Clemson’s Season Will be Defined in the Next Two WeeksPosted by Chris Kehoe on January 22nd, 2014
Clemson was on quite the roll, coming into Tuesday night at 13-4 overall (4-1 in conference play) and widely regarded as having one of the best defenses in the nation. The Tigers looked poised to make major waves, but then Pittsburgh happened. With its incredibly efficient play on both ends of the court and Jamie Dixon’s tough-minded, physical brand of old school Big East basketball, Pittsburgh handed it to Clemson with a 76-43 thrashing at the Petersen Events Center. This certainly takes some of the wind out of Clemson’s sails after a three-game ACC winning streak, but there are still a number of positives to draw from this group of feisty Tigers that appear to have finally made the turn in Brad Brownell‘s fourth season on campus.
This Clemson group was projected by most experts to finish in the bottom three of the ACC standings, but has instead ridden a wave of momentum behind its tenacious and stingy defense to a level of play not seen in the basketball program in quite some time. Offensively, Clemson has been led by its undisputed star and athletic highlight reel machine, K.J. McDaniels, to the tune of 16.4 PPG, 7.0 RPG, and 2.7 BPG. Those well-rounded numbers are first team all-ACC caliber, but he will be facing stiff competition from several of the other elite forwards in the conference (Jabari Parker, CJ Fair, etc.). The real question surrounding Clemson from here on out is if the Tigers can seize the positive momentum it has developed to play with the consistency required to win away from Littlejohn Coliseum? It is easy enough to get hyped up for a sold-out crowd at home versus a program like Duke, but can Brownell’s squad shake off the natural letdown that comes afterward to mentally prepare for those road trips? Coming into this season, Clemson was 5-18 in ACC road games under his direction — the Tigers are 2-1 this season.
The trouncing Clemson received at the hands of Pittsburgh doesn’t bode well for its ability to win road games against the top of the league, although simply being in the conversation with Syracuse, Duke, Virginia and the others is a step in the right direction for this program. Brownell is not be satisfied with mere proximity to the top and will do his best to have his team claw its way to contention behind their tempo-controlling defense. A tough season-defining road trip started at Pitt, but up next are consecutive road games at North Carolina (where Clemson has never won a game) and Florida State. A brief respite comes afterward in the form of a home game versus Georgia Tech, but then the Tigers again hit the road to face Syracuse and Notre Dame before finishing up the stretch versus a 5-1 Virginia team at Littlejohn. This slate of games will likely determine if Brownell’s team is a bona fide NCAA Tournament team this season or destined for the NIT. If their energy and display at Pittsburgh last night is any indication of how they will handle four road games in the next two weeks, Clemson’s quick start in ACC play will likely be a thing of very distant memory by February.