Thursday, December 10, 2015

Sleeping with the Enemy, Clemson Tigers

I reached out to Ryan Kantor at Shakin the Southland and asked him to tell us about Clemson basketball and share his thoughts on the upcoming game.  He suggested that we exchange Q & A's, so please see his responses to my questions below.  I also responded to some questions about our team, that I expect they will post at some point before the game. If you visit Shakin the Southland, please follow their site rules and be a good representative of the University of Alabama.

Q. I think there are some similarities between Clemson and Alabama basketball.  Certainly, we both operate in the shadow of football.  Can you share your thoughts on the current state and direction of Clemson's basketball program?

A. Clemson football is casting a much longer and more glorious shadow than usual, as we are hoping our bowl season lasts nearly two weeks into basketball's ACC play. Playing off-campus this season (due to arena construction), probably adds to the feeling that basketball is taking a backseat until Coach of the Year Dabo Swinney's Tigers complete their magical run.

As for the hardwood Tigers, it's extremely tough competing against schools like North Carolina who are heavily focused on basketball (only a tiny portion of the ACC Championship Game crowd consisted of UNC fans). Historically, Clemson has not fared well against these powers and the fan attention and facilities reflect that reality. Long term, the hope is that the current overhaul to Littlejohn Coliseum will spark the program in much the same way that Virginia's improved basketball facilities have helped push them into national basketball relevance.

Short term, I've said and continue to say that Brad Brownell will get his opportunity to coach in the new arena next season almost regardless of this year's outcome. There are a couple reasons for this but the two to highlight are his big buy-out and that Clemson's roster is primed for a NCAA tournament run next year. He's finally brought shooters onto the roster and we're finally seeing his motion offense work. They're currently 70th in offensive efficiency, which is the best they've been since 2011. The defense needs to round back into it's usual form, but I'm optimistic they can be competitive this year and make a run next year. If I'm wrong, it'll probably be time to start over at that point, but I'm still hopeful. 

Q. As you said, based on Clemson's schedule on paper, it doesn't appear the Tigers have really been tested so far.  What can we expect from this Clemson team Sunday night?

You can likely expect one of the best shooting Tiger teams in memory and maybe the worst defensive group in the Brownell era. Unlike last season when Clemson lost to Winthrop and Gardner-Webb but beat LSU and Arkansas, so far Clemson has lost to the only good teams they've played (UMass and Minnesota) and taken care of business against lesser competition. This game will be a great measuring stick as it will be the first good team they face at home.

Look out for Jaron Blossomgame at PF. He's our star player and has shown improved three-point shooting this season. He was already solid off the dribble and around the rim, so being able to shoot from range makes him nearly impossible to defend. Another guy to keep an eye out for sophomore Donte Grantham. He hasn't developed the same level of consistency as Jaron Blossomgame, but when he is on his game, he can do it all and is a threat to score in chunks, often from three, but also by creating his own shots inside the paint on occasion.

3. I understand you guys are playing all of your home games in Greenville due to construction on Littlejohn arena this year.  Is that negatively affecting your home court advantage and what type of crowd/atmosphere will we be facing Sunday night?

I visited the Bon Secour Wellness Arena this past Sunday for the game against Wofford and I didn't see a clear student section. I'm sure part of that is because the Pizza Party run until about 1:00pm so it was a rush to get to the arena, but nevertheless, I don't expect a raucous environment. Additionally, the arena is really set-up for the Greenville Swamp Rabbit hockey team to many of the seats are quite far from the court.

4. What are your thoughts on the matchup, and keys for Clemson to get the win?

KenPom says Alabama will be the best team we've faced, but despite two losses, it is predicting us to win (due in part to homecourt advantage). In past years I'd generally cite various players being able to knock down shots as keys, but to pull out a win Clemson will need to get back to Brownell's trademark gritty halfcourt defense.

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