Friday, January 12, 2007

Tiger Cagers Moving On Up

On a lukewarm day in Nashville just before New Year's, a remarkable thing occured. Clemson football fans started chanting "Let's play basketball!" as they were getting pummeled by the Kentucky Wildcats in the Music City Bowl. What is even more ironic is that the Clemson Tiger faithful were not being facetious by any stretch. They wanted to play basketball, and by most estimates, this 17th-ranked Clemson Tiger basketball team could probably beat the unranked Wildcats from Kentucky. With the exodus of several key players from a football team that finished the season 1-3, maybe it is time for a new sport in Clemson.

So what is going on in Tigertown? When did Clemson become a basketball school? Well the answer is that it didn't happen yesterday. This talented team has been coming together for several years as Head Coach Oliver Purnell has recruited to a system of trapping defenses and talented players that can run the floor and play many different positions. He has also instilled a confidence and an intelligence that winning programs seem to inherently possess. All of a sudden, the Tigers are 17-0 and are making national headlines.

For an example of the dynamic quality of this team, take the Tigers' second leading scorer James Mays. At 6'9," he's Clemson's leading rebounder with 124 boards, including 51 offensive. However, he also leads the team in steals with 37. Mays plays at the top of a full-court pressing defense that has caused all sorts of problems for the Tigers' opponents this year. As a result, the Tigers have an overall turnover margin of +80 on the season, and get many of their points on broken plays.

This Clemson team, although it has struggled at times with three-point and free throw shooting, has a knack for keeping itself in big games and causing havoc for its opponents. The Tigers already knocked off Florida State and Georgia Tech on last second layups and extended their ACC record to 3-0 with a win at N.C. State this week. This team, the only unbeaten team left in D-I basketball, has pride, and they are going to prove to be a force in ACC basketball this season. With a defense that can mess with offenses of the highest caliber, this Clemson team almost seems to will itself into games that past Tiger teams would have lost. They hang around and eventually wear out the opposition.

Of course, no good basketball story is ever complete without a Davidson reference. In this case, we need look no farther than our own Will Roberson. Roberson was a Davidson manager and Director of Basketball Operations before becoming a graduate assistant on Purnell's staff. Angelo Lento ranks Will as one of college basketball's 50 most eligible bachelors (we'll see what his fiance thinks about that). He now sits at the end of the Clemson bench taking stats and every once in a while you can see him celebrate on national television when the Tigers hit a game-winning shot.

The Tigers face off against the Maryland Terrapins on Saturday at 2 p.m. That game will be televised on ESPNU.

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