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Clemson Basketball Preview: Tigers Travel to Tallahassee

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“I’m averting my eyes, Lord!”

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Clemson Dawson Powers-USA TODAY Sports

When: Tuesday, 7pm
Where: Tallahassee, Florida
TV: RSN (if you get it)

“The beatings will continue until morale improves!” I find myself thinking of that infamous line as the Tigers’ basketball season is doing a pretty good impersonation of the Titanic. There was a moment in January where you felt this team was going to do the routine Brownell-era high wire act of hanging around NCAA tournament consideration until the end, but injuries and suspensions have only hastened the team’s decent into inconsequence.

I agree with Brownell that the team is fighting and playing hard, but Tommy West’s football teams fought and played hard consistently also. The common factor has been an overall talent deficiency in the most vital areas.

I finally heard Brownell mention needing to “address in recruiting” in his post game presser from the recent Notre Dame loss. If you have read much of my work on this site, you know I have bemoaned this a good bit. The Tigers were pretty helpless in trying to defend Notre Dame without Hunter Tyson and David Collins, easily two of the top four defenders on the roster and two above average rebounders. I will say that Brownell has made a concerted effort to elevate the Clemson offensive output, but unfortunately that has led to having a roster of smaller guards who struggle to hold up consistently at this level. Nick Honor has shown why he was a mid-major recruit. While he is certainly capable of putting some strong games together, he cannot do so consistently vs. the bigger, stronger, and more athletic guards he sees night in and night out in the ACC. I’ve been a big Alex Hemenway fan and he is a player that you need, but he also is dependent on playmakers around him to cover for some of his shortcomings. Al Amir Dawes was a ferocious rim attacker two years ago despite being relatively small, but he has become almost entirely a catch and shoot three-point specialist.

The Brownell era has produced strong frontcourt play but the guard play has consistently held this program down. He couldn’t replace Demontez Stitt and Andre Young until he finally got transfer help with Marquise Reed and Shelton Mitchell. Last year’s team made the NCAA tournament but couldn’t advance largely because of being outclassed at guard by Rutgers. Chase Hunter belongs at this level and we can all see that now, but this program has got to put two or three of those guys together on one team to compliment the Aamir Simms/PJ Hall type talents inside. That isn’t going to happen this season so in previewing this upcoming game, I’ll also discuss what I hope to see (through the lens of not making a coaching change after the season).

Clemson’s last win was against these Florida State Seminoles. FSU has been sitting right with Clemson on the struggle bus the last three weeks. The Seminoles are in the midst of a six game losing streak, including getting absolutely hammered by North Carolina on Saturday. I guess Leonard Hamilton’s magic has finally worn off a bit, though FSU still sports elite size and athleticism on its roster. They are really struggling offensively and that has put too much pressure on their defense. Thankfully Clemson has David Collins back and Ian Shieffelin has stepped up his game since Hunter Tyson’s injury. The Tigers don’t have a stretch-4 without Tyson, but he only played nine minutes in their win over FSU two weeks ago.

I’d like to see Ben Middlebrooks get a little more action now that the season is largely decided. I understood his not playing against Notre Dame’s attack, but this Florida State team suits him better. Since the third signee, Josh Beadle, is redshirting, it is important that the other two can gain experience to step into larger roles next season. There is a chance the COVID year brings one or two of the current seniors back, but unless the staff knows that is going to happen already, it makes sense to get the next guys ready. Shieffelin is clearly getting that experience now but Middlebrooks could use a little as well.

Naz Bohannon’s game is pretty good for facing a defensive style like FSU’s. We saw him be effective against the frenetic pressure from West Virginia, and Bohannon put up a strong 148 offensive rating in the first outing with FSU. The Seminoles are going to play pressure-man defense which forces you to make plays off the dribble. They recruit tons of size and length to protect the rim behind that pressure. Bohannon’s ability to handle the ball and be an effective passer is essential against that style.

PJ Hall has been superman for this team despite a nagging foot injury which limits his practice. Simply put, Hall has to be putting up 15-25 points a night to give this team a chance. There is no quit in that guy and you feel badly that he hasn’t had enough help around him. It isn’t as bad as Dale Davis’s senior season when he was about all the Tigers had, but it feels a little like that. Chase Hunter is producing pretty consistently and is the best on the team at getting Hall the ball in good spots, but Dawes has to get it going and be that third puncher.

These are two struggling teams who have been playing bottom 3 ACC basketball the last 3 weeks. You wonder about Florida State’s mindset considering they have been used to being in the NCAA tournament the last four or five years. They certainly looked checked out against UNC, but I always worry about playing a team after they get embarrassed. The first ten minutes of this game will tell us a lot. If the Tigers can stay in the game or even put a lead together, the ‘Noles might implode.

Although last year’s team made the NCAA tournament, the back end of that season did not go well from the back stretch, through the ACC tournament, and the loss to Rutgers. The Tigers have two fairly winnable games against recent powers having down years, but then the ACC’s Cinderella story Wake Forest looms.