Virginia tries to improve on its 4-6 road record in a trip to play Clemson. The Hoos won the first matchup in Charlottesville, 69-62. Shakin' the Southland answered our questions before the game. Be sure to head over to STS to see our answers to theirs.
STL: Tuesday is the final home game of the year for the Tigers, and the final home game in the careers of Landry Nnoko and Jordan Roper. What have those guys meant to CU over the last few years, and who will Clemson look to to fill the void they leave?
Shaking the Southland: It seems Landry Nnoko's Clemson career has blown by. After rarely seeing the court as a freshman, he burst onto the scene in his sophomore year as a raw big man with loads of potential. Fans were extremely excited about how he would progress from that point. After that sophomore year, his progression really slowed and he has settled into being a quality big man, but not a star in the ACC. He has averaged 5.5 fouls committed per 40 minutes, which has made it difficult for him to exhibit any consistency from game-to-game. He's dramatically improved his post moves over the years and when on the court, gives Clemson a legitimate center who can score in the post. Nnoko is also among the all-time leaders in blocked shots for the Tigers. He'll be missed more than most fans likely realize, but Sidy Djitte has taken a huge leap this year and surely made everyone feel much better about him assuming the starting role next season.
Jordan Roper spent most of his career as an undersized sparkplug SG, but this year has meant much more to the team. He has played a great deal of PG this season, shifting Holmes to the #2 guard at times. His AST Rate is tops on the team, allowing him to contribute even when his streaky shot isn't on-point. He has been a big reason the Tigers' AST/FGM ratio has improved and the offense has found more flow this season. I'm extremely impressed with his ability to change his game and change the type of player he is. Fortunately, some transfers gaining eligibility and Avry Holmes returning for his senior year will make replacing him decently viable.
STL: Despite having a non-home "home" arena this season, Brad Brownell's crew ripped off three straight big wins in Greenville back in January, beating Louisville, Duke, and Miami in the span of a week. What's been the effect of playing away from Clemson on the team's performance and the fans' morale? And what are you looking forward to most in Clemson's new digs next year?
STS: Bon Secours Wellness Arena is much larger than Littlejohn Coliseum and is designed for the Swamp Rabbits (hockey) so it's a bit odd to see Clemson basketball in the venue. After some sparse crowds and weak atmospheres while Clemson struggled through non-conference play, it seems everything came together as the team starting winning and "The Well" seemed to fill up more regularly. Clemson has played very well at "home" in Greenville so it certainly hasn't seemed to hurt them, but it'll be great when the Tigers have the excitement of a new venue pushing demand.
It's been a long time coming, and when the Tigers play in the new Littlejohn Coliseum next year, it'll be Brownell's best roster of his own players. He absolutely needs to make the NCAA tournament next season and playing at a high level in the new arena will mark the next step for Clemson basketball. Even before this season began, the arena and roster makeup of next year's team had me looking ahead.
STL: Jarron Blossomgame has been the standout offensive star for Clemson this season, playing almost 85 percent of the minutes and maintaining a KenPom offensive efficiency of 119. What makes his game tick? What's been the biggest change in his game from last year to this one, and where do you see his ceiling being in 2017?
STS: Blossomgame has taken a step forward in a handful of areas. His three-point percentage has improved from a lousy .293 to an exceptional .414! This has forced defenses to defend him on the perimeter, which in turn has opened up opportunities to drive baseline and score around the basket more frequently. This also has given him more opportunities to make plays for his teammates off the dribble. It all starts with his improved shooting, but his game has improved in practically all areas offensively. His ability to beat you on the perimeter, quickness off the dribble, or strength in the post makes him Clemson's best and most fungible player.
Assuming he does not head to the NBA (I do not believe he will nor should he), it'll be interesting to see if he will make an effort to be more of a distributor. There have been a few games where defenses were able to make him a non-factor. Those contests are few and far between, but it'd be great to see him turn those games into ones where he may not be scoring, but he is beating double-teams with great passes and still beating the defense.
STL: Clemson's in-state rival, South Carolina, has witnessed a resurgence under Frank Martin this year. The Gamecocks raced out to a 15-0 record and are still positioned to finish near the top of the SEC. Their tempo seems to stand as a pretty stark contrast to Brad Brownell's more deliberate pace. How has the reemergence of USC affected Clemson basketball? Do you see the hardwood rivalry reaching anything near the intensity of the gridiron?
STS: To this point, I don't think they've had a dramatic impact on Clemson basketball. The rivalry is disappointingly tepid. They've stolen some in-state recruits from the Tigers, which hurts to be sure, but the best prospects from the state likely to be taken by UNC or other blue bloods. P.J. Dozier was a great in-state recruit they pulled in, but he is from Columbia so it's more of a case like Chris Paul staying in Winston-Salem to attend Wake Forest than someone from Charleston or Greenville weighing both schools and choosing South Carolina.
STL: These two teams' first meeting was a tight affair in Charlottesville. Blossomgame's outside shooting kept it close throughout, and Clemson reeled a late 11-point Virginia lead back to single digits in the closing minutes. How has Clemson changed since that January 19th game? What do you expect to see when they hit the court for a rematch Tuesday night?
STS: On cue, the Tigers beat Georgia Tech and Boston College to set-up a possible run into the NCAA tournament. They then lost back-to-back road games to NC State and Georgia Tech and quickly dashed those hopes. The Tigers are a woeful 2-6 on the road in ACC play, but fortunately get this game at home. It'll be interesting to see if they are able to keep the intensity up even with the season essentially lost. If so, expect a real battle.