Back in October, Brad Brownell cringed when asked about the scheduling hand dealt by the ACC that sends the Tigers away from home five times in a six-game span, including stops at Pittsburgh, Chapel Hill, Tallahassee, Syracuse and South Bend.
“I don't like it, but we'll deal with it when it comes,” Brownell said.
The Tigers' dealing starts on Tuesday when they travel to Pittsburgh with sole possession of second place in the ACC standings on the line.
Off to a 4-1 ACC start – their best in 17 seasons – the Tigers, who were picked 13th in the 14-team league, are the surprise of the ACC's early-season wars.
They've done it with defense, by playing the game on their terms, by stellar free throw shooting, and by finding a variety of ways to win while powered by a variety of players.
Now, as one of just two ACC teams (along with N.C. State) to be dealt a five-of-six road schedule, they head straightaway into the heart of the storm.
Brownell says the Tigers will approach their formidable task as they always do, preparing for one game at a time and trying to make the most out of each opportunity.
“We’re off to a good start and we’re playing well,” said Brownell after the Tigers' victory over Wake Forest on Saturday. “But it’s a long distance race and we have some tough games coming up with five of our next six games on the road.
“We’ve been opportunistic and found ways to win some close games. We’re still growing and improving as a team, but I’m certainly proud of our guys.”
The 13-4 Tigers go into their road stretch leading the nation in scoring defense, and the conference in field goal percentage defense and free throw percentage. They've been particularly tough to score on in late-game situations, particularly when teams are forced to play catch-up, hunting for three-pointers.
Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik said Saturday that Clemson's shot-blocking ability is proving to be a difference-maker in the Tigers' defensive success.
“That's what really makes their defense - their ability to protect the rim, especially with (Landry) Nnoko and (K.J. McDaniels),” Bzdelik said. “That’s something that was a focus of ours coming in, to make sure that when we got it close to the rim, not getting your shot blocked because they are both jumping for the ball, and that leaves the glass open for some offensive rebounds.
“When the shot is blocked, you don’t have the opportunity.”
Clemson continues to benefit from the contributions of different players in various situations, including pivotal three-pointers in recent games by Jaron Blossomgame and Ibrahim Djambo, and an overall elevated level of play from Adonis Filer.
“Adonis has done a good job,” Brownell said. “He’s an improving player. His turnovers have been down, which is good, and we’re trying to get him to be more efficient. He’s learning that you don’t always need to make home run plays, but rather hit singles and doubles. If he can do that consistently he’ll put together a good inning.
“He’s getting better at understanding that and just goes out and makes solid plays that are there. He’s got a herky-jerky game and can get by you and is good in small spaces, which allows him to have good angles on shots in the paint.”
After trips to Pitt, UNC and Florida State, the Tigers will face Georgia Tech at home on Feb. 4, and then will be back on the road for back-to-back games at Syracuse and Notre Dame with a two-day turnaround. They'll then play five of their final seven league games at home.