Today we talk to Ryan Kantor of Clemson’s SB Nation site, Shakin the Southland about Saturday’s basketball game against the Tigers. Be sure to check out Ryan and their site for any Clemson information, they do a great job. Also, if you want to remind them who they lost to in football season, that’s fine too.
Obviously we know the struggles with Pitt basketball right now. Clemson is also struggling mightily right now, as they have lost six games in a row. Something has to give Saturday as both teams will look to snap a losing streak and get back on track. Be sure to be on the lookout for my answers on their site as well.
1. Clemson is in the midst of a six game losing streak, what hasn't been working in that span?
Clemson's team defense, which has always been a hallmark of Brownell-coached teams, has been awful. Through seven ACC-games, they're ranked 15th in the conference (KenPom). We posted a in-depth look at many of the defensive errors, but in short they've shown a lack of focus and discipline.
Ironically, this is the best offense Clemson has had in a very long time.
2. The Tigers were picked 11th in the preseason ACC poll. Still, this team had tournament aspirations. How is the tournament resume looking right now?
Things got off to a good start in non-conference play. We picked up quality wins against UGA, Davidson, Alabama, South Carolina and UNCW. We even started off with a road win against an improved Wake Forest squad in ACC play. The six game losing streak that followed has obviously struck a pretty big blow to our tournament hopes. Missed opportunities in close games against UNC, ND, GT, and UVA obvious hurt, but the worst was the home loss to VT. The offense played well in that contest, but the defense just made too many mistakes. That home loss really put this team behind the 8-ball. I would go as far as to say that if they don't win at Pittsburgh, NCAA tournament hopes are dashed and fans will lose interest and instead focus on polishing their Football National Championship memorabilia.
3. Jaron Blossomgame averages 18 points per game. What makes him so good?
Blossomgame is a bit under-sized for an ACC PF. He is also quite versatile. He can drive by bigger PF’s and attack off the dribble. He has further improved his post-moves from a year ago and is effective with his back to the basket. He has a great baby hook he uses in those situations. Last season, Blossomgame shot 44% from three a year ago (fluky high). This year he's been ice cold from three (22%) until these past two games where he's finally started to see it fall. If that continues and he can be even better.
4. Pitt does not have a true point guard or a center, can Clemson exploit those weaknesses?
Clemson's offense is very good. While they may rely on the three-ball too much for some people's taste, they have a handful of players who will attack the basket. PG Shelton Mitchell has been great in the transition offense and without a PG who can keep up or a big man protecting the rim, he's done a nice job of stealing easy lay-ups. Blossomgame, who we just discussed, can attack the paint if there's nobody to protect the rim and C Sidy Djitte is #11 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage. If a big man doesn't get a body on Djitte, he is liable to chip in a few put-backs.
5. Who is a player for Clemson that Pitt needs to be aware of besides Blossomgame?
Center Sidy Djitte is one to watch. He's improved from a season ago, particularly in avoiding constant foul trouble. The team's two biggest weaknesses, defense and defensive rebounding are exacerbated when they go with a small lineup due to foul trouble with the bigs.
6. Where is the fanbase with the basketball program? The arena recently was renovated, there was some optimism with the team for this season, so things seemed good. Still, Brownell hasn't made the tournament since 2011. Are people getting restless?
Indeed they are. This is the season we've been hyped for a long time. Even in last year's season preview we pointed to this year as being the year they make the tournament.
KenPom is projecting Clemson at 7-11 in the ACC. 8-10 is probably necessary to have a chance at the postseason. A win would immediately make that viable, but a loss would essentially make that unrealistic (it would require an amazing 7-3 finish to reach eight wins if we lose at Pittsburgh). With a loss here, even Brownell's biggest supporters would relent as an uncomfortable mix of apathy and anger mix.
All that said, KenPom gives the Tigers a 57% chance to win (up from 51% before the Pitt/UL game). I think they have a fair shot to steal the road win and put their season back together.