CLEMSON - What K.J. McDaniels knows of Syracuse basketball is championships and NBA stars, tracking them since the turn of the century.
"It's exciting because I've watched Syracuse for a long time," the Tigers' All-ACC candidate said, "since Carmelo (Anthony) was there. It's a magnificent place to play from what it looks like. To be there (Sunday), it'll be pretty fun."
"Melo" led the Orange to their one and only national title in 2003, and turned his pro success into funding a $19 million, on-campus basketball facility with his namesake in 2009.
Syracuse has reaped the benefits on the recruiting trail and is in the midst of the most successful season in school history. Assuming the nation's top ranking this week, they are off to a program-best 22-0 start (9-0 ACC) and a win away from tying their longest-ever victory streak.
Attacking the Syracuse zone
McDaniels leads one of the conference's surprise teams into the Carrier Dome for the 6 p.m. tip. Sunday. Clemson is 15-6 and 6-3 in ACC play. They reached six wins in their first nine conference games for only the seventh time in school history and the first since 2008-09.
The 6-6 junior swingman, who turns 21 on gameday, has done it all for the Tigers - all season long - as the only player in the country to lead his team in scoring (16.3 PPG), rebounding (7), blocks (2.6), steals (1.1) and 3-pointers (1.2).
Half of the conference slate to go, a team picked 14th by the ACC media is in prime position for a postseason berth. Tackling road matchups at two new venues in a 48-hour span (Notre Dame on Tuesday) as well), they can't, and Tigers coach Brad Brownell says they aren't peering ahead.
"We need to think about grinding away," Brownell said. "It's hard enough for us to win games. Our goal at the beginning of the year was to be playing in March with a chance to advance. But we haven't made a big deal out of the NCAA, NIT - any of that stuff.”
Brownell already owns one win over a hall of fame coach this season, downing Coach K's Duke by 13 in Littlejohn last month, and looks for another huge resume-builder versus Syracuse's Jim Boeheim.
On their way to 942 wins under his leadership, the Orange have employed the 2-3 zone. Where Clemson leads the nation in scoring 'D' (55.6), Syracuse is right there in the top-10 (59.1), holding ACC opponents to 56.3 per so far.
Brownell says a combination of talent and technique make it work.
"They know how to adjust to it quickly," he said. "It's different from a regular 2-3 zone because of the way they bring their wings all the way to the 3-point line. Because they're such good athletes, you're open for a second, but you have to decide to shoot or pass or make a quick decision on the baseline or else you get trapped.”
Both sides rank in the bottom-five nationally in possessions per game, but Syracuse shoots a top-tier 46 percent while the Tigers are next-to-last in the conference shooting 42 percent.
“I just want our guys to try to play confidently,” Brownell said. “If you feel like you have a good shot, shoot it. We'll worry about what happens afterwards, afterwards. I want to have our guys shoot the ball when they have opportunity to knock down a three."
By the (somewhat faulty) transitive property, Clemson does have some hope out of Duke's primetime performance last week in the Carrier Dome.
The Blue Devils attempted 18 more shots and grabbed 18 offensive rebounds in a 91-89 overtime loss, but they also drained 15 3-pointers. Clemson averages five per game with a season-high of 10.
"I feel like we're ready to go in there and play," McDaniels said. "Syracuse is a great team, and Duke played their hearts out. I feel like our intensity at home helped us beat Duke out. To see them almost beat the No. 1 team is kind of inspiring."
The Tigers can be one of only five teams to take wins out of the Carrier Dome in football and men's basketball in the same academic calendar. Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and co. rolled to a 49-14 win over the Orange in October. Pittsburgh was the last team to achieve the Syracuse sweep, in 2006-07.