When: Thursday, 11 a.m.
The Tigers were able to usher in the new Littlejohn with a nice victory over Georgia. Clemson played well considering the absence of Sheldon Mitchell and the foul trouble inside for Djitte and Robertin. Marcquise Reed made his presence felt with much needed shot making and helped take the pressure off Jaron Blossomgame who was having to play a good bit of five man. Now another challenge awaits at a neutral court against a very quality Davidson program. This Wildcat team is not as big and strong as the Bulldogs but are highly skilled and well coached on offense. Bob McKillop is easily one of the best offensive coaches (and overall coaches) in the nation and they will not be easy to beat. The Tigers will need to be on point defensively and not try to get into a shooting contest with the Wildcats.
Davidson’s best player SHOULD be senior Jack Gibbs who has drawn some comparisons to Steph Curry for his fearless shot making and scoring ability. He did not play in Davidson’s first game against App State and I have not been able to find out why. There has been no mention of an injury or suspension from my searches on the internet, and even Davidson’s own webpage has no mention of why Gibbs did not play. He will be a huge key should he suit up against Clemson. Otherwise, the focus will shift to junior wing/forward Peyton Aldridge who is coming off a 31 point, 7 rebound outing against the Mountaineers. Make no mistake, the Wildcats can flat score the basketball in a variety of ways. I expect Clemson to try to control the pace of play, but rebounding is going to be at a premium because giving a team like Davidson extra cracks on offense is just asking to get beat. Djitte has got to be able to play more minutes which means staying out of early foul trouble. Clemson can control the glass and defend the paint at a much higher level when he is on the floor. Going small against UGA was OK at times but Davidson can match the small lineup much more effectively.
Clemson was able to pound Davidson the last time the two met during K.J. McDaniels’ last season. That Tiger team was a bear on defense with Rod Hall and Demarcus Harrison on the perimeter and the aforementioned McDaniels who was spectacular as a help defender. That game featured a rare hot night from the perimeter for Clemson as well. I would not expect as easy an outing in this game, especially with the Tigers short handed. Gibbs is the X factor for sure because if he plays, the Wildcats are much more dangerous and will force Avry Holmes to work a lot harder on the defensive end as well as run the team on offense. This game will definitely show where this team is defensively at this point in the season. Let’s hope it doesn’t go like the UMass debacle went last year.
On the flip side, Davidson is not as tough defensively which is not uncommon for a mid major program. Clemson will have a size and strength advantage on the interior and should parlay that into dominance on the backboards. Davidson also has to figure out how to handle Blossomgame, who is more than capable of taking a game over with his inside/outside ability and athleticism. Of course, we all know Clemson is much better when he is not having to do it all as Clemson lost his top scoring performances last year. As long as Reed, DeVoe, and Holmes continue what they started in game one, things should be fine on the offensive end. Grantham had a bad day from 3, but his length and versatility inside are crucial while Thomas awaits his eligibility. Grantham will likely draw Aldridge a good bit of the time defensively.
This is a good tournament for the Tigers and they should get at least two very quality win opportunities here. Can the Tigers perform away from home? Last year’s team really struggled in that regard, especially in the non conference. If this team is going to crack the NCAA tourney, I think a 2-1 trip to Orlando is a must. Obviously a 3-0 trip would do wonders for the resume but I’m not going to get ahead of myself there.