When: Saturday at 2pm
Where: The Well in Greenville
TV: ACC Network
Well, I know everyone is as shocked as I am about the resurgence of the Tiger basketball team since getting embarrassed by the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens. Since then, the Tigers have gone 4-1 in ACC play including the first back to back wins versus top 25 teams since the Dale Davis/Elden Campbell squad. Now another top 25 team awaits the Tigers in the Miami Hurricanes. Can the Tigers continue to shock the basketball world?
I mentioned in my Louisville preview how the Tigers have really turned the corner in terms of ball movement and defensive cohesion. Sometimes it takes a while for something to click, but now the team has clicked, knows what it wants to do, and knows who it wants to do it with. Brownell has settled on a seven man rotation and the roles have been clearly defined. No doubt the team is brimming with confidence that it can play with anybody after the last four games. The mental toughness has increased a great deal as evidenced how the team withstood the very good shooting from Duke early on and a double digit lead. Those runs in the non conference portion spelled disaster.
Miami: I always sing the praises of Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga who has done a phenomenal job with this program since taking it over. This isn't a program steeped in tradition and is a football school in the eyes of the nation (sound familiar?), yet Larranaga has already won an ACC title and tournament, the latter being something Clemson has never done. It was a home run hire by the Canes and they will be a tough out on Saturday. The Hurricanes enter this game coming off a tough loss at UVA but ranked in the top 10 and sporting a 13-2 record. They have four guys averaging double figures led by Sheldon McClellan at 16.1 points per game. Miami will likely show the Tigers a healthy mix of zone and man, hoping to keep the Tigers off balance. McClellan and Angel Rodriguez give the Hurricanes a pair of seniors who have been through the battles. Rodriguez is streaky as a shooter, much like Jordan Roper, and keeping him from going off will be very important. Last year, the Hurricanes really gave Clemson issues with big man Ivan Cruz Uceda stepping out and shooting 3's, which is his specialty, and big Tonye Jekiri owning the glass and paint with 17 rebounds and 5 blocks. Landry Nnoko and Sidy Djitte are going to have to match up inside and be able to step out and keep Uceda from going off.
Clemson and Miami games since Brownell and Larranaga took over have been slugfest grinds every time. Usually the first team to 60 will prevail. Things are more open this year with the new rules and shot clock, but I still expect this game to come down to toughness in the half court and taking advantage of the times you get a good look. The Tigers have used the free throw line as a weapon the last couple of games (shocking!) and being efficient there will be vital to success in this game. Clemson has already surpassed my hopes for this brutal stretch of games against top 25 league foes with Louisville and Duke wins, so it is all gravy at this point. Of course, bringing postseason possibilities into the picture requires the Tigers getting to double digit league wins, and protecting the "home" court has always been at the forefront of past Tiger NCAA squads. But, I'll give the team a lot of credit, they have dared to dream and I guess we can too.