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Clemson misses chance at NCAA tournament


It certainly is not uncommon for a college basketball team’s 17-15 season to seem like a disappointment, but it is uncommon for a 17-15 season to seem disappointing in the way that the Clemson Tigers’ 2016-2017 season does. A season defined by solid play on behalf of the Tigers and a competitive spirit constantly on display in the competitive ACC, Clemson came up empty-handed so many times in tight-knit games that the sense of disappointment cannot help but be evident now that the Tigers’ NCAA Tournament hopes have

been dashed.

Losing an uncanny amount of games by slim margins, the Tigers were consistently outmatched in ACC play late in regulation. Fitting with the theme, the Tigers were unable to take advantage of a poor offensive showing by Duke in an ACC Tournament game, falling by seven in a game that saw Duke hit shots when it mattered most while Clemson did not.

Clemson lost six games by two possessions or less to ranked opponents this season, which is a definitive indicator of what made this year so frustrating and disappointing. While a 6-12 conference record certainly is not adequate for receiving an at-large into the NCAA Tournament, Clemson’s near-victories are proof enough that they were very close to receiving that bid that has eluded them for six years now.

Speaking on the tenacity of his team, even in the face of adversity, Clemson head coach Brad Brownell told reporters after the loss to Duke, “Our guys fought back, now. That’s what we do. We’re a tough team to knock out.”

Although they were definitely a tough out all season, highlighted by their valiant overtime loss to North Carolina in a game that saw the much bigger Tar Heels out-rebound the Tigers by 19, the Clemson Tigers could never quite garner the conference wins that truly mattered. Clemson’s lone win over a ranked opponent this season came against South Carolina in mid-December, a game in which the Tigers were outplayed but proved to be the more resilient and poised team in crunch time. Over the course of conference play, Clemson played the opposite role in many games, losing several hard-fought matchups that they probably should have won.

Boasting a top-15 schedule in terms of difficulty for a sizable chunk of the season, the Tigers were not given any free passes this year, and they definitely never made it seem as though they were outmatched in a conference teeming with powerhouses. However, many what-ifs surround this season for Clemson. What if incumbent starting point guard Shelton Mitchell had not been battling a knee injury, which was suffered in the preseason, all year? What if power forward Elijah Thomas had been eligible to play during the fall semester? What if Clemson had been able to upset UNC early on in conference play?

There are too many hypothetical questions that are impossible to answer, adding to the frustration. With star forward Jaron Blossomgame returning for his redshirt senior season, high hopes naturally surrounded this year’s Clemson club, as Blossomgame was slated to combine with fellow versatile scorers Donte Grantham and Avry Holmes to lead the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament. The season presented itself with many twists and turns along the way for the Tigers, though, as it did not progress according to plan.

While Grantham struggled down the stretch and veteran scorer Gabe DeVoe never quite came into his own, transfer shooting guard Marcquise Reed picked up the slack, becoming the Tigers’ most reliable shooter, despite the fact that he came off of the bench. Thomas exceeded expectations, as well, taking charge from the get-go once eligible, proving to be the Tigers’ most vital presence down low. Seemingly in flux throughout the season, though, it was almost as if the Tigers never quite settled into any type of rhythm. With streaky shooters and lineup changes to reflect as much, Clemson always gave off the vibe of a team attempting to find itself in the most dominant conference in the nation. Unfortunately for the Tigers’ sake, that likely prevented them from establishing themselves as a top tier team of the ACC.

Due to a lack of size in the frontcourt and a lack of continuity on a game-by-game basis regarding which Tigers contributed in the scoring department, the Tigers simply could not compete at a high level on a regular enough basis to be relevant in NCAA Tournament discussions this regular season. With Blossomgame graduating, there will be a change in leadership for the Tigers next year, leaving more questions regarding the future of the Tigers as they transition to a new season. Perhaps next year will bring with it more stability to a team attempting to again become a legitimate power in the most powerful conference, as the talent is definitely there. It just has to showcase itself on a regular basis. Only time will tell.

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