Clemson has a good coach in Brad Brownell, has had him for six years now, in fact. Brownell won big at previous jobs at UNC-Wilmington and Wright State and has won nearly 62% of games in his career. Still, the sad truth is many might consider Brownell lucky to still be the coach at Clemson.
Entering this season, Brownell has led the Tigers to “only” one NCAA Tournament berth, and that was in his first year when many of the players were recruited by predecessor Oliver Purnell. Even for a school that is so clearly football-first, there typically is little room for a coach to go four straight years without a trip to the Big Dance, especially with three of those years producing 16 wins or less.
In a thankful-if rare in today’s big college sports climate-show of restraint, Clemson has been patient with Brownell, and it is being richly rewarded. The Tigers are suddenly one of the hottest teams in the country, having won four straight in the ACC, including wins this week over Louisville and now Duke on Wednesday, 68-63.
Jaron Blossomgame scored 17 points, and Clemson now has consecutive wins over ranked teams for the first time since 1989. That year was one of only four times in school history that it has advanced to the round of 32 or further in the NCAA Tournament, and to illustrate the program’s modest history further, it should be noted it has never advanced past the Sweet 16.
Clemson’s recent burst has come virtually out of nowhere. This is a team that lost by 17 to Massachusetts in November, lost to woeful Minnesota, and was defeated by Georgia by 22 just three days before Christmas. The current streak has included wins with the three-pointer (13 triples against Syracuse, 10 against Florida State, including seven from Jordan Roper), wins at the free throw line (44 foul shot attempts against Louisville) and wins with pure grit, which is where Wednesday comes in. The Tigers trailed Duke by 12 early but out-rebounded the Blue Devils 36-24 and got two baskets off of offensive boards late.
Clemson is playing its home games off campus in Greenville, S.C., this year as Littlejohn Coliseum is renovated, adding to the difficulty for a program that already has been traditionally one of the toughest jobs in the ACC. Brownell-one of the better defensive coaches anywhere-deserved and deserves a chance to recruit to and coach in that updated facility, and it’s good to see recent results supporting that.
- Alabama hammered South Carolina 73-50, knocking the Gamecocks from the ranks of the undefeated. The lone team left without a loss is SMU, which moved to 16-0 with a 79-55 rout on the road of East Carolina. The Mustangs continue to roll despite having just seven scholarship players right now. If looking for the next best chance for a pitfall for Larry Brown’s team, there’s a trip to Temple next Saturday Jan. 23, plus a road game at Houston Feb. 1.
- Oklahoma may be in line to move to the No. 1 ranking next week, but the Sooners got a mighty challenge in the Bedlam game Wednesday night before nipping Oklahoma State 74-72. Buddy Hield scored 26, but OSU freshman Jawun Evans was the first star for this one with 42 points, plus seven boards and six assists. Wow. The game ended with a Cowboys’ three-point attempt at the buzzer banking off the glass and rim, just rattling out.
- USC made another statement Wednesday that it isn’t going anywhere. The Trojans led UCLA almost from start-to-finish in a convincing 89-75 win. On a night full of career highs, Chimezie Metu scored a career-best 21 for Southern Cal, which is 15-3 for the first time since Harold Miner was starring there in 1991-92.
- Cincinnati defeated Houston at home in a 70-59 win, a game that Cincy seemed to control but the Cougars still made a run. The Bearcats led by 16 in the second half before Houston rallied within three late.
- Marquette rallied from 16 points down in the first half at Villanova to take a one-point halftime lead, but the powerful Wildcats eventually reasserted themselves and won 83-68.
- St. Bonaventure won again, moving to 4-0 in the Atlantic 10 with a 69-64 win over Rhode Island. It’s time to start taking note of the Bonnies, who discovered another player who can step up offensively when Denzel Gregg scored a career-high 22.
- Also in the A-10: VCU is streaking, having won seven in a row, the most recent an 88-54 whitewashing of Fordham in the battle of Rams. Justin Tillman scored a career-best 27. Up next for VCU: bitter city rival Richmond on Saturday.
- Boise State now has won 10 straight games after winning at Nevada 74-67. The Broncos are 4-0 in the Mountain West and tied for the top spot with San Diego State, which continues to find a way and won at Colorado State 69-62.
- Wichita State won at injury-riddled Missouri State 78-62, moving the Shockers to 5-0 in the MVC. Encouraging for WSU: 45 of its 78 points were scored by the bench, and just 18 total came from Ron Baker (14) and Fred VanVleet.
- The biggest news off the court Wednesday came from Missouri, which revealed it has self-imposed sanctions including a ban from this year’s NCAA and SEC tourneys. The sanctions stem from multiple rules violations uncovered during the tenure of former coach Frank Haith, who is currently at Tulsa. The Tigers were unlikely to make the NCAAs this year anyway, so this penalty has some toothlessness to it, but it is still unfortunate for the players on this year’s team, who deserved better. It also was revealed that Mizzou received the notice of inquiry from the NCAA on March 14, 2014, four days before Haith left the school to go to Tulsa, so you can be sure we haven’t heard the last of this story.
- The NCAA convention is going on this week and a big change approved yesterday was the Division I Council moving back the date in which student-athletes are required to remove their name from the NBA Draft to 10 days after the last day of the NBA Combine. Players now will also be able to enter the draft as many times as they like without penalty. The change will allow student-athletes more time to get an evaluation of their draft prospects, while also likely resulting in a few more coaches keeping open scholarships longer. For coaches, it means in a few cases they’ll have to wait about a month longer to know if a player is coming back, a little more of an inconvenience, but overall a fair trade-off for making the process better for student-athletes. One hopes there are no unintended side effects with this of even more poaching in the transfer/free agent “market” in the summers, should more schools start to lose players they may not have expected to or be left short on players while trying to anticipate who may or may not leave.
- Just over two weeks after losing to Iowa, Michigan State gets its chance at revenge against the Hawkeyes. Denzel Valentine will be around for this one in East Lansing. (7 p.m. EST, ESPN)
- A pair of old Sun Belt rivals are now heavyweights in Conference USA and square off tonight. Quietly, UAB has won 10 straight, but Old Dominion is no stranger to busting streaks, having recently snapped Louisiana Tech’s homecourt run. (7 p.m., CBSSN)
- A rare chance to see the Big South on TV as John Brown and High Point is at Winthrop (7 p.m., ESPNU). The Panthers are 5-0 in league, while the Eagles are a disappointing 2-3.
- Another night in the evenly matched CAA, and the best game has William & Mary at College of Charleston.
- Excited to see how Pittsburgh fares at Louisville (9 p.m., ESPN). Really wanting to believe the Panthers are legit this year, but the fact is the schedule has still been less than daunting.
- BYU and Gonzaga meet for the first time this year (9 p.m., ESPN2). The teams’ strengths and weaknesses in the frontcourt and backcourt just happen to be opposites, which should make this even more fun than usual.
- Washington puts its first-place status in the Pac-12 on the line tonight in a big way, going to Arizona (9 p.m., FS1). Also, the Bay Area rivalry commences again with California at Stanford (11 p.m., FS1). The Cardinal are another team like Washington and USC who have caused some early havoc in the conference standings.
- Finally, the Black and Blue Rivalry between Long Beach State and UC Irvine has become one of the better ones on the west coast, and these two meet in Long Beach with the winner moving to 3-0 in the Big West.
Enjoy your Thursday.