Pairings have been announced for the 2011 Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic, which will be held around Christmas (Dec. 22-25) at the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu. Clemson will face UTEP in the first round of the tournament. The two teams are scheduled to square off on Thursday, Dec. 22 at 3:00 PM and the game will be televised by ESPNU.
The Diamond Head Classic field includes eight teams: Auburn, Clemson, Hawaii (host), Kansas State, Long Beach State, Southern Illinois, UTEP and Xavier. Other first-round matchups are Auburn-Hawaii, Kansas State-Southern Illinois and Xavier-Long Beach State. Kansas State and Southern Illinois are on Clemson’s side of the bracket. Four of the eight teams reached the NCAA men’s basketball tournament last season, including Clemson for a record fourth consecutive year.
This will be Clemson’s fifth trip to Honolulu for an eight-team regular season tournament. The Tigers won the 1980 Rainbow Classic behind wins over Louisiana Tech, Indiana and Hawaii. The Hoosiers, under the direction of all-time NCAA wins leader Bob Knight and star point guard Isiah Thomas, were ranked No. 15 by the Associated Press when the Tigers claimed a 58-57 victory on Dec. 29, 1980. Clemson defeated Hawaii the next day, 75-71 in overtime, to grab the trophy. Clemson last traveled to Honolulu for an eight-team event in 2004 as part of the Rainbow Classic. The Tigers earned a win over Indiana State, but lost to UAB and Georgetown at the event.
This will be the fifth meeting in history between the Tigers and Miners on the hardwood in men’s basketball. UTEP holds a 3-1 record all-time against Clemson, with all four games held in El Paso as part of the old Sun Bowl Carnival. The first meeting between the two schools took place when UTEP was still officially Texas Western, in 1963-64. Clemson’s lone win in the series took place in 1978, when future NBA All-Star Larry Nance scored 16 points in a 68-57 victory.
The Tigers return six lettermen from a team that went 22-12 and advanced to a fourth straight NCAA Tournament in 2010-11. Head Coach Brad Brownell set Clemson records for overall wins and ACC wins (9) by a first-year coach. Andre Young is one of three returning starters for the Tigers, and Clemson’s lone returning double figure scorer after averaging 11.1 points per game a year ago. He also led the ACC with a 2.55 assist-to-turnover ratio. Brownell and his coaching staff welcome five first-year freshmen to the fold in 2011-12.
The Miners compiled a 25-10 overall record in 2010-11 under Head Coach Tim Floyd, 11-5 against teams in Conference USA. Clemson and UTEP had four common opponents last season – Georgia Tech, Michigan, Western Carolina and UAB. The Tigers combined to go 4-1 versus those schools, while the Miners were 2-2. UTEP will have to replace its leading scorer from a year ago in Randy Culpepper, who averaged 19.3 points per game.
The winner of Clemson vs. UTEP will take on the winner of Kansas State vs. Southern Illinois in the second round on Dec. 23. Clemson is 1-1 all-time against Kansas State, losing to the Wildcats by a score of 60-54 in 1982 in El Paso, TX before defeating them 79-45 in the 1998 Maui Invitational in Hawaii. The Tigers have never faced Southern Illinois in men’s basketball.
Clemson has had good success in regular season tournaments, particularly of late. The Tigers won a regular season tournament four straight seasons from 2005-08, including eight-team events in 2005 (San Juan Shootout) and 2008 (Charleston Classic). Two years ago, Clemson knocked off eventual NCAA finalist Butler in Anaheim’s 76 Classic. Last season, the Tigers defeated Long Beach State and Seton Hall in the Paradise Jam but lost to Old Dominion in the second round.