After a roller-coaster regular season, it’s tough to know what to expect from the Clemson men’s basketball team at this week’s ACC Tournament.
Through the first six weeks of the season – before play against conference opponents began — it looked as though Clemson would be a bottom-feeder. Following the team’s ACC-opening, 80-69 loss at North Carolina, Clemson had a record of 7-6, with just one win against a team from a power conference (Rutgers).
When the calendar year turned to 2016, Brad Brownell’s squad came to life. The Tigers won five straight games against ACC opponents, including consecutive games against Louisville, Duke and Miami, all teams that finished the regular season in the top five of the ACC standings and the AP Top 25.
That winning streak propelled them into second place in the ACC standings at the time, behind only North Carolina, and into contention for both a double-bye in the ACC Tournament and a bid in the NCAA Tournament.
The Tigers’ status as a top team in the ACC proved to be short-lived. Clemson lost seven of its final 12 regular-season games, including three of its last four games. The Tigers ended up with a first-round bye in the ACC Tournament, as its No. 7 seed, and likely need to win the tournament this week to earn a bid to the Big Dance.
“Certainly for awhile there, we were competing for a top-four seed and that’s what we wanted to try to get,” Brownell said. “That hasn’t happened because we haven’t finished off some games.”
Clemson’s star on the court has been Jaron Blossomgame, who was named Sunday as a First-Team All-ACC selection.
Blossomgame had one of the best individual seasons in Clemson history. He is third in the ACC in overall (18.6 ppg) and ACC-game (20.7) scoring. He also finished the regular season sixth in the ACC in field goal accuracy (51.6 percent), while shooting a career-best 44.9 percent from three-point distance.
“I think we have a couple other guys that are maybe just not playing at the level that we need them to play at, if we’re going to be one of the top teams in this league,” Brownell said. “We’ve just kind of been playing OK and because of that, we’ve fallen into the middle of the pack.”
If the Tigers play below their best ability, their first game in D.C., against No. 10 seed Georgia Tech on Wednesday at 7 p.m., could be their last. While the Tigers defeated the Yellow Jackets, 66-52, at Bon Secours Wellness Arena on Feb. 13, they suffered a 75-73 loss at Georgia Tech on Feb. 23.