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Bama-Clemson Basketball Breakdown And Open Thread

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The football teams may be on a collision course for the national championship, but the basketball squads will do battle first

Dawson Powers-USA TODAY Sports

Avery Johnson's young group got quite the wake-up call last Friday night in Hattiesburg, as a desperate Southern Miss team played their best ball of the year and nearly knocked off the Crimson Tide (5-2). Credit the young men in crimson though, as that game was the kind of game that would have led to an ugly loss under the previous regime. Regardless, Alabama will look to continue their current three game winning streak, all away from home, as they head to Greenville, South Carolina to take on the Clemson Tigers (6-2). Clemson has been solidly average for their entire six year run under head coach Brad Brownell, and this year's group seems to fit that bill pretty well. The Tigers have played one of the softest schedules in the country, coming into this game with the 338th ranked SOS according to Ken Pomeroy's rankings. Still, the Tigers combine some nice pieces with plenty of length, and they will be a great challenge for the Tide.

The Roster

The Starters

  • PG Avry Holmes (10.3 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 3.6 APG, 0.8 SPG)
  • SG Jordan Roper (9.3 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.0 SPG)
  • WF Donte Grantham (11.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 2.3 APG, 0.5 BPG)
  • PF Jaron Blossomgame (18.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.6 BPG, 0.8 SPG)
  • C Landry Nnoko (8.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.9 APG, 2.1 BPG)
Clemson's main strength this season is their starting frontcourt. Between Grantham, Blossomgame (who is in the running for the country's best player name), and Nnoko, the Tigers average 4.2 BPG and 6'9 height. On top of that, their combined 5.9 APG is pretty strong for their size, and none of them average 3.0 or more fouls per game, meaning they play strong defense without getting themselves in trouble. Nnoko is more of a physical presence than anything else, as his offensive and rebounding skills are a bit lacking, but Grantham is a solid scorer (42.9% FG%, 35.7% 3P%, 86.7% FT%) and rebounder. Blossomgame has been awesome though. He's shooting 59.6% from the field, and even though most of those attempts come from around the basket, he's also shooting 42.3% from three and 70.5% from the line.

Roper is a quality guard for Clemson. His 3.9 APG and 1.0 SPG is impressive enough without mentioning that he's only turning the ball over 0.4 times per game. He's a pretty solid shooter in his own right too (42.6% FG%, 39.4% 3P%, 75.0% FT%). Holmes rounds out the starting line-up at the point. His 44.7% 3P% makes him a serious threat, and the Tide will need to make sure he can't find space.

The Bench
  • G Gabe DeVoe (5.4 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.5 SPG)
  • G Ty Hudson (4.1 PPG, 0.9 APG)
  • F Josh Smith (2.6 PPG, 2.5 RPG)
  • C Sidy Djitte (4.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 0.5 BPG)
The Tigers aren't particularly deep, but they get quality minutes out of most of these guys. DeVoe is a veteran who provides some nice relief for Roper and Holmes. He isn't much of a scoring threat though (28.0% FG%, 29.6% 3P%, 58.3% FT%), so defenses can back up off of him and focus on packing the paint more. Hudson is a true freshman with potential, but he is a raw prospect right now. The senior, Smith, is really only a 6'8 body that can come in and give some of the other forwards a breather. Djitte is another 6'10 center with the ability to bang in the post. He's actually a much better rebounder than Nnoko (0.9 RPG more despite playing nearly seven minutes less per game), but he is pretty inept offensively.

What To Watch For

  • Who Steps Up for Dazon? With star freshman Dazon Ingram suffering a broken foot in practice this week, Alabama is now in a bad spot. The main goal for this year has always been focusing on getting this program moving in the right direction, but the overwhelmingly successful trip to Orlando for the AdvoCare Invitational got many Alabama fans thinking that the program could contend this season. That was a bit of a stretch already, but now with Ingram, one of the best all-around players on the team, done for the year, the outlook for the rest of the season just got pretty murky. Avery Johnson's truly got his work cut out for him now. Justin Coleman will obviously be the first guy this team turns to at this point, as he is the only other true point guard on the roster. Coleman has struggled a bit this season, as he has never really developed into the star many thought he could be coming out of high school, but he's got the ability to lead this team. Behind him though, there isn't much depth. Retin Obasohan will likely be tasked with running the point much more than he intended to this season.
  • What Does the Offense Look Like? No more Dazon means a number of things offensively. First of all, the lovely advantage of having your primary ball-carrier be 6'5 is out the window. Coleman and Obasohan, are, well, not tall. Not only that, but Ingram was leading the team in assists and rebounds. Coleman's a nice distributor of the basketball, but he doesn't see the court as well as Ingram, who could also use his height to create dribble-penetration and force the defense to rotate. In transition, Ingram had the ability to grab a defensive board and immediately push the Tide up the court. Expect the Alabama fastbreak game to take a bit of a hit. Again, Avery Johnson's really going to earn his paycheck this season.

Three Keys to Victory

  1. Defend the Paint. Clemson's done really well this year when they get the ball inside. They are currently ranked 78th in the country with a 52.9% 2P%, mostly  because they attack the basket with authority. Blossomgame in particular is adept in this area, so Alabama will need someone with the ability to prevent dribble-penetration from the wing to step up. Shannon Hale could be the Tide's most important defender Sunday night.
  2. Quick Rotations. The Tigers' offensive identity this year has been working the defense inside-out, using their ability to attack the basket to open up shots from the perimeter. Alabama will need to be ready to rotate over quickly to close out on strong shooters like Holmes and Roper.
  3. Ramp Up the Speed. Clemson runs a very efficient, deliberate offense. It would behoove the Tide to try to make them uncomfortable by picking up the pace of the game. Alabama is at their best offensively when they can get out in transition, which is the opposite of what Clemson's trying to do. If the Tide can force some turnovers and speed up the pace of play, they will have a good chance of coming out of Greenville with another quality victory.
The loss of Ingram is going to take some time to adjust to. Unfortunately, Alabama doesn't have much time to make those changes though, as a solid Clemson squad awaits them in Greenville on Sunday night. However, if Alabama can find a way to split this game and the Oregon game in Birmingham on December 21st, they could have the makings of a strong non-conference resume (assuming they take care of business against the remaining cupcakes, of course). The focus this season has been on development, though, and that will not change. It will be very interesting to see what adjustments Avery Johnson goes with now that Ingram is done for the year.

The game will tip at 5:00 PM CST and will be televised on ESPNU.