When: Saturday noon
TV: ACC Network
Don’t look now, folks, but the Clemson Tigers are in the top 25 and atop the ACC! Clemson has been very impressive after the loss to Temple and withstood a furious rally at Boston College behind ridiculous shooting by Jerome Robinson. Unlike last year, Clemson’s guards were able to finish the game at the FT line and not buckle under the pressure generated by the opponent’s run. The Tigers played at a very high level on both ends in the first half before being bothered by an odd front zone look for a bit. It is safe to say now that Clemson is a legitimate NCAA threat and will certainly challenge for a top 8 finish in the ACC. The rotation looks set and roles are clearly defined, which has sometimes been an issue during the Brownell regime.
Now usual heavyweight Louisville comes calling, but this time without Hall of Famer Rick Pitino at the helm after he fell victim to the Adidas/FBI scandal that rocked the NCAA boat like few things have ever done.
The Cardinals still boast some serious talent all that three stripe money and hookers helped lure (only a little kidding here). Guard Quentin Snider is back to run the show, and the Cards still sport a tough defensive front line behind shot blockers Anas Mamoud and Ray Spalding. The Cards are blocking 8 shots a game, which is impressive. Clemson usually enjoys the advantage on that front, but not in this case. Scott Padgett was given the reigns of the program as a former Pitino player and coaching disciple in hopes of maintaining what the Cardinals had going. He employs a lot of the same zone pressures we are used to seeing from Louisville. This is a very different matchup than the NCST and BC games where there wasn’t much to bother the interior efforts of Thomas and Grantham. Conversely, the Cards are not as explosive offensively as either NCST or BC, so the Tigers should have an easier time guarding the perimeter. Louisville is only 33% from deep so far (which is a number closer to what Clemson usually sports from out there). The Tigers are nearly 37% from 3, by far the best they have been in many years.
Louisville lacks a marquis win so far this year. They fell in high profile matchups with Purdue, Seton Hall, and rival Kentucky. They drew the worst team in the ACC in Pittsburgh to open league play. Still, I would consider this game a top tier game because of Louisville’s pedigree and remaining talent level. Clemson has already notched two top tier wins at Ohio State and Florida.
Much of the credit goes to senior Donte Grantham. I have been among his detractors and doubters over the last two seasons. I thought he was soft and lacked the mental toughness needed to tap into his potential. Well, Grantham hit the weights hard, changed his number, and has become a slightly lesser Harrison Barnes type player who is a matchup nightmare for most folks. Reed and Mitchell get more pundit love, but it has been Grantham’s Swiss Army Knife game at the heart of this season’s great start. He looks to dunk on guys, he blocks shots, he rebounds, and he can create for others. His shot selection has gotten much better and he is taking 3’s when he should 90% of the time now. I bet his NBA draft feedback after last year was sobering and credit to him for taking it to another level. Check this out:
Harrison Barnes 2011-12: 17.1 ppg; 5.2 Reb; 1.1 Ast; 1.1 Stl; 44% FG; 35.8% 3ptFG
Donte Grantham 2017-2018: 15.2 ppg; 7.1 Reb; 2.3 Ast; 0.8 Stl; 60.9% FG; 40.9% 3ptFG
Not too shabby for #32.
Now, the question remains how this team can handle its success. Teams like Louisville have at times overlooked previous Tiger squads, namely two years ago in Greenville, but that is not going to be the case now. Clemson will need to stay true to itself, which is allowing different guys to be “the guy” on any given night. I’m not sure who you really can key on defensively with this team, other than zoning up (which I suspect we will see more of going forward). The Tigers will need to be tough inside and hold up on the glass against the Cardinals athletic front line. Do that, and I feel the Tigers are superior offensively due to better balance inside and out. This could be a really fun winter for a change with this likeable group who shares the ball and plays really hard. With Colson going down for a bit for Notre Dame, the opportunity is there to rise if this team can seize it.