Virginia Tech hosts Clemson tonight in Blacksburg, seeking to add to their argument for an NCAA tournament berth. However, Clemson has underachieved in 2016-17, but still comes in with something to play for with an NIT bid still possible. I caught up with Ryan Kantor of Shakin’ The Southland for a Q&A previewing tonight’s game.
Gobbler Country: With 10 ACC losses on the schedule, how difficult has it been for the fans and the team to stare reality in the face after Clemson was picked by most people to reach the NCAA tournament?
Ryan Kantor: It hasn't been much fun. We've been in a lot of great, competitive games, but we haven't won many of them. Tigers fans have opted for apathy over anger, likely because it just seems silly to complain after how blessed we were watching our community come through on the biggest stage against Alabama (...I write as I wear my National Champions shirt).
GC: In the first meeting between these teams, Clemson shot the lights out, hitting on 13-of-27 three-point attempts. The Hokies are near the bottom of the conference in 3P% defensively. Will we see a repeat of that great shooting by the Tigers?
RK: The Tigers are up-and-down from three-point range. They're not particularly bad, but it's not a shot this team can rely upon.They were just 3-17 from three in a must-win game at Miami, and could have won if they just made a few open threes and maybe a couple critical free throws down the stretch.
If VT allows Clemson to take open threes they could make them pay, but you never know.
GC: Jaron Blossomgame is an absolute stud. Usually, teams with a player that can dominate on both ends of the court like him perform really well. Why hasn't Clemson been able to do so?
RK: I wouldn't say Jaron Blossomgame is dominant like the Kentucky one-and-done types. He has a well-rounded skill set and has the moxie and leadership to produce even when his jump shot isn't falling. He is a bit undersized at PF, but has outstanding post moves and a nifty little hook shot. While he's one of the best offensive players in the ACC, he is not an elite defensive player, at least not on this team which has struggled with team defense. That's been their biggest program and the reason they don't have more ACC wins.
GC: Clemson is just 1-6 in conference play in games decided by 5 points or less. Is it just poor late game execution, or is it something else?
RK: Records in close games always have an element of luck to them, and the Tigers have been very unlucky this season. For example, ACC opponents have shot over 79% from the FT line against Clemson, the highest in the league.That said, they've missed clutch free throws and failed to come up with key defensive stops so I can't say it's all luck.
GC: Brad Brownell has made the tournament just once as the HC of the Tigers. That was in his first year back in 2010-11. Is he on the hot seat, and does NC State's seemingly quick-trigger decision to let Gottfried go after the season impact the decision making process for the front office?
RK: I'm not sure that NC State's decision impacts Clemson's next move, unless the athletic department feels their opening will make Clemson's opening tougher to fill.
I'm not yet ready to say if Coach Brownell should stay or go, but based on a poll of our readers, over two-in-three think it will be time to move on if we fail to make the NCAA tournament - which is highly likely.
GC: Prediction: which team wins this game and why?
RK: KenPom gives Clemson a 41% chance in this game, and that seems about right. Shockingly, KenPom ranks the Tigers above the Hokies, underscoring how unlucky we've been this season. If the Hokies have an off day, the Tigers could steal one on the road, but it's more likely the Hokies wrap up their NCAA tournament bid and the Tigers end their own.