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Hoops Preview: Clemson takes on #22 Florida in Orange Bowl Classic

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Huge Litmus Test for the Tigers in December

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

When: Saturday, 4:30 pm

Where: Sunrise, Florida BB@T Center

TV: FS2

The Tigers enter this game having won four straight, including the impressive road win at Ohio State. There are reasons to be optimistic about this team, especially considering the 8-1 start has been accomplished without the use of David Skara, who by all accounts will be a heavy contributor as he comes eligible on Saturday. Of course, more skeptical fans will remember last year’s team starting strong before adding Eli Thomas to the mix only to fall apart in January. Clemson faces a very talented and explosive Florida Gator squad who has already broken 100 points four times this season, including a win against Gonzaga. Florida has lost three out of four, but two were against Duke and Florida State. The head scratcher was the loss to Loyola-Chicago who held the Gators to just 59 points. In fact, Florida’s scoring pace has gone down considerably since the FSU game which very well could have offered some teach tape on how to guard the Gators. One thing is certain: you have to limit Florida from the 3 point line.

In wins vs. Stanford and Gonzaga, the Gators shot the 3 at a staggering rate in route to scoring over 100 points each time. 15-22 vs. Stanford and 17-36 against Gonzaga to be exact. However, Florida State held the Gators to 7-23 from 3 point land in their victory and Florida has gone 6-34 from distance since. Florida did rebound with a victory against a ranked Cincinnati squad, but had to do so on the back of their defense as they struggled again from the floor. Clemson must force Florida off the 3 point line or bother them the way the last three teams have done to have a chance at winning. Clemson must guard the perimeter with the ferocity they did in the second half against Ohio State.

Florida has four players averaging double figure scoring, led by dynamic wing Jalen Hudson who is a stud. The Tigers must find a way to corral Hudson who usually sparks the barrages when the Gators get their shooting rolling. Chris Chiozza is averaging an impressive 6.1 assists per game and the Gators are one of the best teams at taking care of the ball, ranking 8th in turnover avoidance according to KenPom. Clemson has been more apt to play higher scoring games in the last two years with guys like Shelton Mitchell and Marcquise Reed adding punch to the guard position. This is a game, however, in which I do not recommend trying to get into a shootout. I recall the fateful UMass and Minnesota games a couple of years ago when the Tigers tried to trade baskets only to get blown out of the gym when they couldn’t keep up. Florida doesn’t like a grind nearly as much, so Clemson needs to dirty the game/pace up as much as it can.

Clemson’s only loss was to Temple, who likely will find a spot in the NCAA tourney at year’s end. Florida is another team that will be NCAA bound and will challenge for the SEC. This is not a game Clemson basketball wins, as a general rule. A victory here would be a HUGE step towards breaking the NCAA tournament drought. It will be a serious test of the Tiger defense and let fans know if the team really has grown in that area after a poor season last year. Games after a long break can be tricky, and the Tigers are coming off exams. One the one hand, they could appear very fresh and rested, but often times a break will interrupt the rhythm a team has established and lead to a rusty performance.

This is a top tier game, if you paid attention to the schedule preview we did as part of the preseason articles, and Clemson is hunting 3-4 wins among this group of games. The rugged ACC schedule is looming and the real contenders begin to emerge as folks get past the numerous cupcake games sprinkled into the non-conference. Is this a team Tiger fans can really rally behind and have some hope for? Saturday will go a long way to answer those questions. With the football team preparing for the playoffs and most of college football on hiatus, this is a great time for the team to capture more eyeballs and win some folks over...if it can perform. KenPom has Florida taking it 74-70.