Wednesday night, the Jackets will look to build upon their big road win against Syracuse when they take on Clemson. Before the game, we sat down with Calvin Craft from Shakin The Southland to get his insight on what he expects when the Tigers and Jackets clash in Clemson.
FTRS: What were expectations like coming into the season for this Clemson team?
Expectations were high coming off a Sweet 16 run and returning four starters from the group that led that stretch run. Getting to 20+ wins and making the NCAAs again was the popular prognosis among most media and fans. This team was ranked in nearly every preseason poll. Needless to say it had been a disappointing season so far.
FTRS: Senior Marcquise Reed is having a fantastic season with career highs in nearly every category. What makes his game so special and how has he taken his game to a different level this season?
Reed is one of the very best off the bounce scorers in Clemson history. He is providing everything Clemson fans could have hoped for so far this year. He is having to carry too much of the load, though, and his absence from a knee sprain was a major factor in the loss to Mississippi State and a near loss to St. Peter’s.
FTRS: How has Clemson handled the loss of Gabe DeVoe and Donte Grantham this season?
Not well. Losing Grantham was perceived as less of a blow considering he missed most of ACC play and tourney play last year with that knee injury. Gabe DeVoe’s loss has loomed very large as the team has really struggled to replace his deep shooting presence and better than average defending. The hope was Aamir Simms would grow to replace Grantham but he has been very inconsistent. Neither Hunter Tyson nor John Newman have been able to come close to providing the wing production DeVoe gave. Clyde Trapp has stepped his game up a notch but has had to cover for a slumping Shelton Mitchell more than Clemson fans have wanted to see.
FTRS: A loss to Georgia Tech would drop Clemson to 0-4 in ACC play. How badly do they need this win?
This is about as close to a must win for early January as you will ever see. Any hope of salvaging a chance for the NCAA tournament will go up in flames with a loss here. The ACC office killed Clemson with that initial ACC slate and the team has to find a way to win this game and get some positive momentum.
FTRS: Who’s the x-factor for this Clemson team?
I would say Aamir Simms, but in actuality it now would have to be Shelton Mitchell. His play has been nowhere near what he did last year so far in 2019. Most folks including myself expected as good or better production from a senior veteran like Mitchell the way we have seen it from Reed, but he has really struggled not only to shoot the ball but to create for his teammates. If he returns to last year’s form this team has a chance but if his poor play continues, the season will be lost.
FTRS: After making the tournament last season for the first time since 2011, does it feel like a burden has been lifted or does it feel like there’s even more pressure now for Clemson to continue that success?
The good will Brownell created last year will not last long without showing some sustained success. Football has helped take some attention away, but a team returning this much production from a 25 win team can’t follow that up with 15 or 16 wins. Brownell’s recruiting is still a huge question mark having missed on sure fire studs like Zion Williamson and Josiah James who reportedly both silently committed to the Tigers before switching ahead of signing day. The current team is built on transfers much more than guys brought in from high school. AJ Oliver became yet another Brownell recruit to transfer out of the program after making little impact. It doesn’t help when a program like Virginia Tech is doing so well because Clemson should be able to compete with the Hokies in basketball. They aren’t Duke or UNC with decades of basketball glory to recruit to.
FTRS: Finally, what’s your prediction? Who wins and why?
GT is playing much better as of late and beat the same Syracuse team who took Clemson out last week. GT also gave UVA a much better test than the Tigers did. GT’s zone defense worries me considering how poorly Clemson has shot the 3. However, this is a circle the wagons game for a veteran team who has to know it can’t afford to wait any longer to make a move. I think Clemson finds a way to scrap out a tough win at home. I’ll take Clemson 61-57.
Many thanks to Calvin for taking the time to answer my questions. Make sure to check out some Clemson coverage over at Shakin The Southland.