But after Wednesday night's demolition of third-ranked Duke, the Tigers not only have to be mentioned among the top three teams in the league, they also have to be considered serious challengers for the ACC Championship.
Using a tenacious full court press which kept the Blue Devils out of sync all night long, No. 10 Clemson handed No. 3 Duke its second-worst loss of the last 20 years, 74-47.
Only the Duke's 1990 National Championship game loss against UNLV (103-73) was bigger.
In addition, the 47 points scored by Duke were the fewest for a Blue Devils team since scoring 44 in a loss to Clemson 15 years to the day on Feb. 4, 1994.
Now at 19-2 (5-2 ACC) and coming off the heels of a tough road win over pesky Virginia Tech and now winners of three games in a row in the nation's top conference, the Tigers' current No. 10 ranking may not be doing them justice.
"They played great," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "The crowd was great. The team was great. The coaching was great and we were just the opposite in every way. My hat goes off to them.
"We didn't compete with them tonight. That's not a good thing."
Clemson raced out to a 33-21 halftime lead thanks mostly to some of the toughest defense seen in Littlejohn Coliseum all season long.
The Tigers forced 11 Duke turnovers, scoring 13 points along the way to hold the Blue Devils to their lowest first half total all year while keeping the Blue Devils without a field goal the final five and a half minutes of the game.
Terrence Oglesby scored 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting from three-point range in the 27-point win. (Kevin Bray/CUTigers.com)
"We set a little bit of a tone going into halftime and then we came out in the second half and started making some shots," Purnell said. "Field goal percentage was a big key and we continue to rebound the ball better.
"We played a lot better this time around in a matchup of top 10 teams. Sometimes you have to learn after losses and negative-type lessons and I thought that was what we did today."
Clemson also dominated Duke in the paint, claiming a 22-12 advantage in the first half.
And as it turned out, that was just the beginning.
Clemson opened the second half on fire, courtesy of a 15-7 run, quickly jumping out to a 20-point advantage.
Jerai Grant scored on a layup to give the Tigers a 46-28 lead before he added a breakaway dunk just seconds later, providing Clemson it's first 20-point lead of the game.
On the play, the crowd was so loud it set a new Littlejohn Coliseum record of 113 decibels.
But it was Trevor Booker who put the team on his back, routinely making his now-patented fade-away jumper and taking advantage of his size and physicality in the post.
"We got off to that quick start and that really got us going," he said. "We held their leading scorer [Kyle Singler} to six points and played our style of basketball. We got the job done."
And just when you thought the third-ranked Blue Devils would make a run, they didn't.
Trailing by 15 with just over 10 minutes to play in the second half, Singler broke open on the baseline and appeared to drill a three-pointer to pull Duke within 12, but he stepped out of bounds before getting the shot off.
Duke would never get closer.
"It feels great because we played our game," Booker said. "We played Clemson basketball tonight and you see the results. To the people that saw this game-they know we are for real now. Tonight will be tough to top."
The Blue Devils connected on just 16-of-52 field goals (30.8 percent) and just 3-of-13 from three-point range (23.1 percent).
Meanwhile the Tigers converted on 28-of-60 (46.7 percent) and 7-of-20 from beyond the arc.
Trevor Booker led the way for Clemson with 21 points and eight rebounds while Oglesby added 17. Gerald Henderson led Duke with 16.
"The best thing about tonight is how well we played defensively," Oglesby said. "We played really well but we can play better, that's the crazy thing about this."
About the only thing that went wrong for the Tigers was when Oglesby missed a wide open dunk on a fast break. But even then, all he could do was smile.
Then afterwards, when asked if this was the best his team has played in his six years as Clemson's head coach, all Purnell would say, "Its the best game we've played all year."
Krzyzewski summed it up in a different way.
"They just out-played us for 40 minutes," he said. "There was no momentum in this game. They just kicked our butt.
"They didn't win because we played poorly. They won because they outplayed us. I'm not going to take anyway from their outstanding effort."
Clemson returns to action Saturday night against Florida State at Littlejohn Coliseum.
Tip-off is set for 7:00 PM.
GAME NOTES: Duke's last lead of the game came at 6-5 with 17:20 remaining in the first half. ... The 27-point victory was Clemson's largest margin of victory against a top 25 team in school history. ... K.C. Rivers had seven steals, tying a Clemson single-game record. ... The CUTigers Decibel Meter reached 113 in the second half after a Jerai Grant dunk on a fast break, breaking the old Littlejohn Coliseum record of 112. ... With 4:11 left in the game and Clemson leading 70-43, the student section began chanting, "Overrated!"