For the fourth straight year, Clemson has opened the season with a lengthy winning streak.
The Tigers haven’t sustained that pace in the past three seasons, and an early start to ACC play with a road game against Miami on Sunday might be a good indication if that will happen again.
Clemson (11-0) is ranked 25th, but could lose its place in the AP poll to the Hurricanes (7-2) if it loses this game. Miami, which was ranked for the first three weeks of the season, finished just two spots out of the most recent Top 25.
Last season, the Tigers won their first 10 games but went 14-10 thereafter, including a 75-72 road loss to the Hurricanes on Jan. 27. Clemson opened 17-0 in 2006-07 before finishing 8-11 and that season mirrored 2005-06, when its 11-0 start preceded an 8-13 finish with the most lopsided loss coming at Coral Gables — 62-38 to Miami.
“We’ve got to keep our heads on straight,” Clemson swingman K.C. Rivers said.
A fourth consecutive road loss to Miami also would mark the Tigers’ first defeat before Dec. 22 since 2004-05. They are 43-0 before that date over the past four seasons.
This is the first time they’ve started conference play before Jan. 2 since the 2001-02 season.
“Normally, I don’t prefer to play ACC games before Christmas, but it’s scheduled that way and I’m excited about it,” coach Oliver Purnell said. “It’s going to be a test.”
While Clemson has played only one school from a major conference, needing to overcome an eight-point halftime deficit to win 76-74 at Illinois on Dec. 2, Miami has already faced three. Two of those were losses against teams currently in the Top 25—Connecticut and Ohio State—but the Hurricanes also won at Kentucky on Dec. 6.
The Hurricanes went 8-8 in ACC games last season while the Tigers finished 10-6 for their first winning record in conference play in 11 years.
Clemson has beaten its first 11 opponents by an average of 20.5 points, including a 76-36 rout of North Florida on Tuesday.
Junior forward Trevor Booker leads the team with 15.1 points and 9.0 rebounds per game, and he leads the ACC with 2.6 blocked shots per contest. Rivers, who led the team in scoring the past two seasons, has averaged 13.5 points and sophomore guard Terrence Oglesby adds 12.5 per game.
Miami senior guard Jack McClinton is leading the Hurricanes in scoring for the third straight season with 16.7 points per game, and he’s averaged 18.3 in three meetings with Clemson.
Teammate Dwayne Collins, who had two of his four double-doubles last season versus the Tigers, is averaging 11.1 points and a team-leading 8.2 rebounds. He has helped the Hurricanes become one of the top rebounding teams in the nation at 42.1 per game.
Miami enters Sunday on a three-game win streak. The Hurricanes are 4-0 in ACC home openers since joining the league in 2004-05, including two wins against ranked teams.
They also could benefit from a week-long break, having been off since a 70-62 victory over Robert Morris on Dec. 14.
“It’s good, and we’ve got to keep grinding,” McClinton said after scoring 24 points in that win. “There are still some things we need to work on. It’s good we get a week to prepare for Clemson.”
Clemson holds a 7-6 lead in the series, but Miami has a 5-2 advantage since joining the ACC.