This version of the Clemson Tigers men’s basketball team has yet to truly find itself. This is a strange development considering how much the team returned from last year’s Sweet 16 team. They seem to lack the juice of last year. That absence was palpable in the last outing vs. Radford. Radford is a very solid team and one capable of making the NCAA tournament this year, but the struggles the Tigers had in getting a lead and pulling that game out underscore a lot of what is missing with this year’s squad. Last year’s team personified the “Clemson Grit” philosophy, and even when the team had bumps in the road (like when Mitchell missed a couple of games and Grantham was lost for the season), that grit was always noticeable. It was a fun team to watch and get behind.
I just can’t figure this current one out, and I (along with many Clemson fans, I know) am wanting to get excited about it. The injuries have surely played a big factor in the up and down start for the team. Leading scorer Marcquise Reed continues to recover from a knee sprain, and top big man Elijah Thomas has had to round into shape following an injury of his own. It is hard to say what A.J. Oliver might have brought to this team had he stayed, but a guy who was recruited as a perimeter scoring threat never materialized and transferred out.
The Tigers are having to win games being bad at both three-point shooting and three-point defense. The Tigers are currently 280th in effective three-point shooting and 341st in effective three-point defense. Simply put, those numbers have to get better on both sides or this team is not going to make the NCAA tournament and might struggle to get to the NIT.
Elijah Thomas has been scoring inside at the best rate of his career, but foul trouble continues to plague him and most ACC teams have the bodies to throw at him inside if they don’t have to respect the perimeter. Even when Reed returns, the team desperately needs true freshmen John Newman and Hunter Tyson to grow up quickly and add some scoring pop off the bench. The starters are having to carry too much of the load at this juncture of the season.
Charleston Southern is the last breather game (even Lipscomb is ranked in KenPom’s top 100) before the Tigers face USCjr in Columbia and a brutal first three games in ACC play. The Buccaneers come into this game at 4-6 with no notable wins. Anything other than a 20+ point win would be yet another red flag. The frustration has been evident from Coach Brownell ever since the mediocre fan showing in the Nebraska game, but he should know better than anyone what the Clemson fans respond to in regards to basketball.
It should be noted that some of Brownell’s teams have looked worse than this in the early part of seasons yet became competitive once ACC play got going. There is enough talent on the roster to still get to where many felt this team could go, but that missing mojo has to be found. The team needs to find the fun, the grit, the tenacity that everyone who watches the program can latch onto.
KenPom has the Tigers winning 81-64. I’ll go with 68-50 tonight.