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CLEMSON - It's not like the Clemson men's basketball team has been a train wreck in other years preparing for its ACC schedule.
Upcoming schedule for Clemson (7-2), which has a week off for final exams:
Saturday: vs. Furman
Dec. 19: at Auburn
Dec. 30: vs. VMI
Jan. 4: at Boston College (ACC opener)
But there's a different hue to this Tigers team, the fourth under head coach Brad Brownell and first to win seven games in its first eight tries since the 2008-09 group opened 16-0.
Clemson (7-2) beat South Carolina, Temple and Davidson in succession; its only losses are Nov. 24 to UMass and Saturday at Arkansas, who are a combined 14-2 on the year. That's an improvement on early losses to Coastal Carolina, College of Charleston and Old Dominion in previous years.
Plus, the Tigers were picked to finish 14th in the 15-team ACC, but teams above them have stumbled to the likes of North Carolina Central (N.C. State), Indiana State (Notre Dame), Belmont and UAB (North Carolina.)
"No question, our guys like each other, really get along, cheer for each other, support each other," Brownell said.
One of the nation's leaders in scoring defense, and taking a promising runner-up finish at the Charleston Classic, the Tigers aren't taking their encouraging start for granted.
"Because there's such competition for playing time, practices are really good," Brownell said. "Sometimes when you have younger guys that aren't as established in their roles on the team like we had last year, you can get complacent. Now there's a bunch of guys on our team that know if they don't perform well, we'll just put another guy in. That makes you pay attention to detail. You'll see that throughout the course of our season."
Even without a senior on the roster, there is an alpha dog. Junior forward K.J. McDaniels has all-tournament honors and an 18.2 scoring average to his name, making 90.5 percent of his free throws.
McDaniels had 27 points in Saturday's loss at Arkansas, bouncing back from a 7-point effort Monday vs. South Carolina State.
"He's not overly concerned one way or the other; K.J.'s just a very happy-go-lucky kid," Brownell said. "He's not super-demanding of anybody; he's just a nice guy, just comes in, does his thing and tries to be positive with everybody."
Point guard Rod Hall is averaging 10.6 points per game, and his assist-to-turnover ratio is better than 3-to-1 on the year.
The Tigers have three winnable non-conference games remaining in December before the ACC slate opens Jan. 4.
"There's no super-message about last year. We don't talk about last year a lot," Brownell said. "It's about being prepared, and trying to execute a plan."
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