When: Sunday, 6pm
The Tigers enter this game at 6-2. The last win against Wofford was probably the best of the season considering the Terriers have been in control of the Southern Conference for the most part since 2012. The Tigers played their best half of the year by far in the first half racing out to a big lead on the Terriers. However, there is much left to prove against "name" competition and that begins on Sunday against Alabama. Clemson failed pretty miserably against UMass and Minnesota as the defense was as bad as we've seen in the Brownell era. The Tigers got into shootouts and lacked the firepower to keep up. It is likely the Tide will try to get the tempo up and push this game into a higher scoring affair, so it is a good test to see if Clemson can dictate the tempo better than it did earlier in the year. The offensive rhythm against Minnesota was tremendous, especially in the first half, but the Tigers also allowed the Gophers to get into a flow at the same time. The result was our good shooting flamed out before theirs did, which is an expected outcome against most decent to good D1 competition vs. our current roster.
The good news is that Avry Holmes has started to look like that knock down shooter we expected coming over from San Francisco. Jaron Blossomgame has been a major force on offense and Sidy Djitte has shown tremendous growth as an offensive player. Legend Robertin is now in the mix and will hopefully give the Tigers more "Nnoko Insurance" as I'd like to call it. This would be options on those days where Nnoko racks up fouls and/or does one of his disappearing acts. At this stage of Nnoko's career, I think we've seen about all he is going to be. On his good days he is a very good low post guy for us, but his inconsistency has put the Tigers in a sling more than once over the last two seasons. Freshman Ty Hudson has seen his role grow some over the last few games and I'm hopeful he will give us some "Roper Insurance" for many of the same reasons as listed above.
The real enigma to me right now is Donte Grantham. He has no true backup on the roster and has struggled shooting the ball so far. He is only shooting 42% from 2 and 36% from 3. That 3 stat is inflated from his one monster game against UTSA. He's shot 4-22 from 3 in the last four games and the Tigers can't expect to beat the better teams on the schedule if Grantham is struggling that badly. Hopefully he got a lot of shots up over the last week off from games and will look more like the guy from the first three games of the season.
Meanwhile, Alabama comes in at 5-2 having played a better schedule than Clemson so far. They are lead by NBA veteran Avery Johnson in his first year as coach. The Tide have won three straight coming in, including wins over Wichita State and Notre Dame. Regardless of injuries to the Shockers and such, those are two much better wins than what Clemson can boast at this stage. The Tide are not a world beating team and they will likely be fighting for an NIT berth in the end like Clemson, but it is a team Clemson simply has to beat on its "home" floor if any real hope of postseason play is to be entertained. If nothing else, the Tiger fans need a reason to think that the Gamecocks can be beaten when they come to town.
Can the Tigers play the kind of defense we are used to seeing against a team who likes to run and score? Can the recent uptick in perimeter shooting (Grantham notwithstanding) be a sign of improvement rather than a flash in the pan? These are key questions looking to be answered on Sunday.
Ryan's Q&A highlighted some of the guys to look out for from Alabama. 6'8" senior Shannon Hale is the veteran alpha dog on the team. He was huge in their wins over Notre Dame and Wichita State, while he was limited in the losses to Xavier and Dayton. I think it doesn't take a genius to see that keeping Hale controlled is a big factor to beating the Tide. The Tide have 9 guys averaging double digit minutes, so they have some depth and use it. Clemson has four guys logging at least 30 minutes a night. It isn't surprising that Clemson's depth is a bit of an issue considering two scholarship guys are having to sit for transfer and Ajukwa left right before the year got going. I would expect Alabama to try to push the pace and get into Clemson's legs hoping to pull it out down the stretch. It will be important for Clemson not to get sucked into the "fools gold" of a high possession game like they did at Minnesota.
Football has been awesome, and the break between the ACC championship and the bowl game is an excellent opportunity for the basketball team to gain some traction with the fans. This is a televised game against a power 5 team at "home" and a great chance to get some folks turned on to Tiger hoops. Basketball has always been second fiddle at Clemson, but the Tiger fans have shown they will support a team if it shows some strength. There are many doubters out there (looking at you, "IHateUSC") who need to see something from this team that might give some hope of making some noise in the ACC. If nothing else, give some hope that we can beat Frank Martin's team!