Early tests highlight 2009-10 season

CLEMSON - Clemson will have a solid gauge on this year when Oliver Purnell and the Tigers travel to California for the 76 Classic.

Scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend at the Anaheim Convention Center, Clemson will be one of eight participants this year's field. Seven of the eight reached the postseason in 2008-09, including six in the NCAA tournament. This year's field includes: Butler, Long Beach State, Minnesota, Portland, Texas A&M, UCLA and West Virginia.

Clemson opens Texas A&M and will face either West Virginia or Long Beach State in the second round.

"That's one of the most prestigious tournaments in the country," Purnell said. "A major reason for that is national TV. The other is all of the NCAA tournament participants that are in it…the fact that ESPN wanted us in that tournament speaks to the respect of our program."

He said Clemson's selection as one of the eight sites for ESPN's College GameDay when Duke visits on Jan. 23 is another indication of respect.

Clemson will travel to Liberty on Nov. 17 for a 10 a.m. game in one of ESPN's 24 Hours of Hoops matchups.

"That's pretty early. I think noon is probably the earliest that we've ever played in," Purnell said.

Along with a matchup against Illinois in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and South Carolina, it's as tough a starting schedule that he's seen at Clemson.

Along with the rest of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the chase is on to catch reigning National Champion North Carolina.

The Tigers will get a shot to knock off Roy Williams' team at Littlejohn Coliseum at 9 p.m. on Jan. 13 in front of a nationally televised audience.

With the departure of players like Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green, Purnell said the entire league is licking its chops to dethrone the Tar Heels. There won't be much drop off from last year's team. When it comes to North Carolina basketball, Purnell said it's usually a simple matter of reloading.

"They've got tremendous talent. Maybe as good of talent as there is in the league," he said.

There are plenty of other teams in the ACC looking to claim the spot as top dog in the conference.

"We have an awful lot of teams in our league that aspire to be ACC Champions, as well as National Champions," Purnell said, "and we're one of them."

"Duke is Duke."

"I love Georgia Tech's recruiting class and their returning team."

"Florida State, although they lost Toney Douglas, they have a tremendous front line and had a good recruiting year. I like their team."

"Virginia Tech returns an awful lot of guys, including their two great players in (Malcolm) Delaney and their big kid, (Jeff) Allen."

Although Purnell didn't specifically mention Wake Forest, Boston College, Maryland, Miami, N.C. State and Virginia, there was no calculated effort in leaving those without mention. He knows that competition in the ACC this year should be fierce.

"There are so many good teams. It's going to be tough and exciting," he said.

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