When: Friday, 3pm
Where: Littlejohn Coliseum
TV: ACC Network East
Well, well, well, here are the Tigers at 10-1 and into KenPom’s top 25 (and on the fringe of the AP poll). I know I speak for all Tiger fans when I say it is always sweet to slap a loss onto USCjr in any sport, but especially one so recently declared “theirs” at the end of 2016-2017. The Tigers held up inside which allowed its vastly superior guard play to dominate the Gamecocks. Now Clemson has just one more non-conference game to go before diving into the ACC, where no team is really looking that invincible with Duke recently losing to BC and UNC falling hard to my Wofford Terriers on Wednesday night!
A top eight ACC finish is certainly a realistic goal for this team now, and that would end the NCAA tournament drought and solidify Brad Brownell’s status as the coach going forward.
Louisiana Lafayette is inside KenPom’s top 100 (entering at 98), and they are on a seven-game win streak. While their schedule hasn’t been daunting, they have a neutral court win over Iowa to their credit. Clemson can’t expect to just show up, go through the motions, and win this game. Wofford’s wins over GT and UNC should be a further reminder that a hungry mid-major with enough good players can embarrass you if you don’t focus. The Terriers were ranked 167th in KenPom’s rankings going into last night’s game in Chapel Hill. Nobody should know these dangers better than Brad Brownell, who has had several teams fall victim to mid-major teams during his tenure at Clemson. The foot has to stay on the gas because the positive momentum the team has going can carry it to a much better season than many, including myself, anticipated.
What can you say about Marcquise Reed? The man has simply played like an All-ACC 2 guard in recent weeks. It has been a long time since we’ve seen perimeter play at this level in Tigertown. His offensive rating is up to 117.6 and he offers 3-point shooting (40%), slashing ability, and tremendous free throw shooting (82.5%). He certainly has zero fear and offers the type of alpha-dog offensive player you have to have to finish out games and end of shot clock situations.
The chemistry of the team has been much stronger this season as well. This is best seen on nights or stretches when Eli Thomas or Donte Grantham are not big factors offensively because both guys are still getting after it on the glass and on defense. We’ve certainly seen other Clemson teams fall victim to guys trying to get theirs or checking out if they aren’t getting shots. This team seems content to let whoever has got it going roll with it, be it Reed, Thomas, Grantham, Mitchell, or DeVoe.
David Skara has shown some of that defensive prowess we heard about now that he’s back in the mix. He had a very impressive block in a one-on-one situation vs. a USCjr guard. Hopefully he can offer an option on some of the stronger offensive wings in the league who have often sunk the Tigers in close games the last couple of seasons.
Keep an eye on leading scorers JaKeenan Grant and Frank Bartley for the Cajuns. Clemson played tremendous defense last time out, but the energy in the building is likely not going to be the same this close to Christmas and the students on break. Hopefully the maturity of the team won’t allow for any slips in effort and intensity. Surely the team must know all their goals are in front of them and understand from last year how quickly things can circle the drain when you lose your edge.