When: Saturday, 3pm
Things could not have gone more terribly for the Clemson basketball team since COVID-19 forced them into a hiatus in the midst of a winning streak. It appears the virus attacked the team’s ability to defend as much as anything else, as UVA and GT combined for 31-53 from the 3 point line in two blowout wins over the Tigers. There isn’t much time to lick the wounds and figure things out, because trips to Tallahassee have been brutal for the Tigers in recent years, and FSU has been one of the most dominant home teams in the nation over the last four years. The Seminoles recovered very well after losing the first meeting to Clemson back on December 29th, winning the last three games in pretty convincing fashion. The Noles absolutely destroyed NCSU, dropping 105 on the Pack, handled UNC, then recently notched a very impressive double digit road win at Louisville. All of this is very ominous for the Tigers considering how poorly they have been playing as of late. However, this is usually the time we see Brad Brownell teams pull rabbits out of the hat, so who knows?
As true as it might be, I wasn’t a fan of Brownell’s statement about how Clemson lacks talent compared to most ACC teams in the wake of the UVA loss. The team exuded a sense of confidence before the hiatus that we have rarely seen these last 11 years or so. That was a major reason the team was able to overcome halftime deficits to defeat NCSU, Miami, and Florida State. There has to be a real sense of doubt at this point, but this team does have a formula for success and the guys that can pull it off as we have seen multiple times this season. The staff has to help the team rediscover that confidence and moxie before the wheels come completely off against this unforgiving ACC schedule. It all starts with getting back to relentless defense that takes the opponents out of any rhythm. The Tigers have shown they can handle teams with firepower like Alabama and Maryland, and it isn’t like UVA and GT are that much better than those teams offensively. It takes a lot more effort and cohesion than what we’ve been seeing lately. Pressure man to man defense can be exposed badly when those things are not in order, sort of like blitzing defenses in football can be exposed badly if they don’t get to the quarterback effectively.
Florida State is still the big, long, athletic, and deep squad they were in December when the Tigers held them to just 9-32 from 3 point range with 17 turnovers. Clemson has to be disruptive and not allow the Noles to work them over in transition or find a rhythm in the half court. If there was a silver lining to the GT game, it was that Clemson shot the ball significantly better than against UVA. Unfortunately, the bad defense coupled with very poor ball handling and decision making (20 turnovers) was way too much to overcome. John Newman finally looked more like the guy we have been hoping to see all season, and Clyde Trapp has been the most consistent guy over the last two games, putting up offensive ratings above 120 both times. Al-Amir Dawes and Nick Honor have to get back to playing up to their capabilities. Dawes in particular has been very poor the last two games, posting offensive ratings of 11 and 55. You can’t have that from your point guard and hope to win games in the ACC. Honor has been much better and might warrant the starting nod as a result.
This was about the time the Tigers came out of nowhere to beat teams like UNC, Louisville, and FSU last season when there was little hope they could do any of that. Tiger fans can only hope a similar rise from the ashes can occur. The Tigers still have a good resume and can still finish in the top 6-7 of the league, which would have to be considered a successful season, but a losing streak, especially one where you haven’t been competitive, can potentially lead to a bunch of losses. It is probably too much to think Clemson can really win this game, but if we can see the fight, grit, and defensive effort that was so impressive in that 9-1 start, there can be hope the team can rebound for games against Boston College and Duke who have had their struggles as well. It would be a real shame to blow an opportunity in a season where Duke and UNC find themselves unranked heading towards February.
I could get into FSU’s top players and such, but I really think it is more about Clemson at this point than the opponent. The number one goal here has got to be finding that defensive mojo and making the Seminoles claw for a win as opposed to the 3 pointer and dunk/layup barrages we have witnessed the last two games. There is little hope this promising season doesn’t fizzle out if that doesn’t happen soon.