CLEMSON – Don’t look now – OK, well, maybe take a peek – but Clemson’s men’s basketball team is on a roll.
You know, basketball? That sport with the bouncing roundball played on average once a week at that indoor facility across the street from Death Valley? The mild distraction for many casual fans bridging football season to, well, football season? (Or to baseball season, if you’re a 3rd-Base Grump.)
Try, if you might, to stop salivating over Clemson’s top-five recruiting class for just a moment, and let’s hoop.
Brad Brownell (he’s the head coach, if ya didn’t know) constantly begs and pleads for more fan support toward his program. The momentum gained from last spring’s sold-out NIT tournament games, which importantly were also victories, didn’t quite translate to this season – none too helped by the loss of Sixers F K.J. McDaniels and, well, the loss to Winthrop in game two Nov. 17.
Clemson didn’t help matters by then losing to Gardner-Webb, needing a late stand to hold off High Point, and losing at home to 10-14 Rutgers. Oh, and lose to South Carolina by 23 in anything and see how the fans respond to that.
Enough doom and gloom. The past is the past. Could we interest you in a four-game winning streak?
More specifically, how about a 4-game winning streak against ACC members?
What if I told you that’s Clemson’s longest league roll in 18 years?
The last time the Tigers beat four straight league opponents: Jan. 7-18, 1997. Led by head coach Rick Barnes, junior forward Greg Buckner and sophomore guard Terrell McIntyre, it began with No. 5 Clemson’s home victory over No. 10 Duke, 86-82 in overtime, and continued with Florida State, No. 11 Maryland and North Carolina State. The Tigers rose to No. 2 in the country as a result – still their loftiest perch in program history – before falling to fourth-ranked Wake Forest to snap the streak.
The last time Clemson won four straight games, Donte Grantham was one year old.
So you’ll excuse the coaches, players and diehards if they are reveling in this little hot streak, even Clemson has benefitted of a soft slate vs. Wake Forest, at N.C. State, vs. Boston College and last night at Florida State (combined conference records: 13-27.)
Just as Brownell and his staff had planned, this squad needed time to grow up, which sounds weird considering every single critical piece was back besides McDaniels. Ever hear of the Ewing Theory? Seemed to apply to Clemson, if one elite player left and everyone else realized they had to pick up their end of the slack instead of deferring to the Alpha Dog.
Players hadn’t done that, at least not in the first six weeks. But now, Grantham’s becoming a smarter freshman swingman, sophomore forward Jaron Blossomgame cranks out double-doubles, Senegal-born center Sidy Djitte’s been a valuable backup, little-used forward Josh Smith (J-Smoove!) is suddenly Mr. Clutch and junior guard Jordan Roper’s finally the scorer coaches expected they were getting, earning ACC Co-Player of the Week honors Monday.
The good: Clemson has six ACC wins, the same as Duke and the same as Syracuse, which will be sitting out all postseason opportunities.
The bad: Clemson still has a ways to go before earning nationwide, or even regional, respect. Can’t lose by 24 on the home floor to UNC, can’t keep depending on ugly finishes like last night at FSU to keep winning.
The good, again: Clemson has eight regular season games remaining, and while a pair of cracks at No. 10 Notre Dame and a trip to No. 4 Duke are daunting, the other five contests – Sunday’s trip to Miami, home games vs. Virginia Tech and N.C. State and a pair with Georgia Tech – are all eminently winnable. Throw in, say, a second-round victory at the ACC Tournament, and that would give Clemson 20 wins on the year, which was its total last year going into the NIT.
The current Littlejohn Coliseum attendance average of 7,293 fannies per game is on pace for the second-lowest figure in 20 years. That progress Brownell craves won’t be permanent until LJC is renovated (coming fall of 2016!) and he puts a number next to Clemson’s name (coming ________.)
Truth is, this program’s got a ways to go before its goal. But four straight’s a start.