When: Monday 9pm
Where: Littlejohn Coliseum
We’ll start this off with a nice parting gift for the recently dispatched Syracuse Orange…
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Yes, I must say it was nice to see all those keys to beating that zone be put into action by the Tigers on Saturday afternoon. They hit the high post, they used the ball screen action, they had nearly flawless selection on 3 point attempts, and they attacked the offensive glass. The defensive effort was similar to what we got used to seeing last year and made Rakeem Christmas feel like the Lone Ranger out there. Now, the next challenge is finding a way to put that kind of effort together in back to back games. The team has now emerged out of a brutal opening stretch with an actually good 2-3 mark considering how this looked before the season started. It is vital the team go 3-1 in the next 4 now that they get to play teams in the lower half of the conference. Only the trip to Raleigh looks like a super tall order, though all the teams in the league present some things to worry about. Let’s take a look at FSU.
Overview: The ‘Noles are once again very hard to put a finger on. They have perhaps the largest front line guys in the country like 7 footers Boris Bojanovsky and Michael Ojo and some veteran perimeter guys like Devin Bookert and Aaron Thomas, yet they have had some real struggles so far this year. The biggest factor in that was Thomas going down to academic ineligibility just 6 games into the season. Freshman Xavier Rathan-Mayes has attempted to fill that void and has put up some good scoring games, but he is not the level of player that Thomas was yet. Most recently, the Wolfpack went into Tallahassee and won going away giving the 'Noles 4 losses in the last 5 and making them 1-4 in the league and 9-9 overall. Clemson has to feel that this is a must win game at home, though last season the Tigers struggled mightily in Littlejohn against that FSU size and lost badly only to rebound and steal the game in Tallahassee later in the season. The ‘Noles are similar in many ways to Clemson in that they usually are very hard to score against but can really stink it up on the offensive end. When they are having a good night from the perimeter or are able to really get out in transition consistently, they can look like a NCAA tourney team. It will be up to the Tigers to not allow FSU to find any kind of rhythm in either area and grind out a victory.
Keys to Victory: The Tigers have been trying to survive in league play without getting much from Landry Nnoko who has been in constant foul trouble. It is hard to see the team winning this one with Nnoko sitting on the bench, so he needs to be smart and stay on the floor. This is not a game Josh Smith figures to be much help in at the center position considering the size FSU brings to the table. I do anticipate the Tigers using a lot more zone in this one which could help protect Landry and Sidy Djitte when they are on the floor. It is no big shock that the 2 ACC wins Clemson came when the Tigers won the battle on the glass convincingly.
Job one in this game will be keeping the FSU front line off the offensive glass while finding some extra shots for the home team because both teams are not great shooting squads. What has become apparent to me is that Brownell is looking to feature the 3 point shot more with this team then in the last couple of seasons, so hopefully the 40% effort we saw Saturday can be seen more often. As far as defense goes, the first order of business is keeping a lid on Rathan-Mayes and Montay Brandon. They are the ones who can really go off on offense for FSU. They present more of a dribble drive threat than a guy like Trevor Cooney whom Rod Hall blanketed on Saturday. If you noticed, the Orange had a lot more success on the offensive glass when somebody got dribble penetration because it causes the defense to rotate and help which makes it hard to box out. Therefore the Tigers need to keep the ‘Noles in front so those monster front line guys can’t just play volleyball with the misses.
Offensively, the MVP of this team has been Jaron Blossomgame. He has been a double double machine and is beginning to make the kind of impact that the departed K.J. McDaniels made last year. Jaron is really growing in confidence as seen in the couple of very nice jump hook finishes in traffic he made on Saturday. He’s making his free throws and giving us a good dunk or two to boot. It was also nice to see Donte Grantham get untracked after going through a rough stretch the last few weeks. It isn’t that uncommon for a true freshman to hit a wall as the length and intensity of the college season surpasses anything he would have seen in high school or AAU. Hopefully Saturday was a sign Grantham is rediscovering his stroke and his legs because the team needs his scoring punch. Lastly, the team got the kind of tough, heady play from senior Rod Hall versus Syracuse that was the expectation this season. I think the notion by some that Hall needed somebody else to be the lead dog on this team was accurate. Blossomgame is that guy now and Hall can slide into the role he was in last year playing off of K.J.
Outlook: Despite all the issues this team has had this year, a finish in the top 9 of the league is still on the table which would be remarkable. KenPom now projects an 8-10 finish in the league which would put the team in NIT contention for sure. Going 4-1 during the 4 out of 5 home game stretch is the lynch pin for that being accomplished. The team got past a major hurdle jumping on Syracuse to get it started, but losing at home to the ‘Noles would kill that momentum completely. Hopefully the team’s efforts on Saturday was enough to add some juice to the students and the fan base to get the ‘John rocking like it was down the stretch last season. If that happens, I can’t see this team losing Monday night and KenPom gives the Tigers a 77% chance.