Last week, I insisted that of the Syracuse Orange's seven losses so far, only one (St. John's) was unequivocally bad. I also claimed another (Clemson) was trending up. Well...
The Clemson Tigers upset Miami this weekend too, and are now just outside the top 25.
The Clemson Tigers are just a half-game back of North Carolina for first in the ACC standings.
The Clemson Tigers are up to 81st in ESPN's RPI numbers (can vary at other outlets).
The Clemson Tigers are 3-1 against the top 25 this season -- the second-best mark in the country.
Taking all of the above into account, and tossing aside my better judgment about Clemson in general, the Tigers are a very good basketball team this season. They may not have been when they started the season out 7-6 and struggled with lesser squads in non-conference. But since ACC play started, Clemson's one of country's hottest teams and are riding a five-game winning streak now -- a streak that includes a tight win over Syracuse in a game coached by Mike Hopkins instead of Jim Boeheim.
THIS IS NOT A BAD LOSS.
The above isn't to celebrate a loss -- they're not great, regardless of the opponent. And it's not to heap too much praise on the Tigers either. We all know they're quite capable of doing that themselves.
But the Clemson team that came into the Carrier Dome and grabbed a tight win out of Syracuse hands (you can make the case SU did the honors and handed it to them too) was every bit a tournament-caliber program. Forward Jaron Blossomgame has morphed into one of the conference's impact players each and every night. And the team has tightened up on defense a TON while finding a collective scoring stroke in the process. Clemson won't run you off the floor any night. But when they're playing good enough defense to hold high-scoring, ranked squads like Duke, Miami and Louisville all under 70 points, they don't need to out-shoot anyone. They just need to do enough on offense to grab the victory, and they've done that plenty over the last couple weeks.
Clemson still has more to do in order to truly contend for a conference championship this season. But they're well on their way to doing so if they keep this level of play up. And, as much as it hurts, the more Clemson wins, the better that unfortunate home defeat for the Orange is going to fade into the background as a "quality loss" come March. If the Tigers were a bubble team, this could be problematic. At this rate, though, we could see a ranked Clemson squad in some much more important conversations on Selection Sunday.