In our Clemson Basketball Season Preview, we said it was absolutely imperative that Clemson get off to a good start and play well in the non-conference before getting into ACC play. Fortunately, the Tigers are doing just that, and are now 3-0 with three blowout wins. Beating SCar is always great, and hopefully this is only the appetizer for the bigger win over the Midland Poultry in Williams-Brice Stadium. You can bet we'll have plenty of discussion headed into that game.
Clemson's strong start has been rewarded by Ken Pomeroy's (KenPom) advanced metric rating system. If your not familiar with it, in short, it is an algorithm based ranking system that offers a lot more to analyze than the AP Poll, including offensive and defensive efficiency, strength of schedule, tempo adjusted statistics, and projected wins. It's also completely objective.
We started the season around 100th in these rankings, moved up to 61st with the 2-0 start and now sit at 53rd with the victory over SCar. Though the media picked us to finish 14th in the conference, we have moved up the 7th among ACC teams in the KenPom rankings ahead of: Notre Dame (54), Maryland (59), FSU (64), NCSU (72), Wake Forest (85), Boston College (96), Miami (122), and Virginia Tech (142). Some of these ACC schools below us have looked a lot worse than expected and I do think we are better than some of them, however It's important to remember these rankings still use a very small sample size with only three games played and you shouldn't think we'll finish 7th in the conference. Nonetheless, I'll take the good news where I can find it.
Now, on the the games we played this week, first Delaware State, and then the big win over the Gamecocks.
11/13 vs. Delaware State
Result: 58-37 Victory
Leading Scorer: Demarcus Harrison (15)
Key Stat: Clemson out rebounded Delaware St. 40 to 25
- The new rules on hand checking were very noticeable in this game. It seemed like there were a lot of touch fouls called. Fortunately, Clemson was 15/19 from the FT line. Thank goodness were done with that Purnell era garbage where we lost close games by leaving 10+ points at the line.
- The biggest takeaway was the rebounding. When the game first started, the announcers mentioned that we didn't have a size advantage as you might expect when an ACC team plays a game like this, but it didn't matter. Jaron Blossomgame pulled down eight rebounds. Five of those came on the offensive glass. His ability to hit the glass is going to a be a big factor for this team and this was a encouraging sign. He also hit a long jumper that really demonstrated his versatility. It was my least favorite shot in basketball (2-pointer with a foot on the line), but nonetheless, he can play both inside and out.
- Landry Nnoko was in foul trouble all night. He seemed to fall victim to some of the touch foul calls, but Clemson pounded the glass even without him. I noticed that despite his in foul trouble, Ibrahim Djambo didn't get any time at center. They turned to Josh Smith and a little bit of Sidy Djitte. I suppose Djambo is too thin to shift up to the five and will be used exclusively at PF.
- Devin Coleman only played eight minutes. I expected to see him getting much more playing time coming into the season, but he's played sparingly in the first two games. He also had a very foolish foul on a jump shooter in this one.
- Demarcus Harrison was simply awesome. He had a game high 15 points on 4/6 shooting. He was 2/4 from three and 5/6 from the FT line. He was catching ready to shoot and looks like he may fill the role we originally expected Devin Coleman to play, at least early in the season. Last season he shot only .363 from the field and .224 from three. He's been the most improved player and the most pleasant surprise in the first two games.
- Roper attacked the basket very well. He got himself to the line on three occasions and dealt three assists. He played sparingly in the second half. I was scared he might be hurt, but that didn't seem to be the case.
- Rod Hall is who we thought he was. The jumper wasn't anything to write home about, but he was slashing, passing, and defending well.
- K.J. McDaniels hoisted five three pointers, but wasn't on fire like he was in the opener against Stetson. He only made one from range and missed a dunk on his way to a pedestrian 4/12 shooting night. Nonetheless, it was good to see the confidence he has in his shot this season. I think we'll find out that his jump shot is improved from years past as the season progresses. Even when the shot wasn't falling he was one of the best players on the court. He had five blocks and some of them were downright nasty. He also had five rebounds.
- The crowd seemed sparse, but the student section pulled of something I've never seen before. They did the intentionally incorrect shot clock countdown, which is nothing new, but as they counted down 3-2-1 the Delaware State player fired up an off-balance long jumper. I've never seen that work before.
- Speaking of the crowd, moving the students from the baselines to one sideline will be a huge improvement when the new Littlejohn comes around. There was almost no point during the telecast where the student section was on camera, instead, empty seats were on full display.
11/17 vs. South Carolina
Result: 71-57 Victory
Leading Scorer: K.J. McDaniels (21)
Key Stat: Clemson shot 24/26 from the free throw line
- I was able to get down to Littlejohn for this Sunday night game and it was well worth the trip. It's always good to beat the Chickens and we're hoping there will be another win coming in two weeks at their expense. There were a lot of positives in this one. A big one was the free throw shooting. Maybe other fan bases wouldn't bat an eye at 24/26, but if you've followed Clemson basketball you're amazed by that number. That's 92.3% from the stripe, the best since a '97 game against Duke. Credit to Brownell for finding guys who can make a set shot and kudos to the players for doing the little things. This could matter more than ever with the new hand checking rules.
- K.J. McDaniels had the most dominant defensive performance I've ever witnessed in person. He had seven blocks in the game, five more than SCar as a team. There were others that he may not have blocked, but he affected and caused a miss. He also had two steals and many more deflections. In our SCar game preview, we discussed the possibility that he'd guard Gamecocks star freshman, Sindarius Thornwell, who came into the game averaging 17ppg. He did and he completely shut him down. Thornwell was held to just 10 points, the majority of which came while K.J. was either off the court or playing in zone defense.
- Speaking of that, it looked like both teams were in a 2-3 zone during stretches of the second half. Brad Brownell did a switch there at the 10 minute mark that spurred Clemson run. It looked good, though I was enjoying the Thornwell/McDaniels matchup.
- On the offensive end, McDaniels was also outstanding and was the leading scorer in the game. He was 7/12 from the floor with many of those being put backs when the Clemson bigs missed gimmes.
- On that note, I thought Nnoko and Smith looked pretty poor on the offensive end. I know we're not asking for much there, but there were just some plays that left me shaking my head. They did not look good with the ball to say the least.
- Josh Smith provided some very solid defense. He protected the basket well by keeping his hands straight up and not giving up easy fouls, and to his credit he did have one nice play with the ball to score from underneath the basket.
- Nnoko was in foul trouble again and Djitte played nine minutes. We'll see if Nnoko maintains his starting job throughout the season. If Djambo was thicker or Djitte was more experienced I imagine one of them would start at center.
- I was very surprised to see Jordan Roper out of the starting lineup. I'm very curious to know what precipitated the change. Was this related to to Roper sitting most of the second half against Delaware State? Was it more so a positive commentary on Harrison who was excellent in the previous game, or was it is simply a matchup situation where we needed more size on the court with K.J. guarding Thornwell and Harrison guarding their small forward? I'm guessing the third, but I don't know for sure. Anyway, Roper played 30 minutes and scored 15 points to Harrison's 13 minutes and 0 points. I liked the chemistry between Roper and Filer as they played together more than usual.
- One of the few negatives in this game was the rebounding. I mentioned it as a positive in the Delaware State bullets, but we didn't get it done in this one. We were out rebounded 7-21 on the offensive glass and 41-33 overall.
- One other negative... I absolutely loathe when fans boo a correct call. There was one play where the South Carolina player knocked the ball off McDaniels' leg and forced K.J. to pick up the ball in the backcourt and take the over-and-back violation. It was one of the better plays on a bad night for the Gamecocks and was correctly called, but fans didn't seem to see it that way and booed for two plays.
- Back to the positives, how great was Rod Hall? Hall got to the line on five occasions and was a solid 8/9 from the stripe. He knocked down a long jumper, but was mostly driving and drawing fouls. He had four assists to go with 14 points. He really slashed up the Cocks and was excellent in this one. He is really earning his minutes thus far. I think a lot of fans were pining for more Coleman and less Hall prior to the season, but Hall should have changed a lot of minds by now.
- Finally, I must mention the amazing play by Hall and McDaniels that changed the momentum and helped Clemson run away with the game. South Carolina started the second half hot and chipped their way back to within one. Rod Hall then tossed a perfect pass to K.J. McDaniels who caught it mid-flight and jammed it to thunderous applause. It brought the arena to life. Shortly thereafter K.J. would convert a old fashioned three-point-play and Clemson never looked back.