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Hoops Preview: Clemson hosts NCST

“Are we there yet?”

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

When: Wed. 8pm

Where: Littlejohn

TV: ACCN (check local listings for your provider)

I reach out to those of you who are suffering through this mess of a basketball season with me and others who are gluttons for punishment. It is almost over! The Tigers get to finish against the other cellar dwellers in the league while lamenting the bevy of blown opportunities to cement an NCAA tournament bid in a year when doing so was about as easy as it has ever been. Now the ACC is loaded as we know, but simply producing 7 or 8 conference wins is likely going to be enough to get an ACC team in the field this year. Of course, Clemson sits at 4 wins with two to play, so only winning those two and an ACC title game appearance (and likely a victory there) would get this team in now. The only silver lining I can find on this team is that it continues to try to win and not roll over taking blowout losses the way NCST has mostly done down the stretch. The result has been a seemingly endless string of heartbreak. Of course, NCST is now in the market for a new coach and many Clemson fans are hoping the Tigers will be as well when this one is over. It will be very interesting to see how the Tigers play in a game where they (*gasp*) are really expected to win.

NCST has looked a lot like a Larry Shyatt era Clemson team this season. Their Ed Scott equivalent is super freshman Dennis Smith, Jr. who is a stud. They can score points in bunches but really, really struggle to defend. They, like Clemson, have found that defensive problems are very fatal in this league unless you have elite offensive prowess. The Pack are awkwardly finishing out the year with a lame duck coach, so if there was ever a time for the Tigers to find SOME kind of positive mojo, this is the game. Losing this game would be the most damning statement on Brownell of all, IMHO.

I can’t help but gaze over at a Virginia Tech program sitting at 10-7 in the ACC and scrapping, biting, and clawing out wins with a roster no more talented or deep than the one Clemson sports. The level of toughness the Hokies have is the X-factor this Tiger team just lacks. You can argue that it starts at the top with the coach, and it would be hard to disagree, but true toughness in teams has to come from the players. The Tigers had several chances to get a 2 or 3 possession lead on FSU last time out but repeatedly broke down on defense in the last five minutes of the game (see 2 made and one missed dunk by Ojo in a four possession span). The breakdown on the ball screen in Blacksburg was epic, not to mention the failure in the press offense before that or the atrocious inbounds attempt at the end. The team continues to go through crunch time with its best player not getting touches unless it is an offensive rebound. While Shelton Mitchell and Marquise Reed have shown great promise this season, these guys have also been the ones not producing enough in crunch time either offensively or defensively. Now Jaron Blossomgame’s senior season is looking a lot like the one Dale Davis had to suffer through in 1991. That team went 11-17 and just 2-12 in the ACC. That team lost to NCST by 4, UVA by 4, Wake by 5 in OT, SCjr by 5, and UNC by 8 in the ACC tourney.

Clemson, somehow, is still ranked 34th in KenPom’s rankings after never getting higher than 41st at any point last year. This is largely thanks to the strength of Clemson’s schedule and the lack of a “bad” loss. This is like being the dumbest kid in the smart class and getting some love for the overall average of the group. As a result, Clemson has a staggering 84% chance of victory against the Pack. If these players truly care about protecting their coach, we will know by the end of the night on Wednesday. Losing this game by any margin is a sure sign the team has been lost. My only wish at this point is for Clemson to ruin somebody’s ACC tourney the way the team has ruined my enjoyment of the college basketball season.