Critical Test Awaits Tigers

CLEMSON – By 10 o'clock Wednesday night, the Clemson basketball team will either be well on its way toward securing a spot in the NCAA Tournament and a first-round bye in the ACC Tournament, or on the cusp of real danger.

WHAT: Clemson (19-7, 7-5 ACC) at Miami (19-7, 6-6 ACC)
WHERE: Littlejohn Coliseum
WHEN: 7:30 p.m., Wednesday
SPREAD:: Tigers by 9
TV: None

There really aren't too many ways to say it other than Wednesday's game against a surging Miami team is likely the most important one of the season for the Tigers.

The Hurricanes are ranked 23rd in the latest RPI, so a win would boost Clemson's chances for a decent seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers are ranked 22nd, so a win for the Canes would help would also help their chances of getting into the tournament and establishing a decent seed as well.

It would also help Clemson get that much closer to securing a first-round bye in the ACC Tournament, which means only one win will get the Tigers to the semifinals.

"I would say (this is the biggest game of the year)," senior guard Cliff Hammonds said. "We have an opportunity to solidify third place in the ACC standings. There's no better way to prove it than against a team that's hot. We can get some momentum going into the tournament, so I'd say this is the most important game of the season."

But the main reason this is such a crucial game is because it's at home. It is one thing to lose to Miami or Florida State on the road, where a loss can be somewhat understood. But a defeat at home can be damaging.

Clemson coach Oliver Purnell constantly preaches that the Tigers have to take care of business at home because it's always so difficult to win on the road in the ACC.

Should the Tigers in their remaining two home games, Clemson could finish a very good 7-1 at home and no worse than 9-7 in the league.

This is somewhat of a statement game. It can prove that the Tigers can beat good teams when there's a lot riding on the outcome.

"Because Miami is who they are, when you can win a game like that it can help you," Purnell said.

Another important factor is what's looming ahead for Clemson. Up next is a very difficult game at Maryland, followed by a troublesome game at Georgia Tech. That's followed by a home game to end the regular season against a Virginia Tech team that is on heels of the Tigers in the standings and has beaten several decent teams in recent weeks.

"Two (wins) is the magic number for a lot of people," forward K.C. Rivers said. "But I want to beat the odds and get all four of them and be 11-5."

PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
Miami (19-7, 6-6 ACC)
G 33 Jack McClinton (6-1, 185) 16.3 ppg, 2.7 apg
G 23 James Dews (6-3, 198) 10.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg
C 50 Anthony King (6-9, 242) 7.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg
F 21 Dwayne Collins (6-8, 232) 10.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg
G 1 Lance Hurdle (6-2, 180) 7.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg

Clemson (19-7, 7-5 ACC)
G 25 Cliff Hammonds (6-3, 200) 12.0 ppg, 3.8 apg
G 1 K.C. Rivers (6-5, 215) 15.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg
C 35 Trevor Booker (6-7, 240) 11.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg
F 32 Sam Perry (6-5, 215) 2.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg
F 40 James Mays (6-9, 230) 10.0 ppg, 7.1 rpg

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