Tomorrow will tell.
While it’s too early to call the matchup with Missouri a crossroads game for Oliver Purnell, be assured of one thing: Tiger nation is ready for success in March at the national level.
They have tasted it before, albeit only for brief moments. There was a trip to the Elite Eight in 1980. They were seconds away from a similar destination in 1990 before Connecticut’s Tate George decided to become a hero. The Upstate were teased with the Sweet Sixteen again with coach Rick Barnes and Greg Buckner.
So, here we go again. It’s almost like Clemson is looking into a mirror when they study Missouri. The similarities between the two go a lot deeper than simply the mascots.
Missouri is a team that likes to run. They’re fairly undersized and play a pressure defense system, based loosely on a two-three zone. Sound familiar yet?
Even the conferences they represent have a great deal in common. While the Big 12 is more top-heavy this year, both leagues go deep. They have depth to a point that both Tiger squads experienced first-round nosedives in their respective conference tourneys. Seriously, does the selection committee look at numbers, or just schedule the matchups they want to see?
What this year, this tournament, and this game will determine is whether or not Purnell’s system really works. Can a team so determined to press at every opportunity beat a team with the same defensive philosophy? Clemson has struggled in the past when teams press them.
If there has ever been a chance to get anyone on the fence, squarely in the corner of this era of Clemson basketball and this coach, it is now. Clemson can beat a team from a conference that is easily the equal—or superior—to the Atlantic Coast Conference and silence the critics.
In a sense, the outcome is already pretty clear. The Tigers will win tomorrow because they will stick to what got them to the tournament. They will play uptempo and run out every chance they get. The press will create turnover after turnover, which will be converted on the scoreboard. Then, it’s on to West Virginia.
There’s only one problem. No one knows yet which group of Tigers will fit this description.