There was not too much intrigue in the first day of the tournament. Maryland won as a ten seed, Western Kentucky made sure there was at least one 12-5 upset, and those affable Tigers from the upstate of South Carolina have done it once again. The seven seed Clemson fell to ten seeded Michigan 62-59 in the first round of the NCAA tournament yesterday. A ten over a seven is not considered much of an upset if one at all, but I believe this one is cause for a second look. If you live in ACC country as I do, you are quite familiar with Clemson falling apart. Even though Catfish continues to have faith in them, the Tigers' seasons in football and basketball have ended in despondent disarry of late.
This past August the Clemson football team was ranked in the top ten and a fashionable pick to reach the BCS title game. I saw through this charade (although my Wake Forest pick was wrong) and Clemson went on to have one of its most dissapointing seasons. With a returning QB, defense and two dynamic running backs Clemson opened the season by getting spanked by Alabama in the Georgiadome. Their stumbling led to the firing of Terry Bowden and even though Dabo Sweeney gave them a spark late, they lost the Gator Bowl to Nebraska as they blew a lead late.
The basketball program has never reached a the level of national championship that the football team has accomplished, but recently expectations have been raised on the hardwood. Their last four seasons tell the tale of quick starts and horrible finishes:
2006: First Half of season: 11-0, second half: 8-13, final record, 19-13
2007: First Half of season: 17-0 second half: 8- 11, final record: 25-11
2008: First Half of season: 10-0, second half: 14-10, final record: 24-10
2009: First Half of season: 16-0, second half: 7-8, final record: 23-9
source: the op blog via Deadspin tourney previews
Considering where Clemson was before head coach Oliver Purnell arrived, many fans are content to just have a good season and make the tournament, but those feelings have to be dissipating quickly though. It is time to start moving in the tournament where the team has not won a game in 12 years. Last year, the Tigers were a popular darkhorse pick as the five seed in the West Region until they blew an 18 point lead to Villanova and made the quick exit.
The 59 points Clemson threw up in Kansas City yesterday were the lowest they totaled in a game this season. The Tigers shot 32.3% from the field and 22.7% (5-22) from the 3 point line. In a common theme of Clemson's season, they failed to pound the ball inside to their stud Trevor Booker. Booker had 18 and 11, but only accounted for 15.3% of their FG attempt total. Their most notorious shot-jacker, Terrence Ogelsby was 1-8 shooting and was ejected for throwing an elbow. In his defense, the elbow was nothing extreme, but for some reason we have the rule where if the officials go to the replay and they see contact, they are forced to eject the player. The rule is ridiculous, but it was clear Ogelsby chucked his forearm into Zack Novak and therefore had to be tossed. Clemson made a late comeback, but as has been the trend, they fell short. They had the ball down three but only attempted a couple ball screens which Michigan switched on and K.C. River's final shot as a Tiger did not even draw iron.
Even in Purnell's post-game quote he sounded like he lost faith in his team. "It's kind of like a high-wire act: maybe you stay up on it, get it down and bring it into overtime. But the way we were making shots in this game, it probably wasn't going to happen," he said after the game. The trend has been set Clemson teams have developed the reputation for falling flat on the big stage. Whether it is coaching, the player's decision, or just a failed attitude, the Tigers are right where we are used to seeing them this time of year.