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Hoops Preview: Clemson vs. Louisville

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Things only get harder for the reeling Tigers

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Where: Louisville, Kentucky (KFC Yum Center)
When: Thursday, 9pm
TV: ESPN

Times are getting a bit desperate for the hoops team who have had a disaster of a January so far. The ACC is an unforgiving gauntlet this season, perhaps as bad as it has ever been, and though the Tigers have done a lot of good things, perhaps better than at any point during Brownell’s time, the results haven’t come with them. Now the Tigers have to take on another top 25 foe on the road while desperate to break the four game losing streak that began with the gut wrenching O.T. loss to UNC. How large those missed free throws loom now!

If there is a bright side to this match up, it is that Louisville is not a polished product on the offensive end. The Cardinals can certainly go through stretches of bricklaying and can be had in a half court game. That said, they are very tough defensively and have some excellent wins to show for their grit, including wins over Kentucky, Purdue, Duke, and Indiana. Can the Clemson guards hold up under the pressure and protect the basketball? Can the Tiger post players hold up on the glass? Better yet, will Donte Grantham finally put a good game together? Clemson needs something good to happen before a promising season goes for naught.

The Cardinals boast KenPom’s #1 adjusted efficiency defense. Clemson has proven it can score the basketball and just put up 70 on the vaunted Cavalier defense. Clemson’s problem this year is on the defensive side where teams are routinely putting up over 45% shooting nights on the Tigers. To make matters worse, the Tigers are giving up way too many offensive rebounds. The Cardinals are great at blocking shots (KenPom’s #2 unit) and hit the glass hard, so the front court of Djitte, Thomas, and Blossomgame have to hold up inside.

This team is so close to being good, but it just hasn’t been able to tough out some of the close games against tough teams. The GT game was a mistake the team just couldn’t afford amid a terrifying stretch of opponents. Only an upset win in a game like this can make up for dropping that one. The Tigers were able to knock off the Cardinals last year in Greenville, mostly by living at the free throw line (a whopping 44 attempts!), and will likely need those whistles (along with making FT’s, obviously) to make it happen again. The chances are not great as KenPom gives the team just a 22% chance to win (the lowest projection on the schedule at present). The X factor is Donte Grantham who has put up sub 100 offensive efficiency numbers in 4 of the last 7 contests. It is hard not to be disappointed in Grantham’s progress in his third year. He certainly hasn’t performed up to his top 100 billing coming into Clemson and is becoming a bit of a Milton Jennings: a guy who can get hot from time to time and look great but largely vanishes when the jumper isn’t falling. The Tigers simply have to have all the pistons firing in games of this magnitude. Brad Brownell has very little choice but to ride Grantham because of the need for Blossomgame to play the four. The team just can’t rebound well enough to go small with DeVoe at the 3 for any length of time. It’s sink or swim with Donte and he is overdue to start swimming.