TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Brad Brownell earned a history degree from DePauw University. However, he must have taken a theater class or two, because he knows how to build drama.
Brownell, in his second season as Clemson coach, does not follow conventional plot structure. Rather than climaxing near the midpoint of the season, his teams continue their rising action into the late stages.
Clemson (16-13, 8-7) will close the regular season today at noon against No. 22 Florida State (20-9, 11-4), whom the Tigers defeated by 20 points in their ACC opener on Jan. 7.
Clemson has won half of its games since, but Brownell could direct the Tigers to their best finale in 45 years.
Over 10 seasons as a coach, Brownell has compiled a 73-46 (.613) record in November and December. He has compiled a 73-37 (.664) in February and March.
Brownell has attributed the pattern of annual improvement to the resilient effort he demands from his players and staff.
With five scholarship freshmen and veteran players shifting into new roles, Clemson plodded to an 11-10 record through the first three months of this season. The Tigers dropped their first two games in February and opened the ACC schedule 3-6.
The Tigers have won five of six since, suffering the lone loss at North Carolina. Clemson has not won six of its final seven regular-season games since 1967.
“It speaks a lot to the character of the people involved with the program,” Brownell said. “Our coaches and players have really committed to each other that we’re going to do the best we can and we’re going to keep grinding and find a way and believe in each other and not give in to human nature, which is probably to take a step off the accelerator and feel a little sorry for ourselves.
“We do have some older guys, four seniors and two juniors, so I would expect nothing less, but I do think there are a lot of teams that wouldn’t have grinded away as much. So, I’m really proud of this group. They’ve certainly turned our season around.”
Brownell has taken four teams to the NCAA tournament, including last year’s Clemson squad. The best — and likely only — shot for his current team to earn a berth is to win the ACC tournament next week.
Brownell has managed a 16-6 record in conference tournaments.
Clemson could improve its tournament seed with a victory today, while earning the program’s fifth consecutive winning season in ACC play.
The Tigers are tied with Virginia and N.C. State for fifth place, half a game behind Miami, which defeated Boston College on Saturday.
Clemson, Virginia and N.C. State all play on the road today. Thus, Clemson can finish anywhere between fifth and seventh, leaving much uncertainty about who and when the Tigers could play in the first two rounds of the tournament.
The fifth and sixth seeds would be more favorable options for Clemson. With those spots, the Tigers would not face either of the top two teams until the semifinals.
Clemson has defeated six of the remaining nine ACC members and lost their single meetings with Maryland, Boston College and Miami by a combined margin of seven points.
“None of it matters if we don’t win. Our full attention is to Florida State,” Brownell said. “The most important thing for us is to try to get reenergized and get ready to go again in a difficult setting against a very difficult team.”