OMAHA, Neb. — When Omaha and Clemson are mentioned in the same breath, it generally has something to do with the College World Series.
Through the years, Clemson has been a constant with college baseball’s grandest stage, with 12 overall appearances in the CWS. The good people of Omaha have embraced the Tigers over the years and the Clemson faithful are always welcomed here with open arms.
Though the Clemson football team has never played in Omaha, the people of Nebraska definitely know about the Tigers on the gridiron. Lincoln and the University of Nebraska are about an hour up the road from Omaha, and there are a lot of Cornhusker fans who remember Homer Jordan and Clemson beating their team in the 1982 Orange Bowl to win Clemson’s first national championship.
It also does not hurt that Dabo Swinney and the current Tigers won a national championship in 2016 and Clemson football is considered one of the elite programs in the country for the last decade.
Now the locals here are getting used to a new batch of Tigers who will try and shock the world on Friday at Omaha’s CenturyLink Center against top seed Kansas in the semifinals of the Midwest Regional.
Can Clemson basketball take that next step and advance to the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament, something the program has not done since 1980.
“It’s a big step for our program,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said Thursday. “We haven’t been to the Sweet 16 in 20 years. And you know our university’s made a greater commitment to basketball.”
Clemson (25-9) started fundraising for new facilities shortly after Brownell became the coach there eight years ago. It took time and it took away a home venue for the program for 20 months, but now it has a new shinny Littlejohn Coliseum that has been open for two seasons with state of the art player facilities, practice courts, coaches’ offices and more.
The Tigers have followed that up with a third place finish in the ACC and a Sweet 16 run in the NCAA Tournament, which included an impressive 31-point victory over Auburn last week in the second round.
“To follow that up with a really good season shortly thereafter and make a Sweet 16 really will help us to build our brand, sell our program to recruits and fans and make people more aware of Clemson basketball,” Brownell said. “Obviously our football program is as good as any in the country. Our baseball program isn’t much behind. They obviously have Omaha on their hats for a reason because that’s the goal every year and often they get here.
“So basketball-wise, this was a big step for us.”
Now the Tigers have an opportunity to take another step.