Clemson entered this basketball season with much more hype than usual. With a veteran squad, expectations are elevated and in one game against Big South Conference competition, they met expectations.
PJ Hall scored five of the Tigers’ first 7 points to build a 7-0 lead. Clemson would hold the lead for the entirety of the game going into halftime up by nine points. They held a 12-point lead at one point in the first half, but some sloppy fouls put Winthrop in the bonus and allowed them to linger around striking distance. The Tigers were sharper in the second half, and pulled away for an eventual 22-point victory, 78-56.
Clemson passed the ball extremely well, accumulating 21 assists compared to just 6 assists for the Eagles from Rock Hill, SC. Joe Girard looked like more of a playmaker than I expected. He took only five shots, but led all players with 4 assists. As Jay Ingles laid out in his backcourt preview, Girard is a good enough distributor to take some of the pressure off starting point guard Chase Hunter.
Josh Beadle, who was in a car accident that caused a broken nose and concussion, but took the court against Winthrop even if for only 4 minutes. He wore a mask and didn’t score, but it was good to see him on the court.
Brothers Chase and Dillon Hunter were mostly quiet. Chase had 10 points and 2 assists on just 2-8 shooting while Dillon did not score. Alex Hemenway had 9 points on three 3-pointers and Chauncey Wiggins had just 2 points. The guards/wings in general did not have an especially great night.
It was the front court that absolutely dominated. While some may wonder if their strong play was merely a product of over-matched competition, that didn’t seem to be the case. Winthrop started a 6-10 270lbs senior at center, Alex Timmerman, who provided a legitimate post-presence. It truly appeared that Clemson’s bigs have taken major strides since last season.
There’s been a lot of talk about PJ Hall finally being healthy and taking his game to a new level. The improvement was evident. His defense — particularly his ball denial in the post — was much better. He had much more quickness with and without the ball. He was 8-15 for 20 points in just 20 minutes of action. He is not a prolific rebounder, he had just 5, but provided a great all-around game. He seems poised to live up to the billing of being a preseason All-ACC selection.
Ian Schieffelin returns as the starting PF and looked more athletic than he did a year ago. With Hunter Tyson gone, Schieffelin may be Clemson’s best rebounder. He led all Tigers with 7 rebounds. He knocked down two 3-pointers and scored 16 points on just 8 field goal attempts (5-8 plus 4-4 from the FT line). His maturation, when paired with Hall’s improved play, gives Clemson a truly top-flight pair in the post.
RJ Godfrey played 18 minutes off the bench and tallied 12 points and 5 rebounds. Despite standing at 6-foot-8, he looks more muscular and athletic than long and lanky. It seems he could be playing tight end on the football team. He is physical in the post, sometimes to a fault. He collected three personal fouls. Still, he will be a valuable asset off the bench and a real threat in the post on both sides of the ball. Like Schieffelin, he is a big strong post-player who can also knock it down shots from the outside, making him a hard-to-defend weapon.
Hall, Schieffelin, and Godfrey combined for 48 of Clemson’s 78 points (62%). There will be other games where Joseph Girard or Chase Hunter put up big numbers and take the limelight, but this one was all about the guys in the paint.
Winthrop entered ranked 116th in KenPom. Obviously, preseason rankings are quite tenuous (they already dropped to 180 and Clemson jumped to 44), but this is a far better win than some of the soft competition Clemson was tallying wins against last season like USC Upstate and Cal. It’s always good to get a win, but this was particularly encouraging because they looked like a team that deserved all offseason hype they got.
Breakout teams!— Heat Check CBB (@HeatCheckCBB) November 5, 2023
Here are the squads our staff is buying stock in this season. pic.twitter.com/3aayfYrqm9
Now the competition stiffens as they head to Asheville for a early-season tournament. They’ll face UAB on Friday and then either Maryland or Davidson on Sunday. UAB is currently ranked inside KenPom’s top 100 and Maryland in their top 25. We’ll know a lot more about this team after the weekend, but what we’ve seen so far is encouraging.