NIT return to Littlejohn?
With nine conference games left (plus the ACC tournament), here's Clemson's postseason basketball outlook, with comments from AD Dan Radakovich and coach Brad Brownell.
CLEMSON - Some crazy pep talk isn't going to rouse Clemson into bringing its best effort to the Carrier Dome on Sunday.
Brad Brownell knows his players know. The Tigers are entering the den of the top-ranked team in college basketball - their first trip to play the Orange at Syracuse, N.Y. - and its heralded zone defense displayed in a cavernous facility.
"I've watched Syracuse for a long time, since Carmelo (Anthony) was there," leading scorer K.J. McDaniels said. "It's a magnificent place to play, from what it looks like."
The odds are stacked against Clemson's program: 2-29 against No. 1 in its history.
So Brownell doesn't have any special speech lined up for Sunday.
"Not really. Our guys know," Brownell said. "They know those guys are undefeated and No. 1 in the country. They watch SportsCenter. We don't make much out of it."
There's a definition in sports, the idea of a Good Bad team: one who looks good against bad teams but looks bad against good teams. Clemson (15-6, 6-3 ACC) has taken care of business against lower-tier opponents, but save for a home thumping of Duke, the Tigers have shrunk against competition like Pittsburgh and North Carolina.
"Our guys just have to go play well; if they don't play well, I probably won't be happy," Brownell said. "That's the way it is. It's as simple as that. These are challenging games. It's a big step, to go to 30,000 people and play well against the No. 1 team in the country on their home court, and execute against a zone that nobody has very much success executing against."
Clemson maintains the nation's stingiest defense, allowing 55 points per game, but Syracuse isn't far behind at No. 8 (59.1 points). The way to beat Jim Boeheim's patented 2-3 zone, with lanky defenders all over the floor, is through the 3-ball, but Clemson's outside shooting has been rough this year (38.6 field goal percentage, 31.2 from 3-point range).
Asked if he has to manage rotations based on who's got the hot hand, Brownell smirked.
"We haven't had to worry too much about who's been in rhythm," Brownell said.
On only three occasions has a Tiger nailed multiple 3-pointers in consecutive games, and all three instances were just two buckets on each night. Damarcus Harrison did it in the opening two games, Rod Hall was 2-for-3 at Pittsburgh and North Carolina, and Jordan Roper has hit a pair in each of Clemson's last two games, wins over Florida State and Georgia Tech.
It only gets tougher against the Orange (22-0, 9-0).
"If it's a decent shot, you need to shoot it," Brownell said. "If you're in rhythm and feel good about it, shoot it, because it's not guaranteed you're going to get a better look."
But the Tigers did recover from humbling losses at Pitt (76-43) and UNC (80-61) to beat the Seminoles on the road and grind out a home win over the Yellow Jackets.
"The past road games against Pitt and UNC, we got caught up into the atmosphere," center Landry Nnoko said. "But I feel like we've grown up, we've moved on and gotten our nasty back.
"We got away from our identity, and we kind of played soft on some teams. (Against) Florida State and Georgia Tech, we got back to it."
The Tigers play three games this week, including two in the next three days; after Sunday's Syracuse game, they'll fly directly to South Bend, Ind., where Clemson takes on Notre Dame on Tuesday at 7 p.m. The Tigers return home to host No. 20 Virginia at noon Saturday.
Inside the Game: Clemson at No. 1 Syracuse
Clemson (15-6, 6-3 ACC) vs. No. 1 Syracuse (22-0, 9-0)
WHEN: Sunday, 6 p.m.
WHERE: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.
TV/RADIO: ESPNU; CTSN
RECORDS (2012-13): Clemson 13-18, 5-13 ACC; Syracuse 26-9, 11-7 Big East
NOTES: The Tigers have beaten one ranked team on its home floor in the last 17 years (Clemson 75, Virginia Tech 74, March 4, 2007 in Blacksburg) . Sunday is just the Tigers' third game against a ranked foe this year, after beating No. 16 Duke at home Jan. 11 and losing at No. 20 Pittsburgh on Jan. 21 . Clemson is 2-29 all-time against the No. 1 team in the country. Both its wins were at home: beating Duke 87-82 in overtime on Jan. 9, 1980, and topping North Carolina 75-65 on Feb. 18, 2001 . Clemson is 2-0 all-time vs. Syracuse, not having played since the 2007 NIT . halfway through conference play, the Tigers enter the weekend in the No. 5 spot in the ACC standings . Syracuse starting forward Jerami Grant (12.8 points, 7.0 rebounds) is the younger brother of former Clemson center Jerai Grant . Clemson's leading scorer and rebounder, K.J. McDaniels, celebrates his 21st birthday Sunday.
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