ACC opens play tomorrow, and FSU's schedule is front loaded with potential losses. First up is a road trip to Clemson, who destroyed FSU last year in the opener. I got together with Eric Dowling from the exceptional Clemson blog Shakin the Southland for a Q&A. My answers to his questions are up at their site, so check it out.
TN: This is year 3 of the Brownell era. What is the Clemson fan's perspective on the job he's done?
STS: Most knowledgeable basketball fans realize that Clemson is a much more organized and fundamentally sound team under Brad Brownell. But he wasn't given the keys to a Ferrari. He was given a roster full of raw players that lacked fundamentals. After losing his best two players heading into his 2nd year (Stitt and Grant) and his 3rd year (Young and Smith), Clemson is facing the prospect of missing out on the tournament in back to back years. Therefore, fans are eager to get back to the tournament. This team has 11 freshmen and sophomores, so I didn't expect that to happen next year. I think 2013-2014 could be the year that Clemson breaks out and gets back to the big dance. I'm trying to preach patience, but parts of the fanbase are becoming restless.
TN: Clemson seems to have made big improvements late in each of the past two seasons. Where is Clemson at right now? Do they have the pieces to get significantly better this year?
STS: I think this team is primed to get better as the season progresses. Brownell has proven his ability as a coach in that he can get his guys to significantly improve as the season goes on. And as I said above, their are 11 freshmen and sophomores on scholarship. You know what you are going to get from Devin Booker and Milton Jennings (although consistency is another story), but the young guys have a lot of upside and I expect them to continue to improve.
TN: FSU has had several flukey games where poor 3-point shooting teams suddenly can't miss against the Noles. Who are the one or two guys on Clemson most likely to suddenly start making every shot in the gym?
STS: Clemson had one flukey 3-point shooting game in their Thanksgiving holiday tournament, but I doubt you'll have to worry about that happening again. Jordan Roper is a very good outside shooter and Milton Jennings has been hot this year, but his career high was 33% prior to this year. K.J. McDaniels started off the year red hot from outside the arc, but has really cooled off in the last couple of weeks.
TN: Milton Jennings finally seems to be rounding into something closer to the player Clemson fans thought they were getting when he was recruited. What is different this year? Why is he more successful?
STS: He's really the same Milton Jennings that we've had in previous years, except he's knocking down 3-pointers at 41% clip and turning the ball over a little less than last season. He has his moments where you can see his talents, but he also has his brain farts and lapses in effort that make Clemson fans pull their hair out. I think back to his recruiting ranking and I'm still surprised he was so highly regarded. He lacks the athleticism (and strength) that is usually associated with players that highly ranked.
TN: Most FSU fans haven't seen Adonis Filer, Demarcus Harrison or Jordan Roper. What do they bring to the court?
STS: Adonis Filer is extremely confident and aggressive freshman PG. Filer and Blossomgame (injured) were the two recruits I thought could have a significant impact as freshmen. He still needs to work on his outside shot, although he did fill it up last game, but he does an excellent job of getting to the rim and is a very tough defender.
Damarcus Harrison is a former Rivals100 recruit who transferred from BYU in the offseason. He came in with a reputation as a shooter with above average athleticism. He's been very good from midrange, but his 3-point shot has been off. Still, he does provide a solid scoring punch off the bench.
Jordan Roper is Clemson's version of "The Microwave". He's instant offense. He took over the starting SG spot vacated by T.J. Sapp's transfer (although he was losing his starting spot anyway). He's one of those guys that just knows how to score. He has a very good shooting stroke and can knock it down from deep or pull up in the midrange. He's still working to become better defensively and is very undersized for a SG at 5'11.
TN: Who wins and why?
Clemson's played well at home under Brownell. And, like you said, I think Clemson matches up well with FSU. I think this is a tight game throughout, but I think Clemson keeps the pace slow and is able to make more plays out of their halfcourt set than FSU.