Sometimes, it's not that you lose. It's how you lose.
Clemson men's basketball is doing both in an alarming fashion and it's raised many questions after an incredibly promising start. Last Saturday's 35-point loss to No. 13 Virginia was supposed to be because of an 11-day layoff due to COVID-19 protocols within the Tiger program.
After two games were postponed and momentum from a four-game winning streak was halted, Clemson has yet to look anything like the team that started the season 9-1 with seven wins over Power 5 teams.
The latest game, an 83-65 loss to Georgia Tech on Wednesday, is actually a bigger head-scratcher than when the Cavs played their best game of the year. After all, UVA was ranked and still undefeated in ACC play.
The Yellow Jackets, meanwhile, had not played a game in 17 days because of COVID-19 protocols. They had only competed once this calendar year, a win over Wake Forest, and this is the same team that lost to Georgia State and Mercer to start the season. However, Clemson looked like the team Wednesday that hadn't played in two and a half weeks.
GT coach Josh Pastner's squad shot an insane 16-of-26 from behind the 3-point arc. That came on the heels of Virginia's 15-of-27 performance from downtown. What is going on? Were these teams just on absolute fire or has Clemson's defense, which a week ago was regarded as one of the best in the nation, fallen apart?
In these situations, it's a little bit of both. Neither of those teams are supposed to be THAT good from 3-land. Against Tech, Clemson struggled to close out on hot shooters. It was obvious what the Jackets wanted to do, and leaving the same guy open in the corner on the exact same spot over and over again was less than ideal.
The other issue the Tigers had against GT was turnovers. After committing a reasonable nine against Virginia, Clemson had 20 on Wednesday. It was too many free shots for GT, and many of those resulted in open 3s. The Jackets scored 30 points off turnovers. Yikes.
Is this sample size of two games who the Tigers really are or are they the team that beat the likes of Alabama and Florida State? Time will tell because they have a rematch with the scorching hot Seminoles in Tallahassee on Saturday. Since that loss to Clemson, FSU has outscored its last three opponents 88.3-71.
The Tigers' fall from grace simply doesn't make sense. It's like they have lost their identity, leadership and depth because of a short hiatus. They used to know who they were and play to their strengths: defense and tempo.
Since the COVID-19 break, they've played with none of that. They seem lost. They're getting blown out. They're not a very good team all of a sudden.
And hopes of upward mobility in a wide-open ACC that's seen the likes of Duke and North Carolina take massive steps back this year are dwindling.
Sure, it's still January, and there's plenty of time to turn it around, but again, it's how Clemson has lost and looked the last two games that don't jive with the previous 10 contests. Figure it out soon or the deepest team Brad Brownell's had will be wasted.