For the first time in 18 years, Clemson basketball actually has a chance to do something it never has in its history, and that's win the whole thing.
Oh sure, you could argue some of Rick Barnes' teams could have made some noise in the ACC Tournament, as they were as tough as any team Clemson has ever put on a basketball court, but they never really did.
There was always something missing- a great shooter perhaps, or a consistent scoring threat on the inside. Not helping matters was that Barnes' teams entered the tournament as a four seed only once. His other three seasons saw the Tigers enter as a five, six and seven seed.
So it should not be surprising to learn Barnes' teams never won more than one game in the ACC Tournament in a given year, despite his success during the regular season.
1990 was the last (and only) year Clemson won the ACC Regular Season Championship. That team, led by future NBA players Dale Davis and Elden Campbell also featured a nice compliment of role players. Guys like Derrick Forrest, who could jump out of the gym, Marion Cash who is probably still dribbling with his head down to this day but was uncanny passing the ball and David Young, a sharp shooter that always gave the Tigers a spark, were all guys who knew their roles and knew them well.
That team won only one game in the ACC Tournament that year, but at least that team had a chance. It had talent- quality shooters and experienced post players, not to mention outstanding athleticism.
So does this one.
This team has a chance to win the ACC Tournament this year in Charlotte and it's not as far-fetched as some might think.
To illustrate this point you have to consider two key points regarding Clemson basketball and the ACC in general this year: No. 1- Clemson has strong backcourt play. You can't win in college basketball, and you certainly can't win in a tournament setting without solid guard play.
The Tigers have a solid combination of youth and experience this season, led by senior Cliff Hammonds and freshman Demontez Stitt.
In fact, he knows what to expect in nearly every situation and that has been proven by his excellent play on the court this season.
It's no coincidence the Tigers are 4-1 and could easily be 5-0, save a double-overtime loss at North Carolina, since his transition from the starting shooting guard to the point.
Meanwhile Stitt gives Clemson a nice change of pace with his quickness and his ability to finish around the rim. While he may not be ready to lead the Tigers to an ACC Championship- he doesn't have to. He has Hammonds to lean on for leadership and experience.
The Tigers also have Terrence Oglesby, the No. 2 three-point shooter in the league this year as a freshman.
That's not a bad trio right there, and it's not even including Clemson's top shooter- forward K.C. Rivers.
Key point No. 2- the ACC's elite teams this year are good, but not great. The teams Clemson faced in the 1990's were teams that were more talented, more experienced from top to bottom.
In fact, the same thing could be said of the entire conference. Back then, if Clemson was going to win the ACC, it would have to go through players like Tim Duncan and Randolph Childress, who played at Wake Forest. Then there were two future NBA stars in Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse waiting at North Carolina, not to mention the numerous others during that same time period. At Duke, there was Jay Williams and Elton Brand, and again, a host of others.
Maryland wasn't that bad either and there were other teams in the league loaded with NBA talent.
In 1996-97, Clemson's best year under Rick Barnes, five teams (excluding Virginia Tech, Boston College and Miami) from the ACC were ranked among the top five teams in the country at some point during the season.
The next year, seven teams from the league were ranked in the top 25.
This year the ACC is simply not as talented nor as deep.
Think about it like this ... the Tigers have dueled the No. 2 team in the conference and the former No. 1 team in the nation, UNC, to three overtime periods in two games this season. True, North Carolina won both contests, but it wouldn't be foolish to suggest the Tigers could beat the Heels in a tournament setting.
Truth is, North Carolina is not a bad matchup for Clemson basketball at all. The Tigers are actually one of the few teams in the league that can matchup with All-American Tyler Hansbrough on the inside.
And then there's the ACC-leading Blue Devils. The Blue Devils have surprised everybody this year with their unorthodox offense- spread the floor, drive to the basket and punch it out for the back-breaking three.
So far it's worked in every game but two.
Duke may not be as good a matchup for Clemson as is North Carolina, but the Tigers wouldn't have to be perfect for 40 minutes to win. Duke, like North Carolina is very much beatable.
Just ask Wake Forest.
After that, the rest of the league is a crapshoot. Maryland has certainly proven to be formidable and the Tigers will get their first taste of what Gary Williams has cooking next week in College Park.
Wake Forest is good, but not great.
And that's it.
N.C. State needs to go back to class and take Chem 101. Injuries have hurt FSU. Miami was thought to be good until it entered conference play. Georgia Tech and Boston College are very average. And Virginia? Well the Cavs are just awful. How did Dave Leitao win a share of the regular season ACC title last year anyway?
Some of the so-called basketball experts that cover the ACC will even tell you Clemson may be the No. 3 team in the league this year ... or higher.
The league isn't as strong as typically is and the Tigers have a couple of four-year players in Hammonds, Sam Perry and James Mays, plus the third-year sharp-shooter Rivers, to go along with a nice blend of young talent in Trevor Booker, Stitt and Oglesby.
Plus Ray Sykes and David Potter have each had their moments this season coming off the bench.
That's not a bad a team right there. Not bad at all.
It was said the week before the North Carolina game that this could be the best opportunity for the Tigers to pick up a win in Chapel Hill in school history.
It took a difference of 29 free throws between the two teams and double overtime for the Heels to pull out the victory.
The same thing holds true for the ACC Tournament.
This team has a better chance to win it than any other Clemson team in school history, save the 1990 squad that won the regular season championship.
With a little luck and a couple of made free throws along the way ... hey, stranger things have happened.
Yes indeed, these Tigers have a chance.