When: Thursday, 7pm
Where: Littlejohn Coliseum
TV: RSN (check local listings)
The mind is a funny thing indeed. This year’s hoops team has been by far the most successful in the last decade, yet I’ve had a hard time fully buying in. I’m not sure why other than scars accumulated from previous basketball seasons ending with a thud. I had a lot of confidence during most of Purnell’s run, and I was a believer in the Barnes teams from now assistant Terrell McIntyre’s freshmen year through the end. This team has outperformed most of those squads 23 games into the schedule, yet I still find myself tepid about the upcoming home stretch. Now, much of this was stoked by the loss of Donte Grantham which I feared could cripple this promising season, but Gabe DeVoe has busted out of the phone booth with an S on his chest to save the day.
The Tigers should notch a fourth straight win with the ACC bottom feeder Pitt Panthers coming to town. Pitt is a very rare case of a conference gimmie this year. The once proud program has suffered from the departure of coach Jamie Dixon and current coach Kevin Stallings has a very young roster on his hands taking lumps this season.
Stallings is an interesting case, and he certainly was a bit of a head scratching hire for the Panthers. While Vanderbilt enjoyed some success during Stallings’ run there, his prickly personality had begun wearing folks thin. Thankfully this instability helped Clemson get the transfer of current starting point guard Shelton Mitchell. Stallings ignited a bit of a media stir after a Pitt loss to Louisville when he commented on Louisville paying 100,000 dollars for players. Despite all of this, Stallings is a respected offensive mind in the basketball world. His Vandy teams, at their best, featured a hybrid Princeton style attack which could be lethal from the three-point line as well as the patented back door cuts Pete Carril made famous at Princeton. Thankfully Pitt’s best talent now suits up for the UNC Tarheels in Cam Johnson and the Tigers are done with him for now. Clemson cannot allow Pitt to garner any hope of winning on Thursday night.
Clemson has been light years better in close contests this year compared to the previous two. One of the biggest advantages for Clemson is having a dynamic guard in Marcquise Reed. Reed has the requisite swagger of a late game closer, is undeterred by “off nights” shooting, and can get his own shot off the dribble or work off high ball screens. Clemson simply has not had a guy like that since Demontez Stitt (RIP). It isn’t a coincidence that Clemson’s last NCAA tournament team featured Stitt. Clemson also has excellent free throw shooters as primary ballhandlers, so the team can close out games from the line much more effectively than in many years prior. The aforementioned Gabe DeVoe is fresh off an ACC Player of the Week award thanks to torrid three-point shooting and some timely rebounds over that stretch. His incredible play has helped mitigate the damage from the loss of Donte Grantham.
Elijah Thomas has had a couple of rougher games offensively here lately, not to mention some terrible calls against him from the ACC officials. This is a game where Thomas can hopefully get himself going again as a low post scorer. The showdown with Duke is looming and Thomas will need to be at his best going up against Wendell Carter and Marvin Bagley, not to mention the athletic front Clemson faces with FSU in the game prior. We’ve seen Malik William enter the rotation as another big body down low. Clemson’s guards can play with anyone in the country on nearly any night, so the front line of the Tigers is going to ultimately determine how far this team can go.
This game is at home, where the Tigers remain unbeaten, and Pitt is ranked 208th in KenPom’s rankings (shockingly low for an ACC school). The Tigers should win this one going away and hopefully get guys like William and Spencer more minutes as both will probably be called on at some point to give the team some quality minutes. It is certainly nice to have meaningful basketball for Clemson here in February!