Duke Report

Duke Basketball: Interview with a Clemson Blogger

The Duke basketball team heads on the road again today for another conference game. Hopefully, the outcome will be different today than last week’s conference opener on the road against Notre Dame.

Shakin the Southland - SB Nation

Shakin the Southland – SB Nation

The Blue Devils will be in Clemson, SC., taking on a Clemson team that’s 10-4 but still searching for its first signature win of the 2013-14 season. A win over Duke would fall into that category.

The game is scheduled to tip of 2:00pm EST and will be televised in select markets on the Raycom Sports Network and can also be found on ESPN3.

To give us a better idea of the current state of the Clemson program, we spoke with Ryan Kantor. Ryan is a contributor for Shakin the Southland, the SB Nation site for the Tigers, and he also has his own site – RyanKantor.com. Here are some of his thoughts about the season and today’s game.

One of the biggest challenges for Clemson over the past few years has been a lack of offense. Has that changed this season?

Not at all.

We started the season with very few pure shooters on the team. Patrick Rooks, an incoming freshman from Charlotte, was pegged as a sharpshooter, but he suffered a season-ending hip injury. Devin Coleman, a RS Sophomore coming off an Achilles injury, was another great shooter, however his defense wasn’t particularly strong and Coach Brownell under-utilized him (presumably) for that reason. Due to the lack of minutes, Coleman decided (mid-year) to transfer to Temple and is no longer with the team. Clemson ranks 232nd in eFG%.

To make matters worse, Clemson does a bad job getting to the FT line. They average just 33 FT attempts per 100 FG attempts. That’s near the bottom of college basketball at 314th. If you’re not a great shooting team, you better be aggressive, but we’re neither.

A lot of it is youth and a lack of confidence. There’s not a single senior on the team. Futhermore, nobody on the roster has ever participated in an NCAA tournament game. The defense is good enough to keep them in games, but as the scoring droughts reach five and six minutes you can almost see the confidence fading.

As frustrating as it is, the true test for Brad Brownell will come next year when he brings in his first strong recruiting class and has two athletic seniors (K.J. McDaniels and Rod Hall) to lead the way. If we can’t get it done then, there will be no more excuses. For now, Clemson fans should be patient as freshmen Donte Grantham and Gabe DeVoe join the team next season and a (basically) new arena opens shortly thereafter.

But to answer your question, no, that hasn’t changed.

K.J. McDaniels seems like one of the most underrated players in the ACC. How would you describe his impact for the Tigers?

K.J. McDaniels is a special player. The junior from Birmingham is quite the athlete and announcers are quick to point that out, but it really understates his development over his three years at Clemson.

He’s best when attacking the basket, but has recently developed a reliable jump shot. He’s attempted more three-pointers each season he’s been at Clemson and each year his percentage has improved.

Most of his blocks come in help defense, but he is also an elite man-to-man defender. In the South Carolina game, he shut down Sindarius Thornwell, who had to that point been their go-to scorer. I believe all of Thornwell’s points in that game came while K.J. was on the bench or in zone defense. K.J. finished with seven blocks, two steals, and eight defensive rebounds in what was the best defensive performance I’ve ever witnessed live.

McDaniels is likely the only NBA talent on the team. He’s starting to understand his role as the team leader. He’s undoubtedly our star and we’re thankful to have him.

Duke has been vulnerable this season against teams that attack the paint. Will Clemson be able to exploit this weakness?

As I mentioned, Clemson is far below average at getting to the free throw line. I think Clemson should be more aggressive and attack the basket more frequently, but I don’t expect a huge change in the 40 hours since we played FSU and only shot six free throws.

Coming into the season, we knew our post-players would be this team’s weakness. Last season, Milton Jennings and Devin Booker started at the #4 and #5 respectively and youngsters who seldom played last year are now starters. Although Landry Nnoko has impressed me with his improvement and defensive prowess, he’s not a go-to-scorer. All other Clemson bigs are averaging less than 4 PPG.

While Jabari Parker has struggled over the past couple games, it’s provided an opportunity for Rodney Hood to take over. How do you think the Tigers will try to stop Duke’s talented duo?

Jaron Blossomgame has started at the four most of the season, but was pulled from the starting lineup in favor of Josh Smith–a bigger, less nimble power forward–against FSU’s big front line. Smith won’t score much, but he actually played solid defense. He and Landry Nnoko held the FSU bigs down for most of the game, but Clemson’s atrocious guard play (18 turnovers) cost them in that game.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brownell look to do something similar against Duke’s impressive front line, but Nnoko could end up in foul trouble leaving Hood and Parker to have a huge day.

Who is a potential x-factor for Clemson that could help them pull off the upset?

Jordan Roper is Clemson’s best shooting threat, but he was out of sync against FSU and the team couldn’t score as a result. With Duke’s exceptional front line, Roper may need to knock down some buckets to keep this one close.

What’s your prediction for the game?

February 4th, 2009… It was a glorious day in Clemson, South Carolina. I don’t know if you recall what happened that day, but as the buzzer sounded and I rushed the court below a scoreboard that read 74-47 in Clemson’s favor, it was euphoria.

In hindsight, that drubbing of Duke may have represented the climax of Clemson basketball in the Purnell era, but this Saturday afternoon I think we could see another 74-47 game. Of course, there won’t be any rushing the court after Clemson drops to 1-2 in ACC play.

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Thanks to Ryan for taking the time to share his thoughts with us. Check out his work on Shakin the Southland as well as at RyanKantor.com. You can also follow Shaking the Southland on Twitter and give Ryan a follow on Twitter and Facebook.