Halfway Through ACC Play, Clemson Ahead of Prediction
Clemson men’s basketball reached the halfway point of the 20-game ACC season at 5-5 after Tuesday night’s 71-70 win over Syracuse.
The Tigers (11-9 overall) already had wins over N.C. State, Duke, North Carolina and Wake Forest in the month of January after starting 0-3 in league play.
Heading into the February and the second half, which begins Saturday at Wake Forest in an 8 p.m. tip, here’s a look at where the Tigers stand:
Clemson’s rankings: 83rd in NET, 83rd in RPI, 84th in Kenpom.
Quad records: Quad 1 (1-5), Quad 2 (4-3), Quad 3 (2-1), Quad 4 (4-0).
Best win: Duke (6th in NET). The Blue Devils are a legit contender for both the ACC title and one of the NCAA tournament’s four overall seeds. But Mike K’s squad was outplayed an out-executed the night after Clemson football lost in the national championship game.
Worst loss: Miami (101). Despite home losses to South Carolina (75) and Yale (48), it was the one at Littlejohn Coliseum against Miami that’s most glaring. Clemson led by 10 points in the second half, but the Hurricanes rallied to force overtime and win 73-68. Since then, Miami has won two of its last eight games.
Most impactful player: Aamir Simms. The Clemson junior leads the team in points (13.8 per game), rebounds (7.6 per game), free-throws made (60) and blocks (15). He’s second in steals (21). Simms has struggled offensively recently, but the team runs much of its offense through a player who at 6-foot-8 is the tallest Tiger on the court much of the time.
Latest impact: Clyde Trapp. The junior guard was expected to take on a big role before tearing his ACL in June. Since his return, Clemson has gone 5-4, including all of those key ACC wins. Trapp is averaging 6 points per game but had 17 against Syracuse, including the game winner, and is looking healthier and more athletic each game.
Most impactful transfer: Tevin Mack. The Columbia native played at Texas and Alabama before joining the Tigers as a grad transfer. He’s second on the team with 11.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, and while he’s been inconsistent and has had issues with shot selection, Clemson doesn’t beat Syracuse without his 32-point performance.
Most impactful freshman: Al-Amir Dawes. Chase Hunter would certainly have been in the running for this had he not suffered an injury that’s limited him to nine games. And while Dawes’ minutes and production have decreased since Trapp’s return, Dawes (8 ppg, 2.8 apg) held down the fort in the backcourt. The freshman guard has made mistakes, but that experience will pay off. He’s now making some key plays with less pressure to be the primary ball handler and quarterback of the offense.
Biggest surprise: The team didn’t fall apart. After an 0-3 conference start and all the injuries, it wouldn’t have been a surprise if Clemson was considered one of the worst teams in the ACC right now, but if the conference tournament started today, the Tigers would be the No. 7 seed. Factor in that they were picked in the preseason by the media to finish 11th, and it’s clear this squad has a real shot to overachieve. Now healthier, Clemson has a chance at finishing in the upper half of the standings.
Bubble talk: Clemson still has a ways to go before this team gets NCAA tournament bubble consideration, but the Tigers have six games against teams ranked ahead of them in the NET. Going 6-4 in the back half of ACC play isn’t a stretch. That would give Clemson 11 conference wins. However, the non-conference results could be too putrid to give Clemson a shot at the Big Dance. The NIT is more realistic at this point.