Where: The John
First of all, we here at STS were able to secure some top secret footage of Lorenzo Ward's defensive gameplan meeting prior to the Clemson game...
No further details were available out of Columbia...
Meanwhile, the Tiger hoops squad has gotten off to a very underwhelming start to the season having dropped 2 games to Big South teams and barely escaping another. Pains of not having K.J. McDaniels anchoring the team were bound to be felt, and that has certainly been the case so far this season as the team has struggled to establish itself on either end of the floor. The typically air tight defense that Brad Brownell's teams generally play was very leaky in the 2 losses. Since then, Clemson has managed to keep opponents under 62 points during a current 3 game winning streak. It appears that 70 is a magic number for this team once again and simply has to keep the opposition under that number to have a good shot at winning.
Clemson is back in the ACC/Big 10 challenge after the Milton Jennings/Devin Booker team was so bad that the Tigers were passed over last year. The recently expanded Big 10 now is just one team shy of allowing every ACC team to play in this no matter how bad they might have been the previous year. Clemson draws new edition Rutgers this year and it is a favorable matchup indeed. Let's take a look at the Scarlett Knights:
Rutgers is coming off a pathetic 26 point performance against the Virginia Cavaliers. Now, we all know UVA is a very good defensive team, but 26 points in a shot clock game is about as bad as you will ever see. Rutgers has an embarrassing loss to a mid major team on their resume as well having gotten thumped by 18 by the mighty St. Peter's Peacocks of the MAAC conference. They did beat Vanderbilt earlier and we certainly know Clemson can lose to just about anybody at this point, but all things being considered this should be a win.
Rutgers is led by the Mack and Jack attack. Senior point guard Myles Mack is putting up 14.3 points per game and 4.5 assists so far this year. Junior post Kadeem Jack is the other Scarlett Knight in double figures coming in at 12.8 points and 5.5 boards a game. Rutgers has three guys averaging over 30 minutes a game with the third being Sophomore forward Junior Etou who is leading the team with 8.2 rebounds per game. Etou and Jack have both put up some 3 point attempts this year, especially Etou who is 4-19 (after going 0-9 the last two games). As a team Rutgers is shooting just 26% from 3, so the weapon that Winthrop and Gardner-Webb used on Clemson doesn't appear to be a strength of the Scarlett Knights. This has the makings of another 55-52 type game for sure.
As for Clemson, the biggest problem so far this year has been turnovers. The team has a negative assist to turnover ratio and Landry Nnoko has been the biggest culprit having committed 20 already. While Nnoko has clearly been a focus of the offense, he hasn't shown the type of leap we had hoped to see from last year to this after he made tremendous strides from his freshman to sophomore years. Being a go-to guy is a new thing for Landry and he certainly has been a target of opposing defensive gameplans so far. He's got to take the next step in working out of double teams and effectively throwing good outlet passes. 3 second violations have been an issue so he's got to work smarter in the post.
Clemson's perimeter game continues to be a major problem for the team. Clemson comes into this game under 30 percent from 3 point range, mostly due to Jaron Blossomgame going a frosty 1-14 to start off the season. At some point B-game has got to find the range or just pass those shots up and try to attack the rim more. Rod Hall has been a bit of a disappointment so far this year having only put up a 2 to 1 assist to turnover ratio. A senior with his kind of experience should be at least 3 to 1 or better. Hopefully Hall has shaken off that ankle injury that knocked him out of the High Point game early on because he will be needed to offset the play of Mack. Both losses this year featured the opposing point guard outplaying Hall. Clemson has very little chance to win if it looses that matchup considering Hall is the most experienced player on the roster.
It was good to see Patrick Rooks come in and do what he was signed to do, which is shoot the 3. Clemson desperately needs some scoring punch off the bench and Jordan Roper has been very streaky so far. It appears Gabe DeVoe is a ways from being ready to defend like Brownell wants, so it is up to Rooks, Ajukwa, and Roper to get that done. Both Ajukwa and Roper have not shot the ball well at all and average a meager 12 points a game combined. Clearly Josh Smith and Sidy Djitte are not viable offensive options when they are on the floor.
It would be nice to see this team figure out how to turn defense into offense much better than they have. Considering the half court limitations of the team, the best way to score is to get out in transition and find easy baskets. Another way is to get fouled and make free throws, but after a banner year on the stripe last year, the team is a more Clemson-like 65% as a team so far. It has been a little better recently, and that has been a big factor in pulling out wins over LSU and High Point.
Finally, this team has a lot of improving to do before hitting the murderous ACC slate. So far, the team appears to be a bottom third squad and the impact of K.J. McDaniels cannot be overstated. It just goes to show what having an NBA level guy on your team can do for you. Donte Grantham has been very good for a freshman, and he's certainly made the biggest impact as a freshman since the days of Cliff Hammonds. Clemson needs him to grow at a faster rate since K.J. is putting up highlights in the league and not in Littlejohn. It seems silly to think NCAA tourney for this team at this point, but it goes without saying the team can't drop any more out of league games now and hope to have a chance.