I once again had the privilege to chat with Eric Dowling of Shakin' the Southland, SBNation's Clemson blog ahead of Saturday's match between the Cavaliers and Tigers. We last heard from Eric during our Midnight Madness event. Has anything changed since then?
Streaking the Lawn: When we spoke back in October, you mentioned that SG Damarcus Harrison would be the most important newcomer to the team. It looks like he's playing about half of every game and averaging a little under 6 points per game. Would you say he's contributed how you had hoped?
Shakin' the Southland: I may have overestimated Harrison's value. Although he has provided quality minutes, his shot has been off all season. He's shooting just 18% from 3, which was supposed to be an area where he could help this team. He plays solid defense, he just needs his shot to come around to help provide a scoring punch for a team that desperately needs it.
Adonis Filer and Jaron Blossomgame were the two freshmen that I thought would have the biggest impact. Blossomgame is redshirting this year due to a broken leg that he suffered in the spring of his senior year in high school. Filer has been a pleasant surprise. He's very confident and very aggressive both offensively and defensively. He can, however, get a bit out of control and become turnover prone.
STL: You also mentioned KJ McDaniels as having potential for a breakout season as well. Since he's sitting in second for scoring on the team behind Devon Booker, I have to assume you're happy with what he's given the team this year. Anyone else stepping up that you didn't necessarily expect?
STS: McDaniels started the year off very well, scoring in double figures in 7 of his first 10 games. The problem is that he has become too complacent hanging around the 3-point arc and hasn't been as aggressive as he needs to be. He's an unbelievable athlete that needs to attack the rim first, and look for his 3-point shot second. He's been operating the other way around. In his first 7 games he made 10 of his first 22 from downtown. In the last 7 games he's 5-27 from behind the arc. He lacks a natural scorers mentality, because a natural scorer will often try to get to the rim for a layup or foul shots to get out of a slump and get back into a rhythm. McDaniels hasn't been doing that.
STL: A quick glance at the Clemson schedule and results so far seems to show mostly the expected wins and losses until you get to the loss to Coastal Carolina on December 19th. What happened there?
STS: The Coastal Carolina game was a swift kick to the mid-section. After losing to them at home last year, I expected them to come out energized and looking for redemption. Instead, we got the least inspiring effort of the season. It's no secret that this team struggles to put the ball in the basket. But the Coastal Carolina game was much more than that. There was zero energy. The guys seemed to just be going through the motions. One of my biggest issues with this team is what I perceive to be a lack of competitiveness. Losing doesn't seem to both these guys. At this point, nobody has stepped up to be the leader of this team. Until that happens, I think you'll see more uninspired efforts from this group.
STL: The Tigers started the ACC slate at home against a Seminoles team that could be charitably referred to as "confusing." I'm sure the 71-66 loss to FSU isn't what you were hoping for, but is there anything positive you could take away from the game, especially with only two weeks until you play them again?
STS:Positives? I guess the only positive that I could take away from that game would contradict what I just said in my previous answer. But the team actually took a couple of haymakers from FSU in that game (trailing by as much as 16 in the second half) and fought back to make a game of it at the end. I thought Devin Booker played inspired basketball, especially in the 2nd half, and it seemed to rub off on the rest of the guys. It also helped that Brad Brownell started pressing full court and Clemson was able to get a couple of turnovers and easy baskets. I think that always helps energize a team, especially in front of the home crowd. What I don't understand is why it took a 16 point deficit for the team to get their act together and for Brownell to try something different.
STL: Speaking of "confusing," one could probably use that term for Virginia as well. Have you been able to follow the Cavaliers at all so far? Anything stand out to you?
STS: I have been following them somewhat closely. I've watched all of the GMU, ODU, and Wisconsin games and I've seen portions of others. I think what stood out to me the most was the improvement I saw in Akil Mitchell. After watching UVA last year, I wouldn't have expected him to become the 2nd leading scorer and average 9 rebounds per game. The battle between him and Devin Booker will be a big one to watch. Devin did a fantastic job against Mason Plumlee on Tuesday. If he can outplay Mitchell, I like Clemson's chances.
Thanks to Eric for taking the time to chat with us. I always appreciate the work he and the rest of the folks over at Shakin' the Southland do. Make sure to check out the other side of the Q&A over on their site.