When: Saturday, 3pm
Where: Littlejohn Coliseum
There is no time for weeping over the one point loss to NCST late Thursday night as Clemson now embarks on a very difficult stretch of games against ranked teams, nearly all of whom have dominated the Tigers in hoops during the Brownell era. We can only hope, as fans, that the officiating is improved over an embarrassing night at the office for the ACC crew in Raleigh. I’ve seen JV officials not blow calls as bad as a few of the calls blown last night, and though NCST played better overall and deserved to win the game, there should be a higher standard for what the executives out of Swoffordland tout as the best league in the country.
Clemson has to shake off what was a sloppy outing, especially in the first half when the team hit 9 turnovers before the 12 minute mark, and strap it up for a talented Miami team coming in at 13-2 and 2-1 in ACC play. If you have followed this site for a bit, you should know my issues with Brownell’s program not matching Miami or more recently VT. It is foolish to think Clemson can ever consistently challenge the UNC’s or Duke’s of the world because of the advantages they enjoy in tradition, support, etc., but the other “football schools” in the ACC should be teams Clemson can expect to compete with. Of course, Miami’s coach Jim Larranaga was one mentioned in the FBI sting and that can explain some of what has led to the Hurricanes to being much better than Clemson in the last five years. Since 2012-13, Miami has made 3 NCAA tournaments, 2 Sweet 16’s, and the NIT championship game. Clemson has made one NIT semifinal and one NIT first round appearance in that same span. If this season is truly going to be one that turns the tide of the Brownell regime, and I hope it is, besting Miami on your home floor AND finishing near or above the Hurricanes in the ACC standings is a big part of that process. This is probably the most important game of this five game gauntlet for that very reason.
Miami makes their living on defense, sporting the #5 ranked team in defensive efficiency in the country. The Hurricanes haven’t exactly played the most difficult schedule so far, which is why they come into Saturday at only #29 in KenPom’s rankings. Their best win by far was at home vs. Florida State their last time out. Clemson’s wins at Ohio State and vs. Florida are both more impressive, and beating Louisville was no small feat as the Cardinals just took down the Seminoles in Tallahassee. They are certainly not on NCST’s level as on offensive team mostly because they don’t shoot it as well (or have a former Turkish professional playing for them, shooting 3’s at 7 feet tall). Clemson should match up pretty well in this game provided guys like Reed and Mitchell perform up to their standard. The most intriguing matchup for me is Donte Grantham vs. Bruce Brown, Jr. Both are do it all type players who are the catalysts of success for each unit. Brown comes in at 11.8 ppg, 7.1 rebounds, and 4.1 assists. Grantham is currently at 14.7 ppg, 7.4 rebounds, and 2.3 assists. I predict the winning team will have a good (at least on average) night from one of these and the loser won’t.
The second thing to watch is the battle of the bigs inside between Eli Thomas and the big 6’11” Dewan Huell who leads the Canes in scoring at 13.9 ppg. Thankfully for Clemson, Huell is not the threat to step out and shoot that Yurtseven from NCST is, so he’s more comparable to one of Louisville’s bigs (who were a handful, but weren’t going to drop 29). Thomas staying out of foul trouble is always important, but it is even more so against a guy like Huell who probably dominates a matchup with Mark Donnal in the paint. He’s also much taller than Aamir Simms who would likely be the third option. Only Thomas can realistically be expected to deal with Huell one on one. Maybe this is a game Brownell uses the zone more. Georgia Tech, who dealt Miami their lone ACC loss, went almost entirely zone on the Hurricanes and held them to a mere 54 points. If Thomas is out, I’m zoning up for certain if Huell is in the game, personally.
This game will probably have a lot of the feel that the Louisville game did, which was a physical, grinding defensive battle. That game opened up a little in the second half, but nothing like some of the stuff we saw in Raleigh or in Boston. Hopefully Clemson can recover with the short turnaround (late Thursday game to mid afternoon Saturday game) and have juice in the legs for this one. Students are back in town so hopefully that will yield a rocking atmosphere in the ‘John. If Clemson can survive this stretch of games with a win or two, things will be looking very good for not only a bid to the NCAA tournament, but also a pretty good seed to go with it. Miami is not a great free throw shooting team, ranking just 329th in the nation according to KenPom, so the Tigers should enjoy a decided advantage at the stripe.
KenPom likes the Tigers by the score of 67-63, and I’ll take that with a big smile on my face should it transpire.