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Hoops Preview: Clemson versus Louisville

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What's that? A glimmer of sunlight coming from behind the cloud? Is hoops season not dead yet?

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

When: Sunday 12pm

Where: The Well in G-ville

TV: RSN

Clemson Nation is understandably gearing up for the huge football game on Monday night, but in the meantime, the Tiger hoops team has begun to rise from the ashes of what appeared to be a totally lost season.  In true Brad Brownell fashion, the team appears to have figured something out as the ACC slate has begun.  The Tigers put up a good fight in the house of horrors that is Chapel Hill and followed that up with two very solid wins against Florida State and Syracuse.  They have managed to avoid the devastating run by the opponent in these last few games and hopefully have found a formula they can win with.  They will need it because this is the murderer's row part of the schedule.  Louisville is their usual athletic and dangerous self and would easily be the best win of the year should the Tigers be able to pull it off.  At least the team has done enough to warrant watching them and not just finding something else to do to keep the mind off of them.

Before we get to matchups, I'll give my thoughts on what has helped change the fortunes of the team recently.  First of all, the use of the zone against Florida State (easily the most zone Clemson has played under Brownell) really helped offset FSU's advantage off the bounce at guard against Roper.  Let's face it, Roper is a limited defender who is small but we need him on the court as a shooter and playmaker.  Playing zone helps him be more effective.  Avry Holmes has proven to be a legit 3 point shooter this team has desperately needed.  The best news has been Landry Nnoko and Sidy Djitte providing some consistent post punch.  Djitte's improvement on offense has been remarkable and his confidence on that end is easy to see compared to the fish out of water feeling he gave the first two years.  His development has perhaps provided the spark needed to get Landry Nnoko playing the way we expected him to play coming out of the promising end on his sophomore season.  The football program is proof of how important having competition at positions is to getting guys to be their best.  Nnoko had little to fear from Djitte until now, but now he knows Djitte isn't a major liability on offense any longer.  Now, I'm certainly not proclaiming the team has arrived after two games but I am encouraged with the ball movement and effort on the glass we've seen recently.  There is enough talent here to be dangerous if they play hard and together.  Getting just one win in the next three games would be a very good thing considering the competition.

Louisville comes in once again in the top 25 sporting a 13-2 record and 2-0 in the ACC.  Those two losses?  Michigan State and Kentucky in close games.  So, yeah, they are good and have a hall of fame coach in Rick Pitino.  The recent NCAA investigation for recruiting violations has not seemed to bother the on court action for the Cardinals to this point.  Luckily Clemson gets this game in Greenville and has had an extra couple of days to get ready as Louisville just played NCST on Thursday night.  What you can expect is the usual mix of zone pressures and aggressive man to man defense from full court to half.  Clemson will have to take good care of the basketball first and foremost.  Thankfully Clemson has some veteran guards in Holmes and Roper who have played a lot of basketball.  My biggest concern are guys like Donte Grantham and the posts having turnover problems which has happened this year at times.

Louisville lacks what you might consider the marquise stud like Harrell was for them last year.  They make up for it with very good depth and the ability for different guys to step up and beat you on any given night.  They have ten guys averaging over 10 minutes a game and 8 over 15 minutes a game.  Their bench outscored NCST's by 30 points on Thursday night.  Clemson has really become a 7 man team with Landry Nnoko and Gabe DeVoe coming of the bench at post and guard respectively.  Everyone else is just a spot duty player at this point.  That is OK as long as guys can stay out of bad foul trouble, but getting into the Tiger bench has to be on the minds of opponents right now.

The Cardinals are led in scoring by Damion Lee at a healthy 17.3 points per game. Slowing him down will be important, but as mentioned before, Louisville really has 8 guys who could go for 15 points or better on you on any given night.  The Cardinals are shooting the three at 38% as a team, not too shabby, and are at 50% from the floor as a team, which is very, very good.  Clemson will need to not allow them to get into any kind of a rhythm the way they allowed UMass and Minnesota to do earlier in the year or it will be a long night.  Both teams rebound the ball about the same.  Clemson's ability to get some extra possessions with offensive boards really helped save the day against Syracuse.  That will need to happen again in this one because Clemson cannot match Louisville shot for shot most likely.

In the end, this Louisville team is a little under the radar compared to UNC and Duke, but they are similar to the 2013-14 Pittsburgh team which shredded the Tigers in a home game that year:  tough on defense, efficient on offense, and possess multiple quality players.  Winning against this group would be plenty enough to give the Tiger fans hope of being relevant in the ACC this season.