Wednesday night, the Jackets will try to snap out of a three game losing streak, returning home to take on Clemson for the second time this season. 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.
FTRS: Last time we met, you called the game a must win for Clemson. How have things gone since then? Is Clemson back on track?
It was certainly a must win, and the Tigers have played better since though dropping a very, very winnable game in Raleigh to NCSU still stings. The Tigers have faced a much easier slate of games from those first four in the league and are looking more like the middle of the pack ACC team they should be this year. I will say the team has shown tremendous resolve after that game with the Pack which could have sent this team circling the drain.
FTRS: In the first meeting, Marcquise Reed dropped a season high 30 points. How should the Jackets defend him this time around to prevent a repeat performance?
I’m certain Josh Pastner and his staff are emphasizing coming out of the gate strong. The Tigers dominated the first part of each half in the first meeting, mainly because Reed was able to get into his favorite spots for shots (usually the elbow areas) and got in rhythm. I fully expect the Jackets to have more energy at home and the Tigers will need to match that energy. To answer your question, the key to defending Reed is not letting him get to where he wants to take shots. Make him a 3 point shooter and limit his game off the bounce either with doubling the drive or closing out short. If he’s making 3’s then it just isn’t your night.
FTRS: What player on Clemson would you say has elevated his game so far in conference play?
Clemson is getting consistent play from Elijah Thomas, Marcquise Reed, and David Skara. The recent win streak has largely been fueled by better play out of Shelton Mitchell who really, really struggled in the games Clemson lost in the ACC. The Mitchell/Clyde Trapp duo needs to be good for this team to compete with the upper echelon in the league and on the road. Aamir Simms is another guy still trying to find consistency. The Tigers don’t have much punch off the bench so the starters have to carry a big load. Mitchell was good in the first GT game with 9 assists and is the one who usually determines what Clemson team you are going to see.
FTRS: Clemson seems to have been much better at home than on the road this season. Would you say that’s accurate and does that provide any concern for Wednesday’s game?
This is true and really not that uncommon in the ACC. What separates the top four/five with the rest of the league are the ones who can find ways to win on the road. There are very, very few easy road trips in this league. In fact, winning a road league game is almost like getting two wins. Clemson has not had easy places to play going to Durham, Syracuse, Tallahassee, and Raleigh so far. The FSU and NCSU games were there for the taking and the team just didn’t get it done. The narrative on this season would be a lot different had those been wins.
FTRS: Finally, what’s your prediction? Who wins?
This is a difficult call. Clemson is certainly playing better basketball right now than GT, but the shoe was on the other foot when game 1 happened and Clemson played really well and GT was flat out of the gate. Both teams are clawing for position in the middle of the ACC pack desperately looking to get to the top 8. Certain teams have owned Brad Brownell during his time at Clemson, but he has pretty much owned GT. I think GT’s struggles as a perimeter shooting team plays into Clemson’s hands, as most of the Tigers’s woes have been due to opponents lighting them up from 3. Like game 1, the two matchups to watch are Mitchell vs. Alverado and Thomas vs. Banks. Both teams need to win one of those head to heads to win. KenPom is saying Clemson by 1.
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.