Clemson starts their appearance in the Charleston Classic Tournament today at 5pm vs. Ohio. So far the Tigers have handled two overmatched mid-major teams to begin the season 2-0, but Clemson fans should begin to get a much better idea about this year’s team from how they do in this tournament. This is a very winnable tournament considering the other power five team in the field is Auburn, currently mired in an NCAA and FBI investigation and down two suspended players. Their first opponent, Indiana State, blew out Indiana in Bloomington to start their season. Dayton has been a perennial NCAA tournament team, for the most part, since the days of Oliver Purnell coaching the Fliers. They are now led by ex-VCU and Alabama coach Anthony Grant and are coming off a 24 win season and a 7 seed in the NCAA tourney. They would probably be considered the favorite this week but barely got by Ball State in their first game and are beatable if Clemson plays like it can.
Ohio comes into game 1 at 1-0 having won its first game over Alabama A@M. This has been one of the stronger MAC programs over the last decade and both John Groce and Jim Christian were able to land power 5 jobs after successful stints at Ohio. The Bobcats last made the NCAA tourney in 2012 when they made the sweet 16 (which is something Clemson hasn’t accomplished since 1996). They reached 20 wins last year but lost 3 of their 4 top scorers off that team. Still, this is a better team than Western Carolina or North Carolina A@T and a neutral site game, though the Clemson support should be decent being in Charleston. Clemson should win this game but a poor outing could easily result in an upset loss.
Clemson will draw either Dayton or Hofstra in game 2. I would certainly anticipate Dayton winning and being the opponent should Clemson handle its business vs. Ohio. That is the game Clemson wants and needs, quite frankly, to notch a potentially decent RPI win going forward should Dayton win its customary 20 games or so this season. After that, the Tigers will see a team from the other side of the bracket (Auburn, Indiana State, Old Dominion, or Temple). Temple is probably the best of that bunch and would be the most desired opponent.
Clemson has a good history in the Charleston Classic having won the tournament under Oliver Purnell during the 07-08 season and making the finals with K.J. McDaniels’ junior season squad (probably Brownell’s second best team in his tenure). Clemson desperately needs to take this title because as we noted in the schedule analysis earlier on, the margin of error is pretty thin for this team to make the NCAA tournament. With games at Florida and Ohio State, plus the matchup with the Gamecocks looming, Clemson needs to win this thing.
Some encouraging things about the start so far: Donte Grantham has put two strong games together after struggling against Tennessee in the exhibition. He’s been around the rim a lot more after being mostly a perimeter guy the last couple of seasons, and that is where he should be. Grantham needs to force the opponents to play a true big on him defensively where he can then step out and use his guard skills to attack.
Gabe DeVoe seems to have lifted his game a notch, which should be the case for a senior with his experience. At his best, DeVoe is the best distributor on the team and can deliver perimeter 3 point shooting as well as some rebounding. Hopefully he can consistently do what he’s done so far and not be as hit and miss as in the past.
Aamir Simms has shown some real promise as a freshman and as has had to up his game with the suspension of David Skara. He can run the floor and finish and seems further along than Jaron Blossomgame was at the same point as a power forward.
Some troubling things about the start so far: Skara’s suspension had to be a shock to the staff considering it stemmed from something at Valpo over a year ago. It is always an issue when a top 7-8 rotation guy and potential starter isn’t available. Anthony Oliver has had a forgettable first few games. He comes with a shooter/scorer reputation but has struggled so far from the field starting just 1-6 overall. Shelton Mitchell has likewise had a rough start from the perimeter going just 1-5 on 3 pointers in two games. The team defense seems improved but had some leaky moments against A@T, so the jury is still out there.
Here are the Ken Pom rankings for the tournament participants:
Old Dominion 91
Indiana State 163
Ken Pom predicts a 79-69 win over Ohio today.