It’s been over 20 years since Clemson basketball advanced beyond the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. But this could be the team. When faced with conference foes with far more talent, coach Brad Brownell has gone to the tried and true method of getting old. Four of five starters are already 23-years-old or going to be this year, and the 5th starter - the youngster - will be just 22.
The Tigers (20-4, 9-3) season got off to a shaky start when they dropped a game to Temple. But then they beat Ohio State, Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana Lafayette.
In the ACC, they started 5-2, but then senior Donte Grantham went down for the year and no one knew how they’d respond.
In their first game without Grantham, they got taken to the woodshed by Virginia in a loss that had fans averting their eyes from the carnage. In the final 28 minutes of basketball, the short-handed Tigers scored 16 points.
But then - they were back to clicking. Four straight wins including an impressive victory over North Carolina, and Clemson isn’t just thinking about dancing, they’re thinking about a 2-seed, or when they’re feeling greedy, a 1-seed.
Marcquise Reed, a 6-3 junior transfer from Robert Morris, leads Clemson at 15.4 points per game. He’s solid from deep (38%), but isn’t a 3-point specialist by any means. He’s good in transition. He creates for teammates. He gets to the line.
Gabe Devoe has been an eye opener. After shooting just 31% from deep his first three seasons, the 6-3 senior has suddenly blossomed into 43% 3-point shooter, and is averaging 13.5 per game.
Junior Shelton Mitchell is another 6-3 guard, though he’s the least efficient of the bunch. He scores 12.0 points per game, and he plays a ton of minutes because he’s steady with the ball.
The last player in double-figures is Texas A&M transfer Elijah Thomas. The 6-9 junior was a top-50 recruit out of high school, but has had maturity issues. Those seem to be cleared up, and now he’s averaging 10.3 points and a team high 7.5 boards. In ACC play he’s the 4th best defensive rebounder in the conference.
No one else on the roster averages more than 3.8 points per game.
This offense is essentially a 4-man operation. They rely heavily on 3-pointers, and are an excellent free throw shooting team in the late minutes.
Defensively, this team - as we’ve come to expect from Brad Brownell - is close to elite. They rebound. They don’t foul. But they also don’t force a ton of turnovers.
This will need to be a gritty game. FSU needs to take care of the ball, and work for good shots. But Florida State has to do this without being overly cautious. Clemson will try and slow the game down to a crawl, and to get them out of their comfort zone, the ‘Noles will need to get the transition game rolling.
The game tips at 7 PM from the Tuck and will be broadcast regionally. FSU is a 4.5 point favorite.