CLEMSON -- Oliver Purnell doesn't particularly like the wrenches thrown at him in this year's schedule. Taking 15 days off before an overseas trip, playing three straight days, splitting a home and away game during the holidays and then playing one of the best teams in the country isn't conducive to successful basketball.
But he could be feeling much worse.
"I think it's funny the way certain things have worked out this year," Purnell said Thursday. "Would not have liked a 15-day break. Yet when (James) Mays and Sam Perry were down, it gave us 15 days of healing.
"Playing well right now. Playing well. Probably not a bad time to face them when you're playing well."
The "them" is the issue. "Them" is the Tigers' next opponent -- No. 1 North Carolina, at Littlejohn Coliseum tonight to kick off ACC play.
Purnell didn't need reminding of the Tigers' history against the Tar Heels, especially when UNC is ranked in the top five. The Tigers and Tar Heels have clashed 47 times in that circumstance and UNC's won 42. Included in that series is a 9-1 UNC record when the Tar Heels were No. 1.
But that one time was memorable, occurring on Feb. 18, 2001. The Tigers beat the top-ranked Tar Heels 75-65 that day, also in Littlejohn, so it can be done.
None of the current Tigers -- staff included -- were around then. But don't think the tape from that game hasn't been watched a few times.
"They understand what they're going to be facing," Purnell said. "We think we can win. This is not going to be an easy task ... our veteran guys understand that."
Clemson (12-1) has shot through the early season with a few speedbumps, rebounding from each slow-down moment with a streak of inspired basketball. After the 15-day break, the Tigers won their first two games of the Paradise Jam in Puerto Rico before suffering their only loss of the year.
They came back by working the injured Mays and Perry back into the lineup against Samford and Alabama, blasting the Crimson Tide on the road by 26 points. The schedule threw another couple of pitfalls at the Tigers -- playing probably the best team in the conference right away, stepping out of conference to host Charlotte on Wednesday before resuming the ACC slate -- but Purnell feels his team has handled the early hurdles so far.
Why shouldn't the Tigers handle these the same way?
"Several things about the schedule I like or don't like," Purnell said. "Didn't play great coming out of (the layoff), but allowed us to get Mays out of it. Don't like the way we end up our road schedule at the end of the league. Don't like Charlotte where they are.
"Going against a good team when we're playing well gives us an idea of where we are and what we have to do."
The Tar Heels (14-0), ranked No. 1 since the preseason, have gone through their own troubles, recently losing backup guard Bobby Frasor to a knee injury. But they've still got massive talent, led by two-time first-team All-ACC center Tyler Hansbrough, point guard Ty Lawson and acrobatic forward Wayne Ellington.
The Tigers will counter with the steadily improving Mays, leading scorer K.C. Rivers and center Trevor Booker. They're also hoping freshman point guard Demontez Stitt can keep up his strong early season performance despite being a rookie in the meat-grinder known as the ACC.
"Very comfortable with his progress," Purnell said. "He's gone against ACC-caliber players and teams in our non-conference schedule. Am I confident he will hold up? Absolutely."
NO. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (14-0) AT NO. 19 CLEMSON (12-1)
n When: 7:30 p.m.
n Where: Littlejohn Coliseum, Clemson
n TV: Fox Sports Net (cable channel 29 in Rock Hill)
n On the Web: Live Gametracker at clemsontigers.com
n Tickets: Sold out
n North Carolina's probable starters: G Ty Lawson 5-11 So. (13.0 ppg, 5.5 apg); G Marcus Ginyard 6-5 Jr. (7.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg); C Tyler Hansbrough 6-9 Jr. (22.4 ppg, 9.6 rpg); F Deon Thompson 6-8 So. (8.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg); F Wayne Ellington 6-4 So. (16.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg)
n Clemson's probable starters: G Demontez Stitt 6-2 Fr. (8.2 ppg, 2.0 rpg); G Cliff Hammonds 6-3 Sr. (10.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg); G K.C. Rivers 6-5 Jr. (16.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg); C Trevor Booker 6-7 So. (9.6 ppg, 9.2 rpg); F James Mays 6-9 Sr. (12.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg)
n Notes: The Tigers begin ACC play but step right back out of conference for their next game, hosting Charlotte. After the 49ers, Clemson plays all ACC opponents until the end of the regular season. ... The Tigers have lost six straight to the Tar Heels, including 77-55 last year, and coach Oliver Purnell has only beaten the Heels once. UNC leads the overall series 118-19. ... The two teams only played once last year but they will play twice this year. Clemson travels to UNC on Feb. 10. ... Terrence Oglesby continues to improve, averaging 12.5 points per game, and has made 30 of his last 56 3-point attempts. ... Stitt is second in the ACC in free throw shooting (88.4 percent). ... Hammonds only needs two 3-pointers to move past Will Solomon for second place in school history.
n Up next: Clemson hosts Charlotte at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.