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Smack the Pack - NC State at Clemson Preview

Clemson staggers into this one after dropping two heartbreakers in a row. The best news, though, is the worst is now behind them.

T.J. Warren
T.J. Warren
Grant Halverson

When: Tuesday Night 7pm

Where: Littlejohn


Overview: Well, the Road to Perdition is over and Clemson hit the 2-5 mark we said we'd take. It is hard to say that now considering the last two games were so winnable and we let them slip away. Taking those would have totally changed the forecast for the team going forward. Even still, the original NIT birth goal is still very much on the table and something most Clemson fans should be happy with considering this team has no seniors and was picked next to last entering the year. Now Clemson enters the "easy" stretch of the schedule and needs to really put together some wins and build some momentum. Look no further than UNC who has taken full advantage of the "easy" stretch in their schedule to get rolling and now can take out a team like Pitt and probably anybody else in the league they face. Who knows what could happen come ACC tourney time if the Tigers can get on a roll now.

NCST comes in as your typical middle of the road ACC squad. Capable of playing well enough to compete with the top, as they did vs. Syracuse last time out, but flawed enough to have fallen short in those games this year. NCST is an offensive minded team with one All ACC caliber player in T.J. Warren. Warren and K.J. McDaniels could probably sit down and have a long discussion about having to carry their respective teams because that is what both are doing. NCST really has struggled shooting the ball this season (even more than Clemson) and rank among the bottom of division 1 in 3-point shooting and FT shooting according to KenPom. Clemson should be in good shape defensively in this game provided they don't allow Warren to dominate. As usual, we will likely deploy the man himself, K.J. McDaniels, to handle this duty. So far this year K.J. has handled his matchup with a dominant +/- just about every time out. He broke even with Patterson from Pittsburgh, but was well ahead of Brogdan on Saturday with a +10 (and Brogdan needed FT makes at the end when we had to foul to get past 10 points). Warren is bigger and presents a different set of problems so I expect Blossomgame and even Josh Smith to see some time on him but K.J. no doubt will draw this assignment most of the night.

NCST has some good athleticism but is not nearly as talented overall as last year's team was. However, they really struggled last year to put it together and were one of the most underachieving teams I can remember seeing in the ACC recently. This year's team is much more cohesive, mainly because there is no question who their alpha dog is. Much of the same can be said for Clemson who had more front line talent last year but was not nearly as together as this year's product is. Much like UNC, NCST is much more comfortable in games in the 70's versus the 50's and 60's where Clemson likes to live. They have only gone 3-6 in games where they scored under 65 points, so it is again imperative for the Tigers to hold the Pack below that number.

Rebounding, in the end, was probably the thing that beat Clemson against UVA. In every other aspect the Tigers did what they needed to do. However, your job on defense is only done when you secure the defensive rebound and without Nnoko to help out, Clemson was woeful in this regard versus UVA and cannot afford to give a poor shooting team like NCST extra at bats. Giving up copious amounts of offensive rebounds presents a myriad of problems, including foul trouble for your front line. Lots of fouls get called on put back situations when you are often in a scramble mode defensively and not set.

When NCST does decide to shoot 3's, they usually come from Ralston Turner. You'd love for K.J. to draw Turner but since we have to limit Warren at all costs, this job is going to fall on Harrison/Roper/Ajukwa. They have to do better than they did against Joe Harris who abused his matchup at times on Saturday. Of course, Harris is a better player at this stage than Turner so there's that. It will be interesting to see how much Ajukwa's role increases in this game, if at all. His insertion had a lot to do with Harrison hurting his ankle, but he produced and one would hope he'd get another chance to do so. You just never know how much confidence Brad has with Ajukwa on the defensive end so that will likely be the reason we don't see much of #1 if he doesn't play much.

It sounds like a broken record at this point, but the key to this game is the same as the last few. Somebody, ANYBODY, has to provide some double figure scoring to help out K.J. If the Tigers can somehow find three guys to hit 10 or more, Clemson wins this no problem. It is simply amazing to me that the last two outings have seen exactly one Tiger surpass 10 points besides McDaniels and that took a double overtime game to pull off.

Just as a side note, I hope Brownell's offensive coaching detractors took note of the stuff Clemson was running early vs. UVA, one of the best defensive squads in the country. Great back screen action to get Rod Hall a layup. Harrison stroking a couple of shots off the away screen action, then getting a nice high/low dump down to Djitte off that same action. Much of this was made possible by the attention devoted to K.J. and, not surprisingly, guys actually finishing plays. UVA adjusted after a bit and got more physical with our inside guys (the refs let a lot of mugging inside go), but I hope folks could see we've got some nice pieces in our system when the guys actually execute it and finish like division 1 guys should. Plug in more skill into this and you are going to see the kind of stuff we saw from Brad's first team when he had Stitt and Grant and Young and Smith to work with.

In conclusion, I am now officially worried we might see K.J. bolt for the NBA. The silver lining right now is that this draft will be very deep and that might help keep K.J. from projecting to the middle first round, which would be something he would have to strongly consider. I would hope with Grantham and DeVoe coming in that K.J. would elect to stay and complete the rebuilding project Brad has started with him. Grantham would allow K.J. to log some minutes at the 2 next season which would enhance his stock considerably as I believe he'd need to be able to play at the next level (see Greg Buckner). He's certainly a better player right now than Greg Buckner was as a senior mostly due to his unmatched athleticism. Brad's biggest recruiting job is likely going to be getting #32 back in the fold for next year.

KenPom gives us a nice 71% win probability and it better happen to avoid risking that NIT opportunity. We can talk NCAA again when and IF the Tigers can string some wins together heading into the tourney. Right now the KenPom percentages favor Clemson in five of our final six games.