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Clemson Preview: Q&A w/ Shakin' the Southland

The Deacs are fresh off their thrilling 70-69 victory over North Carolina State. Can Wake Forest ride that momentum and beat Clemson in Littlejohn? We preview the game and Ryan Kantor of Shakin' the Southland answers a few of our questions.

Tyler Smith

Before we jump into the Q&A, here's an abbreviated four factor breakdown of the game.

Four Factors Comparison
Four Factors Wake Forest Clemson
eFG% 49.3% 48.2%
Opp eFG% 44.7% 40.0%
Turnover % 17.6% 17.9%
Opp Turnover% 17.0% 17.5%
Offensive Reb% 32.0% 37.1%
Defensive Reb% 70.0% 70.0%
FTA/FGA 50.6% 35.0%
Opp FTA/FGA 37.3% 28.7%

Clemson is number one in the nation in effective field goal % defense, which is obviously going to be a major problem for Wake Forest. Wake Forest has has gotten outrebounded by 51 rebounds through just four ACC games and therefore has had 47 less field goal attempts than opponents. Wake has been able to counter this in their two ACC wins by having a significantly higher eFG% than their opponents. Given Clemson's incredible defensive ability, it just doesn't seem fathomable that Wake Forest can lose the rebounding battle and still win this game. We'll see how it plays out, but I don't believe we will have enough second chance opportunities to emerge victorious.

BSD: Clemson lost Devin Booker & Milton Jennings from last year's roster, yet your team appears to be thriving (currently 34th in KenPom) despite no standout freshmen. Why do you think this is?

STS: Given the media projected Clemson to finish 14th in the ACC, they must have thought those losses would be crucial. Fans however were less concerned. That's because they knew the enormity of the departures was being overstated. Milton Jennings and Devin Booker were an extremely frustrating senior duo. Jennings never lived up to his five-star billing and had multiple disciplinary issues. Devin Booker never quite reached the bar his older brother, Trevor, set at Clemson, and often irritated fans with his reserved and subdued demeanor that sometimes made it look like he didn't care.

Coach Brownell offered some harsh honestly in his final interview of last season when he said his players "need to become as committed to the game as necessary to be successful." Regarding the team only taking five charges in 2012-13, Brownell said:
"Lack of toughness… Book (Devin Booker) was a hard guy. I couldn’t get Book to take a charge, just wasn’t in his make up, and to be honest I needed him to do that some, because you got to have ways to protect the basket."

He even went so far as to say the two seniors were hard to coach:
"Some guys got to play more minutes than they should play, or they got to stay out there when they were making mistakes because there weren't enough guys. Because Milton and Devin were clearly better than our younger post players they probably got to play through some things where if there was another guy that had been older and was very productive, you could take one of them out, like a Bobo (Catalin Baciu). There were times they felt like they were better, and it was harder for me to coach them the way they need to be coached all the time, which sometimes is to take them out. (full interview)"

The area where the losses of our two starting post-players figured to hurt the most was in rebounding, but it hasn't been an issue thus far (surprisingly). Landry Nnoko (1.4 RPG to 6.8 RPG) and K.J. McDaniels (5.0 RPG to 6.9 RPG) have helped pick up the slack.

Despite losing two seniors and having none currently on the roster, it seems the chemistry and leadership has actually improved from last year. The team took an offseason trip to Italy where they played four games against Italian professional squads. There were a plethora of comments from coaches and players talking about how the team gelled during that experience and how the chemistry and camaraderie is now at a much better place compared to last season. It's also likely being aided by the new leadership shown from K.J. McDaniels as he understands this is his team.

Finally, Rod Hall, our starting PG, has improved immensely. His scoring has nearly doubled (5.7 to 10.5), his FG% is up (.437 to .491), his FT% is up (.597 to .797) his assists are up (3.5 to 3.9), and his turnovers are down (1.9 to 1.1). He's been a big part of Clemson's success. Also, Jaron Blossomgame has returned from his injury and started all, but one game (FSU) this season. He was the ACC Rookie of the Week for his performance in the win over Duke and led the team in rebounds in the win over Virginia Tech.

BSD: Clemson is off to a solid start of 12-4 (3-1 in the ACC), but plays one of the slowest tempos in college basketball(348/351). Additionally, this is a great defensive team, but just average offensively. I know Clemson is much more of a football school, but do the Clemson fans you talk to enjoy watching this team play?

STS: Clemson is no doubt a football school (God bless America), hence Coach Brownell comparing his team's style of play to that of Clemson's 1981 National Championship football team. "We are three yards and a cloud of dust. We are old Danny Ford."

Obviously Oliver Purnell's full court press was more entertaining, but Clemson fans seem to appreciate the quality fundamental basketball Brownell brought with him. For all the success of the Purnell era, it had its fair share of excruciating pain from losing games down the stretch due to poor FT shooting and shoddy execution in the half court.

As the talent level continues to increase expect to see Brownell pick up the pace over the next few years, but right now the coaches feel this style of play is well suited for the roster. The bottom line is that the fun is in the winning, and if this is the style of play that gives us the best chance, I have no qualms with it, and I haven't heard from any Clemson fans that do. 

BSD: Clemson currently sits at 3-1 in the ACC headed into their matchup with Wake Forest. Given Wake's road woes and Clemson's next seven games following this one, do you view this as a must win?

STS: Absolutely! The ACC throttled Clemson with possibly the toughest seven game stretch in the nation, and it begins after this weekend's game against Wake Forest. Three straight road games at Pitt, UNC, and FSU spell trouble. Pitt is an exceptional and underrated basketball team. Clemson has never won in Chapel Hill, and Florida State already beat Clemson at home. Then Clemson returns home for a winnable game against Georgia Tech. After that, they're back on the road for Syracuse and Notre Dame before they return home for UVA. 

I'd be pleased if Clemson goes 2-5 over that span (especially if one of those wins came at Chapel Hill). With that stretch looming, it's critical Clemson get to 4-1. If so, they'll likely emerge from the gauntlet with their NIT chances intact.

BSD: Clemson star, K.J. McDaniels, is arguably the most under appreciated player in the conference. Talk about what he means to this team for those who aren't that familiar with K.J.

STS: K.J. McDaniels leads Clemson in points, rebounds, steals, blocks, and FT%. He's our best player on both sides of the court and has improved to the point that he's often the best player in the game. He's a lock down defender and provides probably the best help defense in the ACC (most of his blocks are in weak side help). Duke's Rodney Hood is the only player I can recall that's had a decent offensive day when matched up against K.J. this season (though there may be a few others).

Beyond his in-game impact, it sounds like he's accepted the leadership role on the team and as I mentioned before, that's part of the reason this year's Clemson team is better than last, despite the losses.

BSD: Finally, how do you see this one playing out and what do you think the final score will be?

STS: Codi Miller-McIntyre won't be able to do all the scoring himself and if K.J. is guarding McKie (likely), I wouldn't expect a big day out of the senior. For Wake Forest to pick-up a win, Devin Thomas will have to have a break out game and get Landry Nnoko in foul trouble.

Wake has only been held to 60 or fewer twice this season (Pitt and UVA), but Clemson has held their last five opponents to to that mark, and Wake hasn't topped it in their last four meetings with Clemson. Overall, I don't see a big talent gap between these teams, but Clemson's won four straight in the series. Between Bzdelik's paltry road record and Clemson's solid play at home, you've got to think Clemson should be able to hold the Wake Forest offense in-check enough to pick up the W.

What is that phrase at Blogger So Dear? "Death, taxes, and Jeff Bzdelik road losses"? Hopefully ol' faithful comes through just one more time, 59-53.

If you're interested, you can check out how I answered Ryan's questions at Shakin the Southland.

Again, many thanks to Ryan Kantor of Shakin the Southland for taking the time to answer some of my questions. You can catch all of the action beginning tomorrow at 4 p.m. on the ACC Network. You can check out your local listings here. As always, go Deacs!