It’s probably a little strange that one of the first things I’ve ever associated with Clemson University is “Pistol” Pete Maravich, considering he played his college ball at LSU. But when I was about 10 or 11 years old, I was borderline obsessed with a terrible, low budget story of Maravich’s life, called “The Pistol: The Birth of a Legend,” which was about Pistol Pete’s early days as he neared high school age. And because of that movie, I can’t think about Clemson without thinking about baggy gray socks.
On Saturday, Syracuse takes on Clemson, a team that most people are still struggling to associate to Clemson the way I do. It’s actually pretty simple, but takes a little bit of college hoops trivia that no sane person who isn’t either a Clemson fan, or obsessively watched and rewatched a cheesy movie about a basketball player who died way too young would or could know. See, along with that movie teaching me what a freaking exciting player Pistol Pete was, and had me shunning normal basketball habits to try to learn how to showboat, it also ingrained in me the fact that Pistol Pete’s dad, Press, played ball and later coached at Clemson.
By the way, if you want to know just how absurdly corny the movie really was, this clip should basically tell you everything you need to know:
But enough about Pistol Pete, his improbably named father, Press, and a movie that I never should have watched that extra hundred or so times. Let’s get on to the matchup at hand.
Syracuse heads out on the road for its fifth “true” road game of the season. The Orange are 2-2 on the road this year, and they’ll be looking to sneak up over .500 on Saturday in Clemson, South Carolina, while pushing their win streak to eight games. On paper, it should almost certainly be a Syracuse victory, but playing on the road, in conference play, without Chris McCullough…well, things aren’t going to be quite so black and white.
Clemson is led by Jaron Blossomgame, a 6-foot-7 forward who seems to have been named by a lazy screenwriter who wanted to get across the point that his game has really been blossoming this year. Blossomgame is averaging a Tiger-best 13.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, while shooting 48.1% from the field, 27.8% from three point range, and 69.4% from the free throw line. The redshirt sophomore missed his first year at Clemson after suffering a compound fracture from late in his senior year of high school, but has recovered nicely, without losing much – if any – athleticism.
Outside of Blossomgame, the Tigers don’t have a ton of interior presence, despite also starting the 6-foot-8 Donte Grantham and the 6-foot-10 Nnoko Landry. There’s solid size there, but not great production. Grantham is third on the team in scoring, chipping in 9.5 points, but only pulls down 4.8 boards. Landry, a 255 pound junior center, scores 8.3 points, grabs 6.0 boards, and has swatted away 31 shots this year.
That’s decent production along the front line, but the shooting percentages have been nothing special for college post players. Grantham is shooting a woeful 39.2% from the field and just 25.6% from long distance, and Landry is hitting 51% from the field. That’s not a bad field goal percentage, but you’d expect a little more efficiency for a big, bruising post player like Landry.
Overall, the team shoots just 41.7% from the field, but the Tigers do hold their opponents to just 39.8% shooting. Three pointers aren’t a particular specialty for the Tigers, as they’ve hit just 29% all year, with Damarcus Harrison the most prolific shooter with 27 makes at a clip of 39.7%. The 6-foot-4 senior is a guy the Orange will certainly want to keep an eye on. Another potentially dangerous outside shooter is Rod Hall, who is fourth on the team with 9.1 points per game and, while he’s only attempted 25 threes in 16 games, he’s knocked down 40% of those attempts. Hall also leads Clemson with 54 assists.
Speaking of assists, this is yet another team that the Orange will face that comes into the game with a pretty dismal assist-to-turnover ratio. The Tigers have given the ball away 201 times, with only 172 helpers as a team. Hall and Jordan Roper, a 6-foot junior bench player, are the only two regulars with a positive assist-to-turnover ratio, but even Hall has 40 turnovers this season.
Scoring is certainly an issue for the Tigers, who have lost to the likes of Winthrop, Gardner-Webb, and (perhaps most embarrassingly) Rutgers, with the most eye-catching wins coming against LSU, Arkansas, and Pittsburgh. The Tigers also played Louisville tough, falling by a score of just 58-52. The 9-7 Tigers are averaging only 63.3 points per game, and getting three more rebounds per game than their opponents.
Again, this is a game that Syracuse should win, particularly if the Orange continue to shoot the ball at the same level they’ve been hitting recently. Eventually you’d think that Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije will begin to come back down to earth with their long range percentages, but unless the unfamiliar confines of Littlejohn Coliseum prove to be too much of a challenge, this isn’t a Clemson team that’s going to be able to slow down the Syracuse perimeter players. So far this year, Clemson is letting its opponents hit nearly 32% from deep. That’s not exactly Steph Curry levels, but it’s a heck of a lot higher than I’m sure Brad Brownell would like to see against his team.
It’ll also help if Cooney and Gbinije sit down, watch The Pistol, and remember these important keys to shooting a jump shot: fingertip control. Backspin. Follow through.
The birth of a legend, indeed.