By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush.
Regardless of how tonight’s game with Notre Dame turns out, Clemson’s basketball team has set itself up for unexpected success. The degree to which the success is unexpected largely depends on where you sat at the start of the season.
If you sat at the ACC’s preseason media outing, you saw a team with a ton of holes. You saw a team missing its two leading contributors from last season. You saw a team with massive holes in leadership given a complete lack of seniors. You saw a team that wouldn’t outperform 13 of its 14 conference brethren over the course of the season.
If you sat in Clemson’s basketball office, things were a little bit rosier. The vibe was better. The feel was better. The chemistry was better after a trip to Italy. Yes, this team had holes. But it was an improving bunch that bought in more with each passing day. Something good was coming down the pike, barring an unforeseen difficulty outside of Patrick Rooks’ hip injury.
If you sat in my shoes, you saw none of these things—or, more accurately, you saw all of them. The opinion was somewhere in the middle. The feel was good, but the leadership was a question mark. There was great camaraderie in the bunch, but it also lacked offensive skill and any substantive experience in the post. The season could go any number of ways.
So far, things are trending up for Clemson basketball. Big wins have come at good times (off of lopsided losses). The overall level of play, especially on defense, has ranged from inadequate to magnificent in conference play. The Tigers have yet to register a bad loss during the conference slate.
It should also be noted that only six times in Clemson history have the Tigers won four or more ACC road games in a season, a number this team could hit tonight with games against Georgia Tech and Wake Forest on the horizon. That would be an amazing number that would be way out of alignment with the historical trajectory of the Clemson program.
Some have Clemson teetering on the edge of the NCAA Tournament. Most opinions have the Tigers as a surprising team that is solidly in the NIT. Either way, Brad Brownell’s team has surpassed expectations thus far.
The 20-win threshold is attainable, whether Clemson wins or loses at Notre Dame tonight. That’s generally a good gauge of a team’s postseason worthiness. The Fighting Irish are only 3-8 in league play and sit at 12-12 overall, which seems like the kind of team Clemson needs to beat.
I won’t disagree that this win would be huge, but a loss wouldn’t be catastrophic. Most people expected this to be a loss anyway, and many still do. After all, it’s not easy to win on the road.
Clemson has a chance to accomplish more than expected this season, or perhaps significantly more. Either way, continued solid play only makes the future look brighter, whether accompanied by unexpected success or not.