Now that the football team has wrapped up the season, all eyes (well, mostly all) can turn to Brad Brownell's hoopsters as they dive head long into ACC play. Luckily the Tigers were able to pull off a much needed win at Boston College and now need to protect the home court against what should be a middle to upper middle ACC squad in FSU. As usual, FSU features some of the longest dudes in college basketball and sport three 7 footers on its roster, headlined by the gigantic Nigerian Michael Ojo. He has a serious NBA body and can be a major factor in the paint with shot blocks and powerful finishes. The FSU front line is a major area of concern if you are Clemson because the Tiger bigs haven't exactly excelled at finishing plays against smaller squads than FSU. It will be paramount the Tigers use their ample defense to create transition opportunities rather than have to deal with the set FSU defense in the half court. FSU also returns athletic wing Okaro White who torched the Tigers in Littlejohn last year with multiple 3's when FSU ran out to a big lead and held off the Tiger comeback attempt. Ian Miller is a veteran guard who is capable of putting up big numbers on any given night. FSU is a dangerous team, BUT, as usual they have defects that can be exploited, as UVA did to them in Tallahassee just a few days ago.
It has been the usual helter skelter stuff we have seen from the Noles under Leonard Hamilton. Earlier they blew a highly ranked VCU team off the court, beat UMass, barely lost to Michigan and Florida, and dropped 106 on Charlotte. But they also laid a major egg at home versus UVA playing most of the game without Joe Harris and barely squeaked by Northeastern. Let's hope it is the FSU team from those two efforts coming into Littlejohn. Whichever team can get some transition going and get the easy baskets will win this contest. Both teams are strong in the half court defensively, but a half court game favors FSU in my opinion because of their superior size and rebounding ability. Nnoko, Blossomgame, Djitte, Djambo, and Smith need to bring their big boy games to the floor in this matchup.
Jordan Roper gets the start at the 2 for this game, but it is a bit concerning when you see that FSU's shortest guards are Miller and Bookert at 6'3" each. Hopefully Roper can create the perimeter problems that UVA's guards were able to do in Tallahassee. As usual, it will take a big time effort on both ends from KJ McDaniels for Clemson to win this game. FSU will likely use White to check him and protect the rim with their array of 7 footers like Ojo and Bojanovsky (though what an opportunity for an all time poster dunk over one of these dudes!) Turning FSU over and getting out on the break is the best formula for success in this contest.
The good news is that FSU can still be offensively challenged, though they have had some explosive outings. UVA is a similar team defensively to Clemson and locked up FSU for just 50 points, so that should show that it can be done. I would expect a lower scoring slug fest in this game to the tune of 57-54. First team to break 60, if either does, will be in great shape to win this game. The Noles are pretty deep in that 9 guys average double digit minutes. Nnoko needs to stay out of foul trouble because we start giving up either height or girth beyond him to the Nole bigs.
To me, the most interesting wild card in this matchup is Jaron Blossomgame. He's been quiet as of late, but his ability to step out as well as slash could come in very handy against the FSU bigs. If either he or Djambo can make some perimeter shots the Noles would have some problems stepping out on them. Not having Devin Coleman is a blow to this team. He was by far the best pure shooter on the squad with the quickest release, so it puts more pressure on Demarcus Harrison to be more consistent with his offense than he has been to date.
Again, for the Tigers to finish middle of the pack in the ACC, they have to win games like this at home. It is a bit much to expect to steal a win from the upper crust of Syracuse and Duke, but this is a winnable game despite FSU having an edge in personnel overall. All things being equal, I give the edge to Brownell matching up with Hamilton. Being tough on the front lines and not letting FSU get comfortable from 3 like last year in Littlejohn are the keys to victory.