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Clemson Basketball Preview: Tigers host SC State

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The 2-0 Tigers look to build on their early season momentum.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Tournament-Miami-Florida at Clemson Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

When: Wednesday 6pm
Where: Littlejohn
TV: ACCN

The 2020-2021 season has gotten off to a great start for Coach Brad Brownell. The Tigers clinched the Space Coast Championship with a dominant win over a Purdue team who handled likely NCAA tournament-bound Liberty (who just punked U of SC, LOL) in the game prior. This year’s version of the Tigers features extreme pressure man-to-man defense extended to the full court, boosted by three high-level on ball defenders in Al-Amir Dawes, Chase Hunter, and Nick Honor. This has led to many more fast break opportunities for a program that has largely had to live in the half court during the Brownell era.

This isn’t the Oliver Purnell diamond press days of old, but it is pretty entertaining to watch. Essentially, Clemson is deploying something similar to what Leonard Hamilton has used to elevate Florida State from middle of the pack in the ACC to top-5 contender. What the Tigers lack in lottery pick power they make up for with sheer numbers of versatile players. It really is the pathway to success by Clemson’s basketball standards, and is what Purnell used to make Clemson a perennial NCAA tournament team in the last four years of his tenure. As long as this team stays healthy, a top-6 ACC finish is easily in the cards.

SC State comes in as one of the very few breather games on this year’s schedule. They are not good, and have already been blown out by Appalachian State and Bowling Green. They should be overwhelmed by the speed, pressure, and length the Tigers throw at them. This should provide Brownell a good chance to work with different lineup combinations and get young guys like Olivier-Maxence Prosper and Lynn Kidd some confidence-building minutes. John Newman can certainly use a shot of confidence after a rough couple of games in Florida as he rounds back into shape after a knee injury. Clemson needs Newman to get back to what we saw in the best stretch of 2019-20 when he was the best downhill player on the roster.

You wonder when the Tigers will roll star freshman PJ Hall and team leader Aamir Simms out there together. Right now Hall and Simms are rotating at the 5 position, with Hunter Tyson and Jonathan Baehre logging the majority of the minutes at the 4 spot. Baehre’s play against Purdue was particularly exciting, and in my eyes warrants a starting nod in this game. He is taller and longer than Tyson and is actually shooting the ball better to boot.

Clyde Trapp rebounded from a rough game against Mississippi State with a strong performance against Purdue. His explosive dunk over Purdue’s Yao Ming clone was a sign that his knee is back to 100%. Trapp doesn’t need to score much on this team, but if he can offer some of what Newman has provided in the slash/rim attack department while knocking a shot down here and there that will be plenty.

The Tigers saw almost entirely man defense in the first two games. You know that somebody is going to roll some zone out there eventually, and this game is probably one where we will see it. It will be interesting to see how this team attacks zone looks or if it causes the team to just pass the ball around the perimeter before chucking up a 3. You hope to see the Tigers attack the gaps and play inside/out to get the perimeter looks.

SC State is not very good defensively, and surrendered a whopping 71% from 2-point range to Appalachian State. They try to pressure and have created 19 or more turnovers in both games, but when they aren’t getting one, the opponent is finding some easy baskets. They also will fire up a lot of 3’s, as evidenced by their 33 attempts against Bowling Green.

Sometimes teams who pressure don’t like to be pressured, so it will be interesting to see how Clemson might react to a more aggressive approach. Brownell has the luxury of being able to play Dawes and Honor together against that type of defense.

This should be an easy 25-35 point win for the Tigers. SC State might find a way to hang around but Clemson’s depth will wear them down and lead to at least one backbreaking run. Clemson fans should hope to see increased confidence in some of the guys noted earlier in this. Teams are still feeling their way at this point of the season without the benefit of scrimmages and exhibitions. Defense, however, doesn’t get hot and cold and should not be an issue for this exciting version of the Clemson Tigers.

KenPom calls for Clemson to win 89-54, which sounds about right to me.

Clemson v Auburn Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images