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Greatest Basketball Teams in Clemson History: How Does 2017-18 Stack Up?

Elden Campbell

The Clemson Tigers just finished one of the best seasons in school history. In this article, we take a look back at history and see what the very best Clemson teams have accomplished and how the 2017-18 edition stacks up.

The Tigers have made the NCAA 12 times. Four of those teams advanced to the Sweet 16 teams and one of those teams advanced beyond that into the Elite Eight. In this article, we’ll only discuss these 12 teams. Let’s take a look:

NCAA Tournament Teams

Coached by Bill Foster

  • 1979-80 (23-9 / Elite Eight)

Coached by Cliff Ellis

  • 1986-87 (25-6 / Round of 64)
  • 1988-89 (19-11 / Round of 32)
  • 1989-90 (24-8 / ACC Reg. Season Champs / Sweet 16*)

Coached by Rick Barnes

  • 1995-96 (18-11 / Round of 64)
  • 1996-97 (23-10 / Sweet 16)
  • 1997-98 (18-14 / Round of 64)

Coached by Oliver Purnell

  • 2007-08 (24-10 / Round 64)
  • 2008-09 (23-9 / Round of 64)
  • 2009-10 (21-11 / Round of 64)

Coached by Brad Brownell

  • 2010-11 (22-12 / Round of 64)
  • 2017-18 (25-10 / Sweet 16)

* Vacated

In the rankings below, we’ve considered both regular season and postseason accomplishments for a comprehensive look, rather than just a glance at tournament runs. Some may value regular season or postseason differently.

We’ve analyzed the record books and talked to folks who watched these different teams. Now, we count down the top six of these 12 teams as they really stood out as particularly superb.


2007-08 (24-10 / Round 64)

Key Players: K.C. Rivers, Cliff Hammond, Trevor Booker

  • Lost only two home games.
  • Defeated Boston College and Duke to earn an appearance in the ACC basketball championship game, where they lost to UNC for the third time.
  • Earned a #5 seed in the NCAA tournament where they lost to #12 Villanova in what was widely viewed as an unfavorable matchup.


1986-87 (25-6 / Round of 64)

Key Players: Horace Grant, Grayson Marshall

  • Started the season 17-0. Their only regular season losses were to Duke and UNC, ranked opponents who would make the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, respectively.
  • In their last game of the regular season at Duke, PG Grayson Marshall injured his ankle. He would not play against the Muggsy Bogues-led Wake Forest Demon Deacons who pulled off the upset against the Clemson in the ACC tournament.
  • Earned a #4 seed in the NCAA, but without PG Grayson Marshall at 100%, they would fall victim to the 4-13 upset.


1979-80 (23-9 / Elite Eight)

Key Players: Billy Williams, Larry Nance

  • Earned three top 10 wins including a 17-point blowout over #6 ranked UNC, an OT win over #1 ranked Duke, and a victory over #7 ranked Maryland.
  • The only Clemson basketball team to make the NCAA Tournament prior to it’s expansion to 64 teams. Prior to 1979, the tournament only invited 32 teams. In 1979 it expanded to 40 teams. In 1980, Clemson would earn its first berth. In 1985 it would expand to 64 teams.
  • Earned #6 seed, which did not afford them a bye in the first round of the 40-team NCAA tournament. Beat #11 seed Utah State to advance to the Round of 32. Defeated #3 seed BYU to advance to the Sweet 16. They were fortunate to avoid #2 seed Oregon State - who beat them in the regular season - instead facing #10 seed Lamar. They defeated them to play in Clemson’s only Elite Eight, where they lost to #8 seed UCLA.


1996-97 (23-10 / Sweet 16)

Key Players: Greg Buckner, Terrell McIntyre

  • Opened season with a win over #3 Kentucky. The Wildcats would go on the make the Final Four.
  • Won 21 regular season games despite playing in a loaded ACC that sent #1 seed UNC, #2 seed Duke, #3 seed Wake Forest, #4 seed Clemson, #5 seed Maryland, and #9 seed Virginia to the NCAA tournament.
  • Rose to as high as #2 in AP poll.
  • Earned a #4 seed in the NCAA tournament. Defeated #13 seed Miami (OH) and #5 seed Tulsa to make Sweet 16, where they’d lose to #1 seed Minnesota in double-OT.


2017-18 (25-10 / Sweet 16)

Key Players: Gabe DeVoe, Donte Grantham

  • Tied school record for most total wins at 25.
  • Posted 15-1 home record that included wins over UNC, FSU, Miami, and NCSU.
  • Lost starting PF senior Donte Grantham to knee injury 7 games into their 18-game ACC schedule, but still set the school record for ACC regular season wins with 11.
  • Earned #5 seed in NCAA tournament and beat #12 seed New Mexico State. Beat #4 seed Auburn by 31 points to make the Sweet 16, where they lost to #1 seed Kansas after cutting a 20 point deficit to 4.


1989-90 (24-8 / ACC Reg. Season Champs / Sweet 16)

Key Players: Elden Campbell, Dale Davis

  • 10-4 ACC record with key wins over Duke and GT to win the schools only ACC regular season title in Clemson history. Both Duke and GT would make the Final Four.
  • Earned a #5 seed in the NCAA tournament and defeated #12 seed BYU and #4 seed La Salle (30-2, #12 final ranking) that produced the #7 overall pick in the NBA draft (Lionel Simmons).
  • Lost to #1 seed UConn on buzzer beater in the Sweet 16.
  • Sweet 16 appearance was later vacated due to an eligibility issue with Wayne Buckingham and his high school transcripts.

What memories do you have of these great Clemson teams? Share your thoughts on our list in the comments below!