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Clemson at Florida State basketball: Q&A with Shakin' the Southland

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With a huge game against Clemson on Saturday, Tomahawk Nation spoke with Ryan Kantor to get some insight into this surprising Tigers team

Dawson Powers-USA TODAY Sports

I also discussed Florida State with Ryan, and you can find that right here.

1. No one in the media picked Clemson to finish near the top of the ACC. Obviously, there is still a ways to go, but they're sitting at 6-2. Is this something you guys predicted in the preseason, or are you as surprised as everyone else?

We thought our written goal for ACC play (9-9) was optimistic. After a poor 7-5 non-conference start, it looked downright silly. Evidently, there was a players only team meeting after the Tigers were blown out in Athens and the team has gelled since. Surely that can't be the entire answer, but they have looked like a different team since then. With a 6-2 ACC record, not even the biggest Clemson homers predicted this!

2. Unfortunately for Clemson, a meh out-of-conference performance has the Tigers hanging around the bubble. How confident are you that Clemson makes the NCAAT, and if they make it, what sort of seed are you imagining? And what happened in all those losses?

I'm not particularly confident they get in, however their ACC schedule was ridiculously front-loaded. Six of their final nine games will be Against Georgia Tech (twice), Boston College (Twice), NC State, and Wake Forest. This should make their winning ways sustainable, even if their level of play regresses. Although I am a fan of KenPom statistics and think the committee should use them extensively, RPI still holds a lot of weight and the Tigers have an uphill battle improving from their current ranking in the 80s. I worry that could keep them out.

It's certainly possible though and I remain hopeful. Recency bias (does anybody even remember the basketball games that were happening during football season?) may help out as the Tigers have been a different team since the calendar flipped to 2016. I can't explain the sudden change in this team's level of play or what happened in non-conference play, but I am certainly not complaining about the transformation. If they make the tournament, I could see Clemson stealing a 12-seed and being a particularly unfair match-up for an unlucky 5-seed. That's just the kind of cruel joke the committee likes to pull on 5-seeds.

3. Brad Brownell teams at Clemson have been bad-offense, good to great-defense. But this team seems to be better on the offensive end than on the defensive end. Right now Pomeroy has Clemson with the No. 80 defense nationally. Are there roster issues which will keep that number from greatly improving, or is Clemson really just some better execution away from being really, really good?

When last year's starters at PG and SG were replaced with smaller, less defense-focused players we knew to expect some regression on defense. Jordan Roper is great at getting the occasional steal and score, but he and Holmes give away a lot of size to opposing guards. PF Blossomgame is a phenomenal player, but he is better offensively than defensively at this point in his career. They've improved their defensive consistency since conference play began and are still in the upper half of the conference (5th in points per possession allowed), but they may not be quite as good as the last few Clemson teams defensively. Fortunately, they're far better offensively.

4. Jaron Blossomgame is a great player, and pretty much everyone expected that. Give me a couple unsung heroes on the team, and what are they doing which you're happy to see?

I'll give you two other players who have really impressed me. The first is back-up center Sidy Djitte. Last season, starting center Landry Nnoko disappointed many who expected him to take big strides after a nice sophomore year. Instead, he was inconsistent and often found himself in foul trouble. When foul trouble struck, Djitte would enter the game and offer absolutely nothing offensively while committing 8.2 fouls per 40 minutes. Djitte has worked hard and taken his game to the next level, even earning starts in a handful of games and pushing Landry Nnoko to improvement. He was a big part in Clemson's win over Florida State and has been a major part of Clemson's success.

The other player is Jordan Roper. He was always shown flashes of offensive prowess, but was somewhat limited to a hot shooting streak. This year he has played much more point guard (rather than almost exclusively shooting guard) and has become a phenomenal passer. This allows him to contribute when his shooting isn't hot, which is sometimes the case as he has shot .386 from the field this year.

5. Finally, how about a prediction? You guys seem unbeatable at home (at least in the ACC), whereas FSU is 1-2 at home in conference. Does Clemson win another relatively easy one over the Noles?

KenPom gives Clemson only a 31% chance to win this game. Sometimes I feel they rely too heavily on home court advantage, but I'll give their game projections one last chance and side with them for this game. Frankly though, I think it's a battle and a 50-50 game that will go a long way in determining postseason play. This is a big one and Clemson's until they play Virginia in the second to last game of the regular season.