It now begins. The most brutal stretch of games the Clemson Basketball Program has experienced in a mighty long time begins Tuesday night at Pittsburgh. Thanks to my local TV stations not picking up the ACCN on Saturday, I had to catch the Wake game on radio. However, that did afford me the opportunity to check out the Pitt Panthers as they battled mighty Syracuse down to the bitter end in the Carrier Dome on the tube as I listened. Simply put, the Panthers are what Brownell and staff are working to become. They are extremely similar in approach to Clemson, but unfortunately for us, their roster is more talented from top to bottom by a notch or two at least. They are a physical man to man defensive team with very good athleticism. They also pound the glass, which was the weapon they used to nearly knock off unbeaten Syracuse, so the rebounding battle is one to watch in this contest. This game will also be on the mighty ACC Network (the artist we know as Raycom).
I have been thinking hard to recall what would have been a bigger road win in recent hoops memory than this one would be should the Tigers pull the upset. To be honest, it would probably trace way back to a win in Raleigh or College Park back in the OP days. Clemson just hasn't won these types of games in its history with even the best CU teams struggling to notch wins over ranked teams on the road. It's best to approach this game as a Clemson fan looking to gauge progress of the team. Pitt isn't as big as FSU (and really, who the Hell is?), but this is a similar test in terms of dealing with a team that will really physically challenge us at every turn. Clearly we failed the FSU test miserably, so hopefully the team learned something from that and can show progress in figuring out how to generate enough offense against a team of Pitt's caliber.
The big time matchup in this game will be KJ McDaniels going against Lamar Patterson. These are two elite athletes on the wing and it will be very interesting to see who can shake loose on the other. The worry for me is they will bother each other to the point that the supporting casts will really decide things in the end, and we just haven't seen a scenario yet (against competent competition) where KJ doesn't have a good night offensively and the team overcomes it. KJ is a bit longer and Patterson has a strength advantage. KJ is better at the rim and Patterson is better from beyond the arc. At worst you are talking about two guys who will make a lot of money in Europe if not on an NBA roster when they finish school.
Taking care of the ball and holding up on the glass are absolutely essential for the Tigers to have any shot at stealing this game. Clemson was able to survive the other night with Josh Smith logging pretty heavy minutes, but I wouldn't expect us to be able to hold up on Tuesday night if Nnoko gets in foul trouble again. It will need to be all hands on deck in the rebounding department.
There has been some media talk here and there of this Tiger team finding a way to the NCAA tournament. Clearly that would be a monumental achievement for Brad and staff and should quell any disparaging talk about the program's direction. Winning this game would send a clear message that the big tourney is not out of the question at all. I certainly am not picking Clemson to win this game, but am taking the approach that it is an excellent measurement of where the team is right now versus two weeks ago. Giving Pitt a major battle should be the expectation and maybe the ball will bounce our way enough to steal it in the end. Getting 2 wins on the Road to Perdition is my goal for the team. Anything beyond 2 wins would be outstanding. Heck, the football team shocked me in 2011 winning all of the games in the stretch that included Auburn, FSU, and VT, so maybe the hoops team will fashion its own little shock the world tour.