Column: Tigers are ahead of the curve

Clemson head coach Brad Brownell to a foul called on the Tigers during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Georgis Tech at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson, S.C. on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Anderson Independent-Mail, Mark Crammer)

Photo by Mark Crammer

Clemson head coach Brad Brownell to a foul called on the Tigers during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Georgis Tech at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson, S.C. on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Anderson Independent-Mail, Mark Crammer)

Today is as good a time as any for Clemson coach Brad Brownell to channel his inner Norman Dale and give a Hoosiers-style speech to his kids.

It might even be helpful for Preacher Purl to jump out of the silver screen (or, at this point, the Netflix envelope) and into the visitors’ locker room at the Carrier Dome. He can share a story about a young fellow with a rock and a slingshot who squared off against an opponent with a lot of length.

There’s no doubt that facing No. 1 ranked, 22-0 Syracuse is Mission Improbable for Brownell and his Tigers. No interloper has gone into the dome and come out unscathed in 2013-14, and the chances of it happening at all this season grow slimmer and slimmer as Jim Boeheim’s team gets better and better.

“It’s a big step to play in front on 30,000 people against the No. 1 team on their home court against a zone that no one has had much success against,” Brownell said. “Our guys know that those guys are undefeated and No. 1.”

And considering that in two other road games played in front of very large, very hostile crowds (Pittsburgh and North Carolina), Clemson fared poorly.

That being said, the positives of this Clemson basketball team and its coach far outweigh the negatives.

To me Brownell is the clubhouse leader for ACC Coach of the Year and the squad itself has already far exceeded the expectations of so-called experts.

The league doesn’t give out a “Most Pleasant Surprise” award, but if it did the engraving on the trophy would’ve already begun and the first letter inscribed would be a “C.”

Granted, it ain’t all artistry.

Tuesday’s 45-41 victory over Georgia Tech was like watching basketball without the ball.

Or even the baskets.

But that’s O.K.

One of the nation’s best defenses showed why it’s one of the nation’s best defenses, and what Tiger fan can complain about a 15-6 overall record and 6-3 mark in the conference?

Last year’s team finished 13-18, 5-13, losing its last seven games and 10 if its last 11.

I honestly thought the 2013-14 edition would be worse and wondered if Brownell could survive what was surely a regrouping season (if not a rebuilding one).

But I’ve always been a fan of Brownell’s coaching skills and his bona fides have never been more apparent than this season.

He’s helped mold a senior-less team into a team that is starting to develop leaders — with K.J. McDaniels leading the charge.

They are grinders who occasionally show flashes of, well, flash.

Usually, though, it’s all about the “D,” which basketball stat nerds will tell you has led to a 55 points per game against average, .378 field goal percentage for the opposition and 6.1 blocks per game.

These Tigers are pests, and that’s a compliment.

Yet Brownell is far from satisfied and knows his bunch can get a whole lot better.

“Our guys just have to go play well,” he said. “If they don’t play well I probably won’t be happy, especially if we don’t compete as hard as we need to.”

And don’t even get him started on what might be accomplished based on what had already been achieved.

“Our goal at the beginning of the year was to be playing in March with a chance to advance,” Brownell said. “But don’t talk about it. We haven’t made a big deal out of the NCAA, NIT — any of that stuff.”

The one day at a time, one game at a time approach is probably best.

The Orange deserves Clemson’s full attention tonight and Notre Dame will get it Tuesday in South Bend.

After that, there are still seven games remaining before the ACC makes a reservation for 15 at the Greensboro Coliseum.

But regardless of what happens against the nation’s top team this evening, Brownell and the Tigers have already done themselves proud.

Of course if they want to pop in a DVD of Hoosiers a few hours before tip-off, it certainly couldn’t hurt.

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