Battle of Unbeatens

CLEMSON - Sophomore shooting guard Terrence Ogelsby burst through the doors of the press room at Littlejohn Coliseum Thursday afternoon.

WHAT: No. 2 Wake Forest (15-0) at No. 9 Clemson (16-0)
WHERE: Littlejohn Coliseum (10,000) - Clemson, S.C.
WHEN: Saturday, Jan. 17 (3:30 PM)
SPREAD: Tigers by 2
TV: ABC

OTHER LINKS:
* CUTigers.com Game Thread
* Purnell Previews Wake
* Video Preview - Part I
* Video Preview - Part II
* Video Preview - Part III
* Game Notes
* 2008-09 Roster
* 2008-09 Schedule
"Look at all the people that show up when we start winning," he said with a big grin.

He couldn't be more right.

A normal Thursday afternoon press conference featuring Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell and several players was anything but "normal" as every major media outlet within driving distance of upstate South Carolina was on hand to preview Saturday's game between No. 9 and undefeated Clemson and No. 3 and undefeated Wake Forest.

Simply put, the stakes haven't been any higher, at least during the regular season since Purnell's arrival at Clemson more than five years ago.

The argument could actually be made this is the biggest game inside of Littlejohn Coliseum since the same two teams squared off 11 years ago. At the time the Tigers were ranked No. 2 in the nation by the Associated Press while Wake Forest, led by future No. 1 pick Tim Duncan, was ranked No. 4.

"It's exciting. Very exciting," Purnell said. "When I dreamed about coaching in the ACC- match-ups important games, ranked opponents and contending for titles was all part of that. It doesn't get much better than this having a Saturday game on your home court on ABC playing a top five team."

Indeed it doesn't.

In fact, just five times in the history of Littlejohn Coliseum have two teams ranked inside the top 10 done battle against each other. And this year's matchup has the potential of being one of the best ever, simply because both teams are so good.

Wake Forest is fresh off of beating preseason No. 1 North Carolina last Sunday, not to mention a 20-point win at Boston College Wednesday night, using an outstanding combination of size and athleticism to pound opponents into submission.

"Obviously they are playing as well as anybody in the country and they happen to be one of the top teams in our conference with ourselves and Duke," Purnell said. "But we want to be in first place. We want to finish the season in first place and every win you can get this time of year will help you do that."

The Deacs are led by the ACC's second leading scorer Jeff Teague, who very well could be the second coming of former Wake standout Randolph Childress.

"That's actually a great comparison," Purnell said. "Even down the body type. He's a scorer and he's really improved his game since last year."

And Teague is only the beginning. Wake Forest also features one of the most dynamic freshmen in the country Al-Farouq Aminu, one of the top sophomore front line men in the nation in James Johnson, and one of the fastest players in all of college basketball, coming off the bench mind you, in Ismail Smith.

Wake Forest sophomore guard Jeff Teague enters Saturday's game second in the ACC in scoring at over 21 points/game. (Getty Images)
"Teague is quite a challenge," Purnell said. "We don't look at it as one guy head-to-head because of the way we play defense we are often times in transition.

"But they have other weapons as well. James Johnson was great year last year. He has to be one of the top front line players in the country. Plus [Chas] McFarlane and L.D. Williams. [Al-Farouq] Aminu. And the guy who always gives us problems is Ish Smith."

The Tigers, of course, have plenty to boast about as well.

Riding a 16-game winning streak, including wins over Temple, Illinois, Miami, South Carolina, Alabama and N.C. State, while also showing significant improvement on offense, Clemson is back on the map of college basketball relevance in a very big way.

Kind of.

Sure, the Tigers have gotten off to a fast start winning their first 16 games of the season, but the rest of the country seems to be in a wait-and-see mode more than anything else.

After all, it was just two years ago the Tigers bolted out to a 17-0 start, only to finish 8-11 down the stretch, playing in the NIT instead of the NCAA Tournament.

As a result, there seems to be a bigger focus on the Deacons and their accomplishments headed into Saturday's game.

"Everybody is talking about how good Wake is," Clemson's leading scorer Trevor Booker said. "But nobody is talking about us. They just mention that we play them on Saturday. So if we can come out and win, that will be a huge step for us."

Regardless of the respect, or lack thereof, there's no doubt this one is being viewed as one of the biggest games in the history of Littlejohn Coliseum.

And it may only be a glimpse of even bigger things to come.

PROBABLE STARTERS
No. 9 Clemson (16-0)
G #2 Demontez Stitt (6-2,175) - 8.3 PPG, 3.7 APG
G #22 Terrence Oglesby (6-2,190) - 12.8 PPG, 1.8 RPG
C #12 Raymond Sykes (6-9,220) - 8.2 PPG, 4.9 RPG
F #1 K.C. Rivers (6-5,215) - 14.7 PPG, 6.5 RPG
F #35 Trevor Booker (6-7,240) - 15.1 PPG, 9.1 RPG

No. 3 Wake Forest (15-0)
G #0 Jeff Teague (6-2,180) - 21.2 PPG, 4.1 APG
G #42 L.D. Williams (6-4,210) - 8.9 PPG, 2.7 RPG
C #13 Chas McFarland (7-0,235) - 10.9 PPG, 6.7 RPG
F #23 James Johnson (6-9,245) - 13.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG
F #1 Al-Farouq Aminu (6-9,215) - 12.9 PPG, 8.7 RPG

CUTigers.com Top Stories