The most underrated team in ACC basketball

Clemson is off to one of the fastest starts in the ACC this season. The Tigers improved to 14-1 with a 74-69 victory over Louisville. Along with its 3-0 start in ACC play, the Tigers also have non-conference victories over the likes of South Carolina, Florida, and Ohio State. Those victories can help the Tigers return to the NCAA Tournament if they can continue their solid play in league games.

Although all five Tigers starters are currently averaging in double figures in scoring, Clemson’s defensive play is the biggest reason why they’ve crept into the top 25. The Tigers rank No. 10 nationally in the adjusted defensive rankings. Clemson also ranks No. 18 nationally in the overall rankings. The Tigers rank fourth in the ACC in points allowed per game (63.1 ppg).  Only three of Clemson’s 14 opponents thus far – Ohio, Texas Southern, and Boston College – have scored 70 or more points against them. Five opponents were held under 60 points, and archrival South Carolina scored just 48 points when the two teams met on Dec. 19.

The Tigers are also doing a good job limiting opposing teams on the boards. Clemson ranks fourth in the ACC in allowing its opponents just 32 rebounds per game. The Tigers themselves are averaging 36.6 rebounds per game.

Clemson’s return to national prominence on the hardwood should help Brad Brownell retain his job. Despite a contract extension at the end of last season running through the 2020-21 season, Brownell had much to prove this winter. Buoyed by the tremendous recent success of the Tigers football program, and without an NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011, patience has been running thin on the part of Tiger fans with Brownell.

Although this season’s solid start is a good thing for Brownell’s job security, Tiger fans are hopeful that it will ultimately help them land Zion Williamson, the nation’s top senior high school baseketball player. Williamson, who is set to announce his decision Jan. 20, is still considering Clemson, along with Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Kansas.

Over the past several months, there have been increasing rumblings that the Tigers are very much in play for Williamson, and could even be challenging Kentucky as his favorite. As any highly-rated football prospect from South Carolina can attest, the pressure to stay in the Palmetto State is intense. WIlliamson’s friends, classmates, and even adults in his Spartanburg, South Carolina community are openly pushing for him to stay home and play at nearby Clemson.

Brownell and his staff have effectively framed a scenario where Williamson can come to Death Valley for a year and emerge as one of the top players in the ACC. He could join forces with the likes of Shelton Mitchell, Elijah Thomas, and Marcquise Reed to give Clemson a veteran-laden, multi-faceted rotation that could realistically challenge for an ACC title in 2018-19.

There’s no second place in recruiting. But the fact that Clemson has hung with national powerhouses such as Kentucky, Duke, and UNC with Williamson speaks volumes about the improved trajectory of the Clemson basketball program in recent months.

As Williamson’s recruitment winds down, Kentucky remains the team to beat. Players of Williamson’s caliber make their way to Lexington more often than not. But if there’s any program out there right now with an honest-to-goodness shot of pulling Williamson away from the Wildcats, it’s Clemson. The fact that they’re playing so well, just as Williamson readies to make his decision, only helps the Tigers’ chances.


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