When: Sunday at 5
Where: The John
It has been a rocky start to the 2014-15 basketball season for Brad Brownell and the Tigers. Fellow STS writer Ryan Kantor has an excellent article detailing the problems of the team to this point you can find here. Now, what was supposed to be the highlight non-conference matchup for the team projected to be undefeated or at one loss at this point becomes a desperate attempt at regaining some semblance of respectability. Of course, the irony of the season so far is Clemson defeated the strongest opponent it has faced this season in LSU (who just knocked of 17th ranked West Virginia in Morgantown). Perhaps this team plays to the level of the competition and will elevate its play against the athletic Hogs. Arkansas is coming in at 6 and 1 after getting blasted at Iowa State in Ames in their last outing. If nothing else, it should be a more entertaining game to watch as Mike Anderson brings the full court pressing-up tempo style Clemson fans used to see under Oliver Purnell.
Matchups: This biggest matchup for this game for me is how the Tigers take care of the basketball against the relentless pressure Arkansas brings. Iowa State handled it beautifully for the most part and the result was 95 points, but their talent/skill level is on another level from the Tigers and they have one of the best young coaches in the country in Fred Hoiberg. As we all know, turnovers have been a major problem for this year's team and that has been against a lot less pressure than what the team will face on Sunday. It will be imperative that Rod Hall play his best game of the year and the team run its press offense efficiently. If not, things could get ugly (or uglier) for the team.
One way to defeat a press team is to get stops on defense. You can't run your press when you are having to play transition defense. Normally we could say Clemson will get those stops, but this year's team has struggled as much or more on defense than any of Brad Brownell's units. The perimeter defense has been leaky and a major factor in all of the losses this year. After allowing Rutgers, a team shooting well under 30% from 3, to light it up in Littlejohn, the Tigers now have to face an Arkansas team shooting 44.3% from 3 and leading the country in assists per game. Clemson cannot afford to get into a shootout with this team because it simply doesn't have the offensive firepower to keep up. The Tigers will look to limit possessions as best it can and turn things into a half court slugfest.
Arkansas has four guys averaging double figures led by 6'11" forward Bobby Portis at 15.1 and 6.4 rebounds a game. Portis is a very good athlete and will be a tough guard for either Grantham, B-Game, or Nnoko. 6'5" senior guard Rashad Madden is putting up an impressive 11.4 points per game and 5.9 assists. Rod Hall has got to not get smoked in this matchup like he did in the Winthrop game when Andre Smith and Keon Johnson went for a combined 35 points with 7 assists to 1 turnover or the Gardner-Webb game when Tyler Strange went for 18 points and 10 assists with no turnovers. The Tigers simply must get better point guard production to turn this season around.
Overall: It's easy to have already bailed on this year's team after watching it stumble out of the gate against the easiest part of the schedule. This team simply must get back to playing the type of defense that gives it a chance to win night in and night out. It cannot afford to be careless with the basketball. These things put added pressure on an offense that lacks a pure dynamic scorer. The team is trying to run through Landry Nnoko, and he has to deliver better than he's done so far. If these things happen, there is some hope the team will be respectable in the ACC, but if it doesn't, the team will be looking at a repeat of the 2012-2013 season and a lot of empty seats in Littlejohn in January and February. A good performance and upset win over Arkansas would be a much needed shot in the arm.