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Hoops Preview: Clemson at FSU

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Can the Tigers notch a GIANT road win?

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Where: Tallahassee
When: Sunday, 12:30
TV: ESPNU

The U.S.S. Brownell was taking some serious water in January with a long and painful losing streak at the start of ACC play. Major keynote victory opportunities were blown against UNC, Virginia, and Notre Dame with late game ineptitude. However, the team has now put together its best two defensive performances of the season against high major competition and are bailing water in an attempt to save the ship. The most difficult stretch of the schedule remaining awaits as the Tigers face a very, very talented FSU team on the road before hosting Syracuse and traveling to Duke. Going 1-2 is a must at this stage and just nabbing one more could be the feather in the cap to solidify an NCAA tourney bid provided the team hold serve down the stretch. I would have to say beating FSU is a more attainable goal than notching a very, very rare win in Durham. Therefore, it should be all hands on deck to try to knock of the Noles on Saturday!

Good news/Bad news: I’ll start with the bad news. FSU is long, athletic, and certainly more talented at nearly every position than the Tigers. Dwayne Bacon is a stud, freshman Jonathan Isaac has been an instant impact guy, and you almost forget about Xavier Rathan-Mayes who went crazy down the stretch of his freshman season topping 30 a couple of times. Gigantic Michael Ojo is back for what seems like a ninth year as well. The Noles had a two game skid facing zone-dominant teams GT and Syracuse before an impressive blasting of the Miami Hurricanes on the road last time out. This team went into Charlottesville and won, which puts it on a very short list of team to have done so the last three or four seasons. Clemson will have to play at the top of its game without a doubt.

As for the good news, FSU is still a very streaky perimeter shooting team. Their issues facing the Syracuse 2-3 and the GT 1-3-1 show they might just have an Achilles Heel. However, you can’t just throw a zone out there and expect it to work at this level if you don’t already at least play it some and practice it pretty often. Clemson has the 2-3 and the 1-3-1 in the playbook though still plays 75% man to man at least. My biggest concern is matching up with Rathan-Mayes off the bounce as well as Bacon. Avry Holmes can only take one guy which leaves Mitchell, DeVoe, Grantham, or Reed to handle the other guy. Whoever isn’t on Bacon of that group has to take Terrence Mann. Blossomgame will likely draw Isaac unless Isaac plays the 5, which he does at times. I expect FSU to go big with Ojo and Isaac together because, lets face it, you want to punish Clemson on the glass as so many teams have done this year.

As I noted before the UNC game, Clemson needs to be willing to play an ugly game with FSU. Early success in a more up tempo environment will be fools gold in the end, as it was with UNC, because the more talented squad will eventually rise to the top in that scenario 9 times out of 10. If FSU establishes a rhythm on offense at any point, Clemson will likely be doomed and may get blown out like it did at Louisville. Clemson needs to run selectively, shoot 3’s more wisely than it did down the stretch against GT, and allow Blossomgame to dominate the touches on offense. Getting Isaac or Bacon off the floor with fouls would be a huge plus for the Tigers. At the same time, Djitte and Thomas MUST avoid foul trouble because Clemson simply can’t expect to survive playing small against FSU’s size.

KenPom gives the Tigers a mere 26% chance of victory. It is hard to argue that considering how the Tigers have played most of 2017. However, winning and mindset are big deals and the last two wins have given the Tigers a much needed boost in the mojo department. Even if it goes poorly, we can rest on the fact that the football team went down there and won, then proceeded to win it all, so I’m still smiles.