Clemson coach Brad Brownell doubles down on critique of Big 12 scheduling

Clemson head coach Brad Brownell talks to guard Chase Hunter (1) during the second half of a first-round college basketball game against New Mexico in the NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 22, 2024, in Memphis, Tenn. Clemson won 77-56. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

By Michael Haag | Sports Editor

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Big 12 is often regarded as one of, if not the best, men’s basketball conferences in the country.

There are Quadrant 1 wins to be picked up from virtually every team in the 14-, soon-to-be 16-team conference, and it’s sparked this narrative that the Big 12 is in a league of its own.

Clemson head coach Brad Brownell isn’t too fond of those sentiments.

In late February, Brownell said on the Tigers’ flagship radio station that Big 12 teams would adjust their nonconference schedules to play softer opponents with the idea that more routs would take place. Thus, those larger-margin victories would boost how Big 12 teams are reflected in metrics like the NET, which is the NCAA Evaluation Tool used by the selection committee.

The NET helps the committee rank teams in terms of their wins and losses, and the quality of those results.

The Big 12 had eight bids in the NCAA Tournament this season, and the ACC — which Clemson plays in — only had five.

“It was in no disrespect to the league, but I do think they figured some things out,” Brownell said of his previous comments. “It’s probably more of a compliment than anything. I think there are a lot of teams in their league that scheduled in a way that help their NET. And there’s different ways to do it.

“You can schedule really hard games and hopefully try and win those games. Or it seems you can schedule some teams that aren’t maybe as good and beat them by a lot and pad your offensive and defensive efficiency numbers. I wasn’t saying anything that hadn’t been already put out there, not only by people and other coaches in our league, but some media people had figured it out. And I do think that’s a problem. I think that’s a problem with the system. And we really need to look at it. This tournament is too important to too many people.”

Brownell also pointed to last year when his Tigers were left out of the NCAA Tournament despite a 23-11 season. He said his original comments really stem from how the committee needs to do a better job looking at strength of schedule, as well as offensive and defensive efficiency metrics.

“Again, I have all the respect in the world for the committee, [but] our heart was broken last year being left out,” Brownell said. “And one of the things was penalized for was our nonconference strength of schedule. Now that’s hard too because last year at this time I was arguing your nonconference strength of schedule shouldn’t matter as much as just your overall strength of schedule.

“Whatever your overall strength of schedule, that’s what it is, if you’re playing in a really hard league, like the Big 12 or the ACC, you may not want to schedule over your head in November and December, the season’s hard enough.”

Baylor head coach Scott Drew said his team won’t need Brownell’s comments as fuel or motivation going into the round of 32.

“I mean, every coach, whatever league they’re in, believes their league’s tough and the best league,” Drew said. “ I know we have enough to be focused about starting with a really well-coached team and great players.”

No. 3 seed Baylor is set to face No. 6 seed Clemson at 5:10 p.m. CT on Sunday in the FedExForum, presenting an opportunity for the Bears to defend their honor as a member of the Big 12, while Brownell’s Tigers can get some credibility with a win.

For what it’s worth, Baylor finished with the toughest schedule in the country, according to KenPom.

Sophomore forward Josh Ojianwuna told The Lariat that he finds it important to represent the Big 12 in a matchup like this.

“I feel like yeah, that’s a chip on our shoulder coming to show these guys [that] the Big 12 is the best conference in the country,” Ojianwuna said. “So we’re ready to go do that.”

Graduate student Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, the Bears’ only returning member from the 2020-21 national championship team, said he doesn’t look at it that way.

“People might not like this, but I really don’t play for a conference,” Tchamwa Tchatchoua said. “I really play just for the name on the back of my jersey. That might be a question for my other teammates, but I mean, at the end of the day, if we get a win that’ll be good for the Big 12, but that’s not what motivates us.

“At the end of the day, we want to win and we want to make sure we hang a banner and want to make sure that we make the last name on the back of our jersey proud.”