CLEMSON — Ask Joe Lunardi at ESPN, and Clemson is a No. 3 seed. Ask Jerry Palm at CBS and the Tigers are worthy of a No. 2 spot. USA Today has the Tigers at a No. 2, Yahoo has Brad Brownell's men's basketball team at a No. 3 and so does NBC Sports as the NCAA Tournament creeps closer and closer.
Regardless of affiliation, regardless of different bracketology methods, all of the pundits in college basketball can agree: Clemson is almost certainly bound for the NCAA Tournament and perhaps even as a top 3 seed if the Tigers continue the trajectory that has defined their season so far. A year after Clemson won just six conference games and lost in the opening round of the NIT, a year after the Tigers won only 17 games total, this year's squad (19-4, 8-3 ACC) is trending up as the Big Dance draws near.
With each passing week, the ultimate end goal — making the tournament for the first time since 2011 — comes more into focus.
Brownell sees multiple reasons for the Tigers' success this season.
"I do think we're experienced. I think we've been in a lot of different environments and we've been in a lot of different games over the course of the last couple of years," Brownell said.
"We're just making a few more plays this year, a couple more shots, a couple more free throws. We've had a little bit of good fortune too, probably. I don't know that it's anything more than that."
At the forefront of what has made this Clemson team dramatically more successful than in previous seasons is the guard play. Brownell has redshirt juniors Marcquise Reed and Shelton Mitchell, and senior Gabe DeVoe leading his team.
In a league that demands the most out of its guards, Clemson's trio has risen to the occasion by playing the best basketball of their careers. Reed has more than doubled his rebounding output from last season, making him a more versatile threat on a more consistent basis. DeVoe has nearly doubled his scoring output. Mitchell is just a dozen assists and two steals away from tying his entire count from last season in both categories.
As a team, the Tigers fielded questions during preseason about how they might move forward without star Jaron Blossomgame, but in reality, this team is more balanced without him. The Tigers also answered questions about the NCAA Tournament and whether this would be the year they get over the hump. Perhaps a bit dubious at first, particularly considering the public opinion regarding the Blossomgame loss, their answers now have merit given Clemson's results.
"I think so. I think this is the year we can make it back to the NCAA because one, we've got great leaders in myself and Gabe," senior guard Donte Grantham said, "and No. 2, everybody on the team is all in and dialed into our team.
"Guys are really inspired and really ready."
ESPN has projected Clemson to play College of Charleston in the midwest bracket in Dallas, NBC has projected the Tigers to play Rider in Dallas and CBS has the Tigers matching up with UC Davis in Charlotte in the east bracket. Brownell would prefer to play in Charlotte, but the Tigers won't be picky.
"NCAA Tournament," DeVoe said without hesitation when asked about his goal for the team as the season began. "I feel like it’s a thing you’ve got to preach, something you’ve got to speak into existence."