I had a chance to do a Q&A exchange with Brandon Rink, who's doing some work for the Clemson-themed site Orangeandwhite.com. Here's the link to the questions he asked us that I answered and below are the questions I asked him that he answered. There is some good knowledge about the game today, so give it a read.
1. In what has become a wide open ACC race, where do you see the Tigers fitting into the picture - top, middle or bottom third?
They are upper mid-tier from what they've shown in ACC play so far. Ignore the game at Chapel Hill, because, well, that's basically every Clemson game at UNC ever. Their December ACC road loss at FSU was competitive while the team was still adjusting to Brownell's style.
Clemson's wins are probably deceiving as well. Both at Littlejohn, the Tigers shot 50% and put up 79 against Miami - shot 69% (85% and 9/9 on 3-pointers in the second half) and scored 87 against Georgia Tech. Yeah, that's probably not happening Saturday. They are somewhere in between at 2-2 in conference play and have a decent shot at going over .500 in ACC play overall.
2. What has been Clemson's Achilles' heal this season? Rebounding? If you're Gary Williams, how do you approach the game against Clemson?
Rebounding has been an issue to an extent, though they have improved of late, but if Williams is looking for a gameplan, just watch the UNC game. The Heels swarmed all over Clemson's guards - forcing bigs like Jerai Grant and Devin Booker to beat them, and for that game, they couldn't. The Tigers lack of depth at guard, hurt even more by Tanner Smith going down with a MCL injury, can be exploited by forcing a ton of turnovers. Past Demontez Stitt and Andre Young, the Tigers lack ballhandlers in key situations.
3. How has the Brad Brownell era been so far this season? Do you think it was a good (and the right) hire for Clemson?
I'm a big fan of how the offense is looking compared to the Purnell years. Up to last season, the Tigers best offense was a forced turnover off the press to an easy layup - now, Clemson has a recognizable half-court offense that can get baskets in pressure spots. On defense, Brownell has ditched the full-court press in most cases, but they are still playing physical half-court D. He will have success in the next few years with Purnell's players - the key will be recruiting to Clemson, and the jury is still out there.
4. After some early struggles, Clemson went on a roll, winning 8 straight before dropping their last game to UNC. What did the Tar Heels do to stop the Tiger's winning streak?
Much of what I said for question no. 2 and the Tigers were pressing a bunch at the start and finish - Stitt, especially, in his home-state. They were also effective in stopping Jerai Grant down-low with a number of blocks and steals. Overall, when Clemson plays at UNC, it's Clemson's starting five vs. the five in light blue + the ghosts of Chapel Hill losses' past.
5. Who does Maryland need to worry about on Saturday and why? Would that be Demontez Stitt?
Yep, Demontez Stitt leads the the Tigers in scoring (13.3 ppg) narrowly over forward Jerai Grant (12.3 ppg) as the two scholarship seniors on the team. Stitt is the one guard that can drive and score - he's also developed a strong perimeter shot this season. Finally out of Trevor Booker's shadow, Grant has shined in ACC play (outside of the UNC trip where he scored just 2 points and was 1-12 on FGs) putting up 20 points and 8 rebounds against Georgia Tech and 18 points/11 rebounds against Miami.
Another guy to watch is guard Andre Young from the perimeter as he is hitting 40.8% of 3-pointers. He's like Terrence Oglesby with a little more discretion on the range of his shot.
6. What type of defense does Brownell prefer to run, zone, man or a little of both? If you answer 2-3 zone, I might have to cry.
Now that you mention it...no, it's almost exclusively aggressive, half-court man-to-man, but I'll warn you - Brownell has employed much more zone this season compared to his predecessor with the 2-3 being what he's used.