Though there are some unexpected programs stuck at the bottom of the ACC standings in the early stages of league play, the greatest twist of all is probably Clemson’s 3-1 start after dispatching Florida State, Syracuse and Louisville in succession.
These are the same Tigers with a 23-point bludgeoning at Georgia on their resume. The same team with losses to Massachusetts (8-7) and Minnesota (6-10) in November. The same bunch stuck commuting an hour to its temporary home arena in Greenville, S.C., while Littlejohn Coliseum is renovated.
But perhaps this isn’t too big a surprise, given Brad Brownell’s penchant for coaxing the most out of his teams. The Tigers are 43-49 (.467) in regular season conference games under Brownell, which doesn’t seem so overwhelming except for the fact it’s a better ACC winning percentage than any of Brownell’s predecessors mustered.
Clemson (10-6) is off to only its ninth 3-1 or 4-0 league start in the ACC’s 63-year history and now faces a gauntlet of Duke, Miami, Virginia and Pittsburgh, starting with the Blue Devils’ visit to Greenville on Wednesday.
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Clemson (10-6) is off to only its ninth 3-1 or 4-0 league start in the ACC’s 63-year history and now faces a gauntlet of Duke, Miami, Virginia and Pittsburgh, starting with the Blue Devils’ visit to Greenville on Wednesday. Still, what the Tigers have done after other strong ACC starts suggests this team has a decent chance to play well into March.
1979-80: Didn’t get to 4-1 in the league (fell to Maryland in overtime), but managed a winning ACC record (8-6) and advanced to an NCAA regional final before losing to a Larry Brown-coached UCLA squad.
1986-87: One of Cliff Ellis’ best Clemson teams raced to a 4-0 conference start before dropping home games to Duke (105-103 in overtime) and North Carolina (108-99). The Tigers finished 10-4 in the ACC (with Horace Grant claiming league player of the year honors), but were stunned in the first round of the NCAA tournament by Southwest Missouri State as a No. 4 seed.
1988-89: A one-point setback at Georgia Tech cost this team a 4-1 ACC start. A tough month followed, but the Tigers closed the regular season strong and ultimately earned a No. 9 seed and a ticket to Boise. They were bounced by Arizona in the NCAA’s second round.
1989-90: For the first and only time, Clemson claimed the ACC regular season title. It still didn’t win at North Carolina, which halted the Tigers’ 4-1 opening burst in league play. Ellis’ team erased a 19-point deficit against La Salle to earn a date with Connecticut in the Sweet 16, where it was ousted on Tate George’s buzzer-beater.
1996-97: The only Clemson team to ever win its first five ACC games fell to Tim Duncan and Wake Forest before absorbing its then-annual loss at North Carolina. The Tigers recovered to go 9-7 in the league and advance to the Sweet 16.
2006-07: Started out 17-0 overall and 3-0 in the league, but the wheels came off the wagon as the Tigers lost nine of their next 11. Clemson recovered to make a run to the NIT title game.
2009-10: Opened 3-1 in the ACC, but dropped their next three before stabilizing enough to earn a No. 7 seed. That would become the third consecutive Oliver Purnell-coached Tiger team to go one-and-done in the NCAA tournament, falling to Missouri.
2013-14: It’s easy to forget Clemson was 4-1 in the ACC just two years ago before back-to-back losses, and would wind up 10-8 thanks. A poor nonconference schedule proved costly with the NCAA committee, though the Tigers ultimately advanced to the NIT semifinals.
Duke freshman Luke Kennard has made 93.2 percent of his free throws attempts this season to pace the ACC. Who are the only two freshmen in ACC history to finish the season as the league’s free throws percentage leader?
Florida State scuffling
When Florida State made it through nonconference play with a 10-2 mark, it seemed the Seminoles were in decent shape to re-emerge as a credible contender in the league after sliding to the middle of the pack the last three years.
Then the Seminoles were torched by Clemson and North Carolina, followed by Saturday’s season-low 59-point showing in a loss at Miami. Suddenly, Florida State is just as desperate for a victory as the N.C. State bunch it visits Wednesday.
What has to be most troubling for the Seminoles is they struggle to play well at both ends of the floor in the same game. In none of their last six games have they both averaged a point per possession while allowing less than a point per trip. That might not change as coach Leonard Hamilton deals with the ups and downs of leaning on promising freshmen Dwayne Bacon and Malik Beasley.
The only two players in ACC history to lead the conference in free throw percentage as freshman were Georgia Tech’s Mark Price (.877 in 1982-83) and Duke’s J.J. Redick (.919 in 2002-03, which remains the league’s free throw percentage record for a freshman).