Clemson basketball is on pace for a storybook season in the ACC.
When you look at the top basketball schools in the ACC, certain names come to mind quickly. Duke. North Carolina. Virginia. Louisville. Clemson usually isn’t in that category but the Tigers are quietly putting together a season that could go down as one of the best in school history.
Brad Brownell’s team made a bit of noise last season, picking up upset wins against Duke and North Carolina, but the Tigers likely would have missed the NCAA Tournament if the event was held. There were signs of potential for Clemson, however, and Brownell assembled a quality non-conference schedule to test his program this year.
The Tigers have passed that test, racing off to an 8-1 start this season, including four wins outside ACC play against Power 5 schools. Three of those wins came on a neutral floor, including victories over Mississippi State and Purdue to win the Space Coast Challenge in Florida as well as one over Alabama in Atlanta.
Led by a tenacious defense, Clemson basketball is poised for a dream season
That success has translated into a strong start to ACC play, where the Tigers are 2-1 with their biggest win being an upset over Florida State last week. In a conference where there are few clear-cut contenders, there is a tremendous opportunity for Clemson to challenge for the ACC title this season.
The hallmark of the Tigers has been their rugged defense, which limits opponents to just 56.2 points per game. Clemson’s unit is rated as the second-most efficient in the country by KenPom, which is extremely impressive since KenPom’s metrics note that the Tigers have faced off with the equivalent of the nation’s 38th most difficult schedule in terms of opposing offenses.
The key player for the Tigers has been senior forward Aamir Simms, who is the clear leader for Brownell’s team. Simms leads Clemson in scoring (13.1 points per game) and rebounding (5.7 rebounds per game) while shooting an impressive 60.6 percent from the floor. Opposing teams have also been forced to step outside against Simms, who is knocking down 50 percent of his three-point attempts, making it easier to create spacing for the rest of the Tigers’ offense.
It is also true that the Tigers don’t play the most aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball, often slowing the tempo down to try and limit possessions. That strategy is effective given the strong defensive unit that Brownell has assembled and should lead to wins in an ACC that is nowhere near as deep from top-to-bottom as either the Big Ten or Big 12.
The Tigers have already accumulated half of last season’s win total and have a strong opportunity to finish above .500 in ACC play. Going 10-6 the rest of the way would mean that Clemson has an 18-7 overall record with a 13-7 conference record, which should be more than enough to qualify for the NCAA Tournament with the Tigers’ strong non-conference results.
The Tigers actually made the NCAA Tournament in 2018 and won a round, but prior to that Clemson’s last ticket to dance came in 1997. This group has a chance to make it to March Madness and could get to at least the Sweet 16 with a good draw, which is something you would not have expected prior to the season.
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