as a challenge:
"This is an unbelievably quick turnaround," Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. "The hardest part of being in a Tuesday game is we just got back and now you are turning right back around. You forget these guys are students.

"For us to turn around with a quick prep and get to where we need to get to, and all the logistical things you need, you just don't get to take a breath. You don't get to take a step back and enjoy it. You have to just get back and work."

Whether all that travel and quick turnaround will affect Clemson is up for debate. Thanks to the AAU circuit, most college basketball players are used to playing a lot of games in a short period of time. Plus, these are elite Division I athletes. Fatigue seems unlikely to be a problem.

Still, relative to the rest of the field, Clemson is clearly at a disadvantage. Even if you put aside the concerns about when, exactly, these student athletes are going to have time to study, the competitive aspect is still a concern. That's something the NCAA and its tournament selection committee might not have planned when it figured out this new First Four thing, and it's something the NCAA will have to discuss and remedy when it sits down and reviews the 2011 NCAA tournament.

If this is the biggest problem the First Four creates, then that's probably a good sign for the First Four. But it is a problem all the same.