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Crunch time for Clemson men’s basketball

Ashley Stout, Contributor

Brad Brownell currently has an 11-9 record through the team’s first 20 games.

The college basketball regular season is winding down, and the Clemson Tigers, who currently stand at 14-12 overall and 4-10 in the ACC, are fully entrenched in the most important portion of their season. 

The Tigers are in crunch time in terms of attempting to earn their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2011.

Currently considered a bubble team, the Tigers will need to perform well in the coming weeks to garner a chance to dance in March Madness. 

Furthermore, the future of Clemson men’s basketball is potentially hanging in the balance at the moment, with the results of the remainder of the 2016-2017 season likely determining the future of the program.

The Tigers are the epitome of a college basketball anomaly, as their subpar conference record is skewed from the immense strength of the ACC, which is arguably the deepest that it has ever been this season. Clemson has also strayed from its trend of recent years by performing well in non-conference play while struggling at times during conference play. 

However, a collection of close, often heartbreaking, losses have diluted those struggles, with the ticks in the loss column taking away from the impressive play that Clemson has showcased in recent weeks.

In addition, Clemson has been fairly unpredictable in terms of overall play, with polarizing performances in back-to-back games becoming a frequent occurrence for the Tigers. 

With a 48-point onslaught at the hands of Florida State a few weeks ago, it appeared as if Clemson had run out of juice, but near victories over perennial powerhouses Syracuse and Duke in the next two games righted the ship.

Head Coach Brad Brownell has faced some scrutiny over the course of the last few seasons, leading to speculation regarding his future with the program. 

Of course, playing in the ACC is never easy, as the high number of blue-blood programs and top-tier recruits makes the level of competition as difficult as any conference, which, in turn, increases the natural pressure that comes with coaching. 

With that being said, college basketball teams are ultimately defined by March Madness appearances, so the scrutiny is understandable and could definitely affect the performance of the Tigers down the stretch.

Recently, Brownell addressed the tenuous nature of how a team is defined, telling reporters, “It’s just unfortunate that everybody looks at your team and program differently based on one or two plays.”

Referencing the close losses that Clemson has endured as of late, particularly the loss to Syracuse, Brownell made a fair point. 

On the flip side, though, a team that consistently comes out on top by way of those late-game plays reaps plenty of benefits as a result. 

If the Tigers are to fulfill their ultimate goal of earning the right to play in the Big Dance next month, they will have to be the ones making those plays in close games for the rest of the regular season.

Clemson has certainly had to deal with its fair share of adversity this season. From the close losses to the knee injury suffered by starting point guard Shelton Mitchell just prior to the start of the season to the ineligibility of starting power forward Elijah Thomas for most of the non-conference slate due to transfer rules, the Tigers have dealt with multiple arbitrary hindrances. Along the way, though, the team has picked up several impressive wins, overcome several disappointing losses and is quietly having its most consistently solid season in several years.

With an RPI ranking of 51 and the 17th-hardest schedule in the nation, one could definitely make the case for the Tigers to be among the projected field for the 68-team NCAA Tournament. Boding well for Clemson’s cause is its three game homestand to close out the regular season, including arguably the most important game of the season in a rematch against Florida State. 

Combined with a decent ACC Tournament showing, the Tigers’ success in those three games could be the determining factor behind their NCAA Tournament bid potential. 

The clock is ticking for the Tigers to play at their fullest potential on a game-by-game basis. 

The time is now for Clemson to be the team on the winning end of the hard-fought, tight-knit games that resemble the high-pressure situations of March Madness. 

The time is now for Clemson to prove that it is worthy of a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The time is now for Clemson to perform at the highest level when it matters most.

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