Reason for Optimism

Even if Clemson finishes in fifth place in the ACC, that may not be a bad thing.

Defense continues to be Clemson's calling card, with the Tigers' ultimate success largely dependent on how well they play on the defensive end.

Of late, that has been pretty good.

Clemson held Wake Forest to its second-lowest point total of the season and to just 33.9 percent shooting in a 63-49 victory on Feb. 26. The Tigers have now held four Atlantic Coast Conference opponents to 50 points or less this season and continue to lead the league in scoring defense, allowing just 60.0 points per game through Feb. 26.

If the Tigers can continue that pace, they'll become the first team since N.C. State in 1996-97 to hold opponents to 60 points per game or less.

"If we keep buying into the defense, we'll keep winning games," senior guard Demontez Stitt said.

With just two games remaining in the regular season, the Tigers (19-9, 8-6) need to do just that. Clemson plays at Duke on March 2 before concluding the season at home against Virginia Tech on March 5.

The Tigers' chances of a top-four seed diminished greatly with Duke's loss at Virginia Tech on Feb. 26, but the Tigers could end up as a No. 5 seed in the upcoming ACC Tournament, even with a loss at Duke, and that might not be such a bad scenario.

As a fifth seed, Clemson would face last-place Wake Forest in a first-round game, then most likely Florida State in the second round. The Tigers split with Florida State this season and the Seminoles are now without Chris Singleton, their top player, for the remainder of the season.

* Clemson's victory over Wake Forest on Feb. 26 guaranteed the Tigers of at least a .500 record in the Atlantic Coast Conference for a fourth consecutive season, a first in school history.

* First-year Clemson coach Brad Brownell has guided the Tigers to a 19-9 record this season, which is the second-highest number of victories in Clemson history for a first-year coach. Larry Shyatt holds the school record with 20.

* Clemson has held 27 of its 28 opponents to under 50 percent shooting from the field, with Maryland -- which shot exactly 50 percent -- the lone team to break the streak. That includes holding 13 opponents to under 40 percent shooting. The Tigers have held their opponents to 40.4 percent shooting, which represents their best defense in that area since the 1962-63 season.

BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- The age of Clemson senior guard Demontez Stitt the last time the Tigers defeated Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Jan. 4, 1995.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Do you think the league office wanted to give one of the new (ACC) coaches Senior Night at Duke? I guess I drew the short straw." -- First-year Clemson coach Brad Brownell on becoming the sixth rookie ACC coach to play at Cameron Indoor Stadium on the Blue Devils' Senior Night during Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski's tenure.

Clemson has had a knack for catching opponents at bad times this season, and that trend will continue against the previously No. 1 Blue Devils, who are coming off an upset loss at Virginia Tech and will be primed to win big on Senior Night.

Those factors don't bode well for Clemson, which hasn't won at Cameron Indoor Stadium since 1995. If the Tigers are to get that elusive road win in Durham, N.C., they'll need huge games from their two seniors -- guard Demontez Stitt and forward Jerai Grant -- and another strong defensive effort that has become their trademark.

A win over Virginia Tech on Clemson's Senior Day could really enhance the Tigers' ACC standing, seeding and NCAA Tournament resume, particularly with Tech coming off a recent win over then No. 1 Duke. Clemson will have to contain Malcolm Delaney, and the Tigers will attempt to do so by throwing multiple defenders at him, including Tanner Smith, Demontez Stitt and Bryan Narcisse.

But the real key may come from how well Jerai Grant and Devin Booker handle counterparts Jeff Allen and Victor Davila, who combined for 29 points and 25 rebounds in the win over Duke.

FUTURES MARKET: Clemson coach Brad Brownell is looking for additional help from different sources as the Tigers make their postseason push, with reserves Cory Stanton, a freshman guard, and junior forward Bryan Narcisse foremost among the options.

"Can Cory help us more? He gave us good steady play at Miami -- now can he become more relevant offensively?" Brownell asked. "Can Bryan become more of a factor?"

Stanton, who's averaging 2.7 points, and Narcisse, who's averaging 3.3, played nine and eight minutes, respectively, against Wake Forest on Feb. 26, with moderate results. Stanton scored just one point and Narcisse was scoreless, although he did key a strong defensive run with two steals that sparked the Tigers' second-half run.

Both players will need to provide more punch off the bench if Clemson is to make a strong postseason bid. Top Stories