I was fortunate enough to team up with the guys at Shakin the Southland, Clemson's SB Nation affiliate, and talk about the upcoming game on Saturday. The Tigers look to pick up their first ACC win of the season, while the Panthers look for their second straight win in the league. The game Saturday will be a big one for Coach Jamie Dixon as he will be going for career win 300.
Ryan Kantor is the man answering the questions and he will shed some light on what Pitt is going up against on Saturday. I answered some questions for them as well, and be sure to take a look at them on their site.
1. Pitt is feeling the void left by Lamar Patterson in a big way this season, and I think Clemson can relate with KJ McDaniels moving on. How is Clemson doing with life after KJ? Has a new star player emerged?
Clemson has taken a dramatic step backwards since McDaniels declared early for the NBA draft - a decision that I still think was silly (his mother is now complaining about his NBA playing time while he plays with a one-year contract).
I don't think we fully understood how good he was and how much he meant to our team. Our defense played extremely well against Louisville - good enough to win if not for a 17-0 Cardinals run to start the second half - but overall has worsened in efficiency from a year ago (.95 vs. .97 points per possession allowed).
It's the offense that has taken a bigger step back though. Without a go-to guy, our offensive efficiency has dipped below a point per possession after averaging 1.06 last season. We were a bad three-point shooting team last season (31%), but now we're horrendous (28.3%).
I expected junior center Landry Nnoko and senior point guard Rod Hall to progress to the point of filling the void, but unfortunately they have both experienced declines in offensive efficiency (KenPom offensive rating).
On the bright side, my favorite player and fellow Atlantan, Jaron Blossomgame, has taken tremendous strides. After averaging 4.9ppg and 5.0rpg as a redshirt freshman a year ago, he's increased his production to 13.7ppg and 8.3rpg while pushing his offensive efficiency rating from a respectable 97.0 to an outstanding 108.1.
2. Brad Brownell is now in his 5th season at Clemson, and has not had much success; only one NCAA tournament appearance and a NIT berth to his credit. Is he feeling some pressure to win? Is he on the hot seat?
After reaching the NIT Final Four and falling to SMU, Clemson Athletic Director Dan Radakovich awarded him an extension with a hefty $5,000,000 buy-out. Based on data from 2012, that would be well over half the basketball program's annual revenue (not profit, revenue). He's essentially untouchable until after the 2017 (when the buy-out drops to $3,500,000).
It's no coincidence I have 2017 circled as the year they absolutely must make the NCAA tournament. We are renovating our on-campus coliseum and will play all of our home games in Greenville next season. By 2017 they'll be in a new arena and have a senior-laden team. If they still can't get the job done then, our athletic department will have to make the tough decision to move on.
Until then I will support him wholeheartedly (not that I have much choice.)
3. Clemson opens with a brutal stretch to start ACC play, they have already played UNC and Louisville, and Virginia and Syracuse are on the horizon. Given Pitt's struggles this season, is this a must win for Clemson?
Our NCAA tournament chances are gone, but our NIT hopes haven't completely evaporated just yet.
With likely losses to Virginia and Syracuse upcoming, a loss here could result in there being essentially nothing left to play for.
There are only six game left on the schedule in which Clemson has a 40% chance to win or better (KenPom). If they were to capture all of those (or any combination of six more wins) that would still only get us to 15. If you figure we need 17 wins to make the NIT, then this game and an ACC tournament game become must wins.
I fear that a loss here, when coupled with the two in front and likely two to come, could crush the team's confidence and the fans' interest.
4. Pitt has been struggling on offense this season, and throughout much of Dixon's tenure that is not totally uncommon. Pitt plays a rugged, slow-paced style. What kind of pace does Clemson play at, and what brand of basketball do they like to play?
Imagine Pittsburgh with far inferior three-point shooting and slightly better shot blocking, and you've got Clemson. Both like to play slow, low-tempo games. Pittsburgh has averaged only 63.5 and 60.0 possessions per game last season and this season, respectively. Clemson isn't much different at 60.2 and 62.1.
Hopefully we'll see a slow grinder of a game, as that's what I've come to enjoy.
5. As Pitt followers, we view Clemson as a football school first. You guys just had a 10-3 season (something we would kill for right now) and a convincing bowl win over Oklahoma. How is everyone feeling about the football program right now? Was the season a success? Is the future bright for next season?
10-3 isn't the end goal, but for a rebuilding year following the departures of QB Tajh Boyd, WR Sammy Watkins, WR Martavis Bryant, RB Roderick McDowell, and OT Brandon Thomas we're pretty pleased.
We finally got back in the win column against South Carolina and have one of the best recruiting classes we've ever hauled in. 15 are already on campus as early enrollees. Most importantly, it's quite possibly the best offensive line class in school history.
Florida State loses essentially their entire offense (QB, 4 OL, TE, WR, RB) and has to trek up to Death Valley next season. Not only is the future bright with our recruiting momentum and program consistency (can you believe that Dabo has been our Head Coach for seven full seasons?), but we have a great opportunity to capture just our second ACC Championship since the 'Noles have been in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
6. Lastly, how do you see this game playing out on Saturday?
Hopefully we can replicate the defensive effort we showed against Louisville, but couple it with better than 30.8% shooting (which is what we shot on Wednesday). Our last road trip to Pittsburgh resulted in a 33 point beat down. I think Clemson will be more competitive this time, but I'm not sure who is going to step up and help Jaron Blossomgame score.
KenPom gives us a 20% chance at the road win, which feels about right. Hopefully we can stick around in an ugly game and maybe hit a winning shot just a split second after the buzzer, but have it count... (you know who you are.)