Maryland-Clemson First Look: Terps Look to Bounce Back Against Tigers

Hey, look, I know it's hard. But the best way to heal is to move on, and boy does Maryland have to move on fast: after suffering their worst home defeat in a decade, the Terrapins return to action on Saturday, hosting the Clemson Tigers in the Comcast Center. Clemson's a little overlooked this year; they get very little chatter these days, but they've quietly put together a solid resume under new coach Brad Brownell.

Like Maryland, the Tigers lack any big, marquee win. But they've also played good opponents close: they lost to an underrated ODU team by a point on a neutral floor, they lost to Michigan, Florida State, and South Carolina by single digits, and they were up on UNC in Chapel Hill early before they ended up losing by 10. In fact, that UNC loss is their only defeat with a double-digit margin, and it's a pretty respectable loss.

Their wins aren't eye-opening, but they're respectable: they beat Seton Hall on a neutral floor, dealt pretty easily with College of Charleston (yes, that CofC) on the road, and won both of their home ACC games (against GT and Miami) to get to .500 in the conference. Even though the Tigers aren't a big name this year, their resume seems better (at least to me) than Boston College and nearly as good as Virginia Tech, and we all know what happened with that.

Historically, Clemson's a challenging opponent for Maryland, going 7-3 against the Terrapins in their past 10 matchups. Of course, those came under Oliver Purnell, who for some reason decided to leave a good situation at Clemson for a terrible one in DePaul. Brad Brownell, formerly at Wright State, is the new sheriff in town, and he's significantly slowed things down for the Tigers. As opposed to Purnell's crazy press and helter-skelter tempo, Brownell goes with a more traditional man-to-man defense and a tempo in the bottom half of the country. Instead, the Tigers are more well-known for their gritty play and the fact that they're yet to let a game get out of hand.

I'm a fan of Clemson's backcourt, which has two experienced guards. Andre Young, who torched Maryland last year, is back and averaging 10 points and 3 assists per game. Combo guard Demontez Stitt is still around, too, and he's probably the most effective weapon the Tigers have, averaging a team-leading 13 ppg and shooting 42% from three (albeit with not a ton of attempts).

Both Young and Stitt are pretty big offensive weapons. They're pesky defensively and quick offensively; Young throws in a dangerous outside shot, shooting 41% from deep (he's already taken 90 shots, three times the number of Stitt). They'll share the point guard duties, but Young's size (5-9) will keep him at point most of the game. Stitt is the one to really watch out for if you're looking at stats, but Young's outside shooting and quickness has me worried.

There is some good news: Tanner Smith, who was Clemson's leading minute-getter and best perimeter defender, is out for the game with an injury. Smith was 6-5 and unbelievably pesky (and handsy) on defense, and his absence should open things up a tad on the perimeter for Maryland. Smith didn't give a ton offensively - only 8 ppg - but Clemson's losing a team leader and a lot of toughness on defense.

In Smith's place will likely be Bryan Narcisse, a 6-6 junior who's topped 20 minutes just twice all year. Aside from rocking Rec-Specs, he's extremely athletic and has an extremely long wingspan. He's a bit more of a forward than Smith was, but his athleticism and length means he'll probably be nearly as effective as a defensive forces. He's more of a role player, though, so Maryland will be at an advantage if he plays more than 20 minutes.

The front-court is pretty solid, too, loaded with some actually impressive talent. Jerai Grant has progressed quite a bit since last season, turning himself into one of the better post players in the ACC. He isn't Jordan, but he's putting up a very solid 12 and 7 a game. His size, strength, and length makes him a great matchup for J-Dub (at least for Clemson); that one-on-one battle may define the game. It may also bait Clemson into not going zone, which would be a pretty obvious blessing for the Terrapins.

Grant's joined in the starting lineup by Devin Booker, a wide-bodied brother of Trevor Booker with a pretty similar game. He's not nearly the beast that Trevor was, either athletically or on the glass, but he's averaging a pretty solid 8 and 5 a game in just his sophomore year. I'm guessing that Jordan Williams will take Booker due to size and athleticism, but that makes Grant (who is 6-8 and long) a tough matchup for Dino Gregory. I never expected to say this, but Clemson's versatility and depth kind of scares me offensively after what we just saw against VT.

Clemson's sixth man is Milton Jennings, a 6-9 sophomore forward. He's averaging upwards of 20 minutes a game, and I'd expect him to get even more time in Smith's absence. Like Grant, he's long and athletic, though he lacks Grant's inside game. Despite somewhat limited playing time, he's averaging 8 and 5 a game, which makes him another name to watch out for in that frontcourt.

All in all, Clemson seems the exact opposite of Maryland, at least speaking in very general terms. Maryland has one star player and role players that are at their best inconsistent and at their worst sub-par. Clemson is a team of very good role players, but they lack that central star that Trevor Booker provided them last season and that would tie the team together.

As you'd expect given the well-rounded, if bottom-heavy, lineup, Clemson is kind of a jack of all trades. They don't really excel at any one thing, but they have very few weaknesses. They have perimeter shooters, but not a ton of them. They can get to the foul line, but don't do it all that much. They have great perimeter defenders, but the defense isn't among the top 30 in the country. They have post presences, but not all-stars down low. And so on.

They'll play hard and consistently, as that's Brownell's style and calling card. Jerai Grant is one of the few big men in the ACC that can challenge Jordan Williams, both on the boards and in the post, while they have two efficient and effective guards in Young and Stitt. A week ago, I wasn't worried about this game. But now, I'm a little concerned; Clemson's scrappy, and they'll give Maryland a run for their money if they aren't focused (ala Virginia Tech). If Maryland doesn't improve (and I'd say by a decent amount) over their performance on Thursday, they could be facing a 1-4 start in the ACC.

The absence of Smith might be the difference in this game. If I was asked to pick between a healthy Clemson team and Maryland, I probably choose Clemson. But they lost arguably their biggest piece (kind of a more effective Sean Mosley, if you will), and I can't see that not hurting. My first gut reaction says Maryland squeezes this out by a few points. Unless Gary was able to light a huge fire under the team and get them to make a statement, this one should be close.

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