Has Clemson Men's Basketball accomplished 'spectacular'?

Making the Sweet 16 puts this season's finish in the Top 5 for Clemson since 1980. Some fans find it difficult to reconcile that reality with their perceptions of the program and the coach.

Clemson's Dillon Hunter (2) and other Clemson players react after a teammate made a free throw
Clemson's Dillon Hunter (2) and other Clemson players react after a teammate made a free throw / Chris Day/The Commercial Appeal / USA

Clemson Men’s Basketball will face Arizona in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament this Thursday at 7:09 PM on CBS.

Where does this accomplishment stand in the big picture for Brad Brownell and the program? The program has only reached this level of the tournament five times, so it would have to be considered one of the top five outcomes for the program since 1980, which was the first time the Tigers participated in the NCAA tournament.

That 1980 team made the Elite Eight, but circumstances were different back then. Only 48 squads made the tournament. Nonetheless, Bill Foster’s group won three games against Utah State, Lamar, and BYU before falling to eventual runner-up UCLA.

We could debate the best Clemson teams. We could just debate the criteria for picking the best Clemson teams. When it comes to the best outcome when it counts the most, the 2023-24 squad is one win away from equaling the best overall finish the program has accomplished in over forty years.

That hasn’t been sitting well with some fans who want Brownell fired.

Quick summary of my position over the past couple of months:

  • I’m on the record saying I would have personally fired Brownell following four seasons in the past.
  • I swore I would not judge this team until the season had reached its conclusion.
  • The Boston College game in the ACC was so disappointing that I really didn’t think there was any chance the season could end on a high note.
  • I picked New Mexico in the first round.
  • I said that Brownell should be fired if the Tigers did anything less than spectacular in the Big Dance.

There is nothing wrong with having an opinion. There is nothing wrong with stating your opinion. There is nothing wrong with admitting your expectations didn’t come true and your read on the situation was off.

There is something wrong with being so obstinate that you stick to your opinion beyond the point of common sense and logic, and unfortunately, there are some Clemson fans who would rather have seen the team lose than admit they (and Brownell) have done a great job thus far in this tournament.

This is a small crowd. They do not come anywhere close to representing most of Tiger Nation, but sometimes such voices stick out like a sore thumb.

Even if you haven’t encountered them, the players have, and they spoke out against them this weekend.

Do I worry about the future of the program? Yes. Consistency is very difficult for a program like Clemson, especially in the current environment of the NCAA. Do I cringe a little when I realize that Brownell will get an extension to his contract? Yes, because I don’t necessarily correlate a single-season accomplishment with success over time. I struggle to define Brownell's career at Clemson (all 14 seasons) as a satisfying experience.

Now comes the question from my perspective: has this team accomplished 'spectacular'? That was what I said needed to happen for me to be satisfied with keeping Brownell as the head coach.

They’ve come close, but I have also been reminded of my original plan: to wait until the season is over before judging.

As enjoyable as this past weekend was, I will again state for the record that the performance by this team in the ACC Tournament was singularly one of, if not the single most, disappointing experiences I have ever witnessed from this program. No amount of success will ever 'erase' that reality.

I have no worries admitting that game in Washington DC shifted my opinions of this team and Brownell into a very bad place. I slipped and began judging prematurely.

How you finish is important. In any sport, a season isn’t completely defined by the last game, but a poor final showing can sour an otherwise great feeling.

The Tigers don’t need to beat Arizona for this season to end well. They do need to be competitive and represent themselves well. If they put their best effort on the court against the Wildcats, even in a loss, one could make an argument that this was as good of a finish as any other Clemson team in the past half-decade.

Is it likely this game on Friday could go so bad that it negates what they have accomplished to this point? No, that doesn’t seem likely. Then again, after the ACC Tournament, it didn’t seem likely that this team would win a single game in the NCAA Tournament much less two, so I guess I shouldn’t jump to conclusions.

What I should do, like all Clemson fans, is not worry about contracts and philosophical topics and just cheer for the Tigers this Friday.