STS: Virginia basketball has emerged over the past half decade, and to some extent their success is a blueprint for how Clemson can find sustained success in their "second sport." A low-tempo team that develops players for multiple years and wins with grueling defense and efficient offense. Is there a secret sauce I'm forgetting or is this a reasonable assessment that Clemson fans can tack up on the board as a goal for our program?
STL: That seems to be the way to most reliably build success, but it takes patience. The two avenues for a mid-tier program to rise are to either play the way you've described and the way Virginia has embraced, or to go completely the other direction. Programs like Arkansas under Nolan Richardson or Loyola Marymount under Paul Westhead rose to prominence with teams that played at a breakneck speed. The best modern example of that is probably Shaka Smart at VCU, a program we Cavaliers have gotten to know quite well the past few years.
The 40-minutes-of-hell blueprint leads to more immediate success, as you can attract transfers or under-recruited athletes who want to play exciting basketball, but I think the Virginia model is more sustainable.Bo Ryan built a powerhouse with it, and Mike Krzyzewski built Duke on that same foundation. Both found their highest level of success once they were able to add top talent that allowed them to push tempo a bit more, but both started with very deliberate styles at both ends of the court.
STS: John Paul Jones arena opened for the 2006-07 season. How much has this been a factor in the rise of UVA basketball? Clemson opens their (essentially) new arena next season. How much of a boost can it be expected to give to a middle-of-the-road program?
STL: It's been huge, but mostly for reasons you don't see on gameday. The facilities from the practice gyms to the weight rooms and athletic training areas are apparently on par with many NBA arenas. When recruits come in to find out more about the program, they're seeing all those things and knowing Virginia has made a major commitment to basketball. The design of the arena lets the entire place feed off the energy of the student section, and the sight lines are terrific: even up in the nosebleeds, there isn't a bad seat in the house.
That's made Virginia games a red-letter event, even for casual basketball fans or locals with only tenuous connections to the University. I hope Clemson gets to experience the same kind of gameday atmosphere, both just fan-to-fan and for the good of the ACC.
STS: When these team's last met, Clemson's Avry Holmes struggled to the tune of 0-6 three-point shooting and only four points while his counterpart Malcolm Brogdon finished with 20 points. Holmes has been playing better lately, playing great defense against Cat Barber in Raleigh. Is keeping Brogdon in check the key for the Tigers? If not, what do you see as the X-factor that could lead to an upset?
STL: Brogdon has to be the focal point because a lot of the rest of the guys feed off of him. Case in point: Brogdon helped get Devon Hall involved early against North Carolina, and when Hall hit his first few threes it gave the Heels another perimeter concern and helped free up Brogdon for the rest of the game.
Beyond Brogdon, though, there are three or four guys who could go off. Hall is definitely one, but London Perrantes and Anthony Gill are the two most important. If Virginia gets three or more guys in double figures, then the offense has been balanced enough to likely pull out a win.
At the other end, Clemson has to hit its threes. The Pack Line defense leaves three-point shooters more open than other systems and dares teams to hit the lower percentage shot. When teams have beaten Virginia, they've had more than one guy go off from deep. Whether it's Holmes or Blossomgame, someone has to step into that role for Clemson to get the W.
STS: While we've got you on our site, I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you about Virginia football's interesting Bronco Mendenhall hire. What has the reaction to the hire been like and what's your assessment?
STL: I love it, and I don't think I'm alone in feeling that way. The way Mendenhall has talked about his approach sounds like Bennett's early days: will over skill, doing each step the right way before building on it with the next. He's brought instant accountability to the program in a way the previous staff didn't. For instance, the team has been working out in all black gear without the V-Sabres logo anywhere, because they have to earn the right to wear the logo. If one of them screws up a drill, they have to do 350 burpees in sets of 25; if they screw up again, their entire position group does 350 burpees. And the coaching staff seems to genuinely love working with one another. The videos from inside the McCue Center on National Signing Day were hysterical, and they've all gone out and really engaged with the community. I bought two season tickets for the first time in a few seasons, and I can't wait for September.
STS: UVA is undefeated at home this season, but has six road losses including Ls to George Washington, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and Florida State - the latter three which Clemson also lost to on the road. KenPom gives the Tigers a 32% chance to win. Do you think that percentage is too high, too low, or just right?
STL: I'd say that's about right. No question Virginia has been a different team on the road than at home. But the serious road woes in mid-season seem to be behind them. The miracle comeback at Wake Forest really turned things around, as they went out and thumped a good Louisville team and a solid Pitt squad on the road in the last month. I think the guys can see their goal back within their grasp and are going to come out focused and ready to win.
Clemson definitely has a shot and poses some matchup problems, but I'm expecting a high quality effort that builds on the momentum of the big win over North Carolina.