At 4-1 in the ACC, surprising Tigers ready to deal with the hand they were dealt

Clemson plays 5 of next 6 on the road, with stops at Pitt, UNC, FSU, Syracuse and Notre Dame

Clemson's Jaron Blossomgame blocks a shot attempt by Delaware State's Tyshawn Bell in the first half at Littlejohn Coliseum on Wednesday.

Photo by Sefton Ipock

Clemson's Jaron Blossomgame blocks a shot attempt by Delaware State's Tyshawn Bell in the first half at Littlejohn Coliseum on Wednesday.

Back in October, Brad Brownell cringed when asked about the scheduling hand dealt by the ACC that sends the Tigers away from home five times in a six-game span, including stops at Pittsburgh, Chapel Hill, Tallahassee, Syracuse and South Bend.

“I don't like it, but we'll deal with it when it comes,” Brownell said.

The Tigers' dealing starts on Tuesday when they travel to Pittsburgh with sole possession of second place in the ACC standings on the line.

Off to a 4-1 ACC start – their best in 17 seasons – the Tigers, who were picked 13th in the 14-team league, are the surprise of the ACC's early-season wars.

They've done it with defense, by playing the game on their terms, by stellar free throw shooting, and by finding a variety of ways to win while powered by a variety of players.

Now, as one of just two ACC teams (along with N.C. State) to be dealt a five-of-six road schedule, they head straightaway into the heart of the storm.

Brownell says the Tigers will approach their formidable task as they always do, preparing for one game at a time and trying to make the most out of each opportunity.

“We’re off to a good start and we’re playing well,” said Brownell after the Tigers' victory over Wake Forest on Saturday. “But it’s a long distance race and we have some tough games coming up with five of our next six games on the road.

“We’ve been opportunistic and found ways to win some close games. We’re still growing and improving as a team, but I’m certainly proud of our guys.”

The 13-4 Tigers go into their road stretch leading the nation in scoring defense, and the conference in field goal percentage defense and free throw percentage. They've been particularly tough to score on in late-game situations, particularly when teams are forced to play catch-up, hunting for three-pointers.

Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik said Saturday that Clemson's shot-blocking ability is proving to be a difference-maker in the Tigers' defensive success.

“That's what really makes their defense - their ability to protect the rim, especially with (Landry) Nnoko and (K.J. McDaniels),” Bzdelik said. “That’s something that was a focus of ours coming in, to make sure that when we got it close to the rim, not getting your shot blocked because they are both jumping for the ball, and that leaves the glass open for some offensive rebounds.

“When the shot is blocked, you don’t have the opportunity.”

Clemson continues to benefit from the contributions of different players in various situations, including pivotal three-pointers in recent games by Jaron Blossomgame and Ibrahim Djambo, and an overall elevated level of play from Adonis Filer.

“Adonis has done a good job,” Brownell said. “He’s an improving player. His turnovers have been down, which is good, and we’re trying to get him to be more efficient. He’s learning that you don’t always need to make home run plays, but rather hit singles and doubles. If he can do that consistently he’ll put together a good inning.

“He’s getting better at understanding that and just goes out and makes solid plays that are there. He’s got a herky-jerky game and can get by you and is good in small spaces, which allows him to have good angles on shots in the paint.”

After trips to Pitt, UNC and Florida State, the Tigers will face Georgia Tech at home on Feb. 4, and then will be back on the road for back-to-back games at Syracuse and Notre Dame with a two-day turnaround. They'll then play five of their final seven league games at home.

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Comments » 8

YabbaDaboDooDoo writes:

The only thing surprising so far has been the win over Duke. The best ACC start in 17 seasons really has more to do with an easy schedule to this point. BC and VT are awful and beating WF at Littlejohn should be expected as WF isn't very good either. No one outside of Clemson is impressed since they can't get a single vote in any poll. They're about to finally get into the meat of their schedule and they'll fall back to where they belong. This still isn't a very good team.

tigerrob44#291802 writes:

This may be the year we break the Chapel Hole jinx. We have come very close before but always blew it in the end. Are we capable of beating Pittsburgh on the road? What about a great Syracuse team on the road? Not sure what ND has this year but know about FSU. We can certainly beat GA Tech at home and if we could somehow win 2 of the other road games it would be a win for us in a lot of ways. It ain't gonna be easy but maybe we can win 2 of the road games. That's a tuff stretch of games and I don't care how good you are.

tigerrob44#291802 writes:

in response to YabbaDaboDooDoo:

The only thing surprising so far has been the win over Duke. The best ACC start in 17 seasons really has more to do with an easy schedule to this point. BC and VT are awful and beating WF at Littlejohn should be expected as WF isn't very good either. No one outside of Clemson is impressed since they can't get a single vote in any poll. They're about to finally get into the meat of their schedule and they'll fall back to where they belong. This still isn't a very good team.

They may not be very good but are the number one defensive team in the nation and McDaniel's is one of the best players in the nation. Maybe they are better than you give them credit for being. You are always critical of Clemson in almost everything you write. You have probably never even been to Clemson, SC and for sure did not graduate from Clemson.

YabbaDaboDooDoo writes:

in response to tigerrob44#291802:

They may not be very good but are the number one defensive team in the nation and McDaniel's is one of the best players in the nation. Maybe they are better than you give them credit for being. You are always critical of Clemson in almost everything you write. You have probably never even been to Clemson, SC and for sure did not graduate from Clemson.

You've been drinking the kool-aid that they're dishing out on this site. They're #1 in SCORING DEFENSE. I've had this argument already with 1 of the writers. Scoring defense is determined in large part by your style of play OFFENSIVELY. If you play with a deliberately slow pace on offense, never look to get out and run, and melt the shot clock at every opportunity, then your opponent has fewer possessions in which to score. VCU gives up 11 more points per game than Clemson but they're #1 in both steals and turnover margin and no one's even a close second. Syracuse is in the top 10 in steals, turnover margin, and scoring defense. They're not just sitting on the ball. They're turning people over and that's why they're undefeated and #2 in the country. Scoring defense also depends on how good your opponent is offensively. Clemson's strength of schedule is 172, dead last of the teams in the ACC.

The only people who think KJ McDaniels is 1 of the best players in the country are people in Clemson, SC. If you can't even get on the Wooden Watch list which is 50 players, then you can't use phrases like "one of the best players in the nation".

I'm critical of Clemson? YOU should be critical of Clemson. I liked Purnell. He had an exciting style of play and he had success. He left and instead of building off his success, they went cheap and hired Brownell. You've taken a step back under Brownell as expected. Brownell has had a hard enough time in the ACC BEFORE Pitt, ND, Syracuse, and Louisville joined the league. What happens going forward? You won't compete in the ACC with Brownell. You can do something about it or enjoy these articles blowing smoke into your anatomy.

waran writes:

in response to YabbaDaboDooDoo:

The only thing surprising so far has been the win over Duke. The best ACC start in 17 seasons really has more to do with an easy schedule to this point. BC and VT are awful and beating WF at Littlejohn should be expected as WF isn't very good either. No one outside of Clemson is impressed since they can't get a single vote in any poll. They're about to finally get into the meat of their schedule and they'll fall back to where they belong. This still isn't a very good team.

I wish Clemson will win at least couple of the next 5 games. Then you can eat you own Doo Doo. I agree we took a step back with Brownell but this Team is pretty decent and is comparable with any of Purnells. They are playing hard. TJM and Clemson will surprise many by the end of the season.

BrandonRink writes:

***Kool-Aid warning***

Clemson's No. 6 in KenPom's adjusted defensive rankings ahead of VCU (7) and Syracuse (16). They are also in the top-10 in field goal percentage defense (No. 1 in 3-pt.) and blocks per game nationally.

The way Clemson defends doesn't gear it towards steals and forced turnovers like VCU - and Syracuse is another world with how well they execute the 2-3 zone. Hard to compare the three.

Brownell says he's not sitting on the ball, but you can draw your own conclusions. There's gonna be less possessions when you play defense the way Clemson does, but a team like Syracuse also is light-years ahead recruiting-wise and is able to score early and often. So, I get what you're saying on the scoring 'D' stat, but I don't think you can completely throw it out either. There's something to be said about consistently holding down the teams you do play.

Brownell hasn't shied away from playing top teams if you look at last year's schedule, but they didn't qualify for the ACC-Big Ten this year and nobody else from the OOC is picking them up.

But again, we're arguing stats, and however much I love stats, they can be used to say pretty much whatever you think already. There's probably a bit of that going on on both sides of this conversation.

***End Kool-Aid comment***

YabbaDaboDooDoo writes:

in response to BrandonRink:

***Kool-Aid warning***

Clemson's No. 6 in KenPom's adjusted defensive rankings ahead of VCU (7) and Syracuse (16). They are also in the top-10 in field goal percentage defense (No. 1 in 3-pt.) and blocks per game nationally.

The way Clemson defends doesn't gear it towards steals and forced turnovers like VCU - and Syracuse is another world with how well they execute the 2-3 zone. Hard to compare the three.

Brownell says he's not sitting on the ball, but you can draw your own conclusions. There's gonna be less possessions when you play defense the way Clemson does, but a team like Syracuse also is light-years ahead recruiting-wise and is able to score early and often. So, I get what you're saying on the scoring 'D' stat, but I don't think you can completely throw it out either. There's something to be said about consistently holding down the teams you do play.

Brownell hasn't shied away from playing top teams if you look at last year's schedule, but they didn't qualify for the ACC-Big Ten this year and nobody else from the OOC is picking them up.

But again, we're arguing stats, and however much I love stats, they can be used to say pretty much whatever you think already. There's probably a bit of that going on on both sides of this conversation.

***End Kool-Aid comment***

I haven't denied that Clemson is a good defensive team. I just believe that scoring defense isn't a great indication of how good a team is defensively for the reasons I've mentioned. Clemson's ranking in scoring defense is inflated due to their strength of schedule. It's probably something that you guys should've mentioned along with the #1 scoring defense ranking since the homers who can't read like the guy above now think they've got the nation's best defense. There's a reason Mark Twain lumped statistics in with lies and damned lies. When it comes to judging how good a basketball team is I trust my eyeballs more than statistics and my eyeballs have yet to see Clemson win a game outside of Littlejohn over anyone with a winning record.

SoCalTiger writes:

in response to BrandonRink:

***Kool-Aid warning***

Clemson's No. 6 in KenPom's adjusted defensive rankings ahead of VCU (7) and Syracuse (16). They are also in the top-10 in field goal percentage defense (No. 1 in 3-pt.) and blocks per game nationally.

The way Clemson defends doesn't gear it towards steals and forced turnovers like VCU - and Syracuse is another world with how well they execute the 2-3 zone. Hard to compare the three.

Brownell says he's not sitting on the ball, but you can draw your own conclusions. There's gonna be less possessions when you play defense the way Clemson does, but a team like Syracuse also is light-years ahead recruiting-wise and is able to score early and often. So, I get what you're saying on the scoring 'D' stat, but I don't think you can completely throw it out either. There's something to be said about consistently holding down the teams you do play.

Brownell hasn't shied away from playing top teams if you look at last year's schedule, but they didn't qualify for the ACC-Big Ten this year and nobody else from the OOC is picking them up.

But again, we're arguing stats, and however much I love stats, they can be used to say pretty much whatever you think already. There's probably a bit of that going on on both sides of this conversation.

***End Kool-Aid comment***

You hit the nail on the head with the reference to Syracuse's recruiting. Most all of Brownell's top recruits have transferred. He is finding out what OP found out - no elite player wants to play at Clemson. In fact, very few elite players even consider Clemson. That's why they have no offense. An elite coach brings in elite players to build an elite program.

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