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Previewing Clemson: Tigers overcoming bad early-season losses, one surprising ACC win after another

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Dawson Powers-USA TODAY Sports

How to watch or listen to the game

Tip time: 3 p.m. ET, Saturday, Feb. 20

TV: ACC Network -- affiliates

Online streamingESPN3

Radio: Wolfpack Sports Network (affiliates)

Clemson vitals

Record: 16-10 (9-5)
RPI: 94
Pomeroy ranking: No. 52
Best win***: 66-62 over Louisville (KenPom No. 6)
Worst loss: 89-83 to Minnesota (KenPom No. 180)

(***Best win or loss based on opponent's Pomeroy Rating, not the scoring margin.)

Adjusted tempo: 64.5 poss/40 minutes (ranks 337th)
Adjusted offensive efficiency: 109.8 (ranks 63rd)
Adjusted defensive efficiency: 97.9 (ranks 61st)

Clemson roster
Clemson schedule
Clemson stats 2016

The Clemson offense and starters

CU Offense -- Four Factors eFG% TO% OR% FT Rate
Regular Season (Nat'l Rank) 49.9 (176) 16.3 (53) 31.2 (131) 35.1 (216)
ACC Games (Conf. Rank) 49.4 (9) 16.2 (6) 30.3 (9) 38.6 (4)

There are plenty of strange things about this college basketball season, with the Clemson Tigers chief among them. Apparently it takes Brad Brownell's team a month or two to get cookin', or uh, get respectable. The Tigers have already won more ACC games this season than they did all of last year.

Brownell needed a bounce-back effort after Clemson's tepid 16-15 campaign in 2015, and early on at least, that did not appear to be a possibility. Clemson lost early-season contests to UMass and Minnesota, two teams that rank outside the KenPom top 150. But here the Tigers are in mid-February with a 9-5 ACC record that includes wins over Duke, Miami, Syracuse, and Louisville. Go figure.

The turnaround has a lot to do with Clemson's offense, which may end up being the best of the Brownell era. The Tigers ranked just 177th in offensive efficiency last season but have improved to 63rd.

They're relying quite a bit on threes (about 39% of their field goal attempts come from outside), and although this is only an average-ish three-point shooting team (35%), it's significantly better than last season. The Tigers are also much better at  the free throw line (73.3%). The improved shooting in those areas along with better ball security have made a big difference for them.

It's not an offense with many obvious strengths, but it has no glaring weaknesses, either. That's a huge improvement over 2015, and it may be enough to sneak the Tigers into the NCAA tournament.

Starters

Jordan Roper (6-0, 165) -- Roper's dialed back his involvement in the scoring to do a little more distributing this year. He's still a good three-point threat and excellent at the free throw line.

Avry Holmes (6-2, 195) -- In two seasons at San Francisco, Holmes made 44.9% of his three-point tries. He hasn't been able to replicate that success in his first season at Clemson, or even come close, but safe to say he's a threat to have a big game on any given day. He's pretty good at getting to the free throw line, where he's a career 78.6% shooter.

Donte Grantham (6-8, 210) -- Seems to be finding his shooting touch after an abysmal freshman year. His 3FG% is up from 27.6% in 2015 to 36.2% this season. He's also improved dramatically at the free throw line, though he doesn't get there often.

Jaron Blossomgame (6-7, 215) -- You might say Jaron's game ... has blossomed. Ugh, I'm sorry. Blossomgame has emerged as the leader of Clemson's offense thanks to career-highs in FT% (77.8), 2FG% (53.8), and 3FG% (40.5). All of that despite a larger workload. He's also blocking shots at a significantly higher rate this season.

Landry Nnoko (6-10, 255) -- Good rebounder at both ends, and an elite shot blocker (12th in blk%). He's hitting a career-high 56.2% of his twos, though he can be prone to turnovers. Foul trouble tends to be a problem as well.

The Clemson bench and defense

Reserves: Gabe DeVoe (6-3, 205), Sidy Djitte (6-10, 240). Ah, yes, our old pal Gabe DeVoe, who scored approximately one billion points against the Wolfpack late last season. Actually it was 18 points. That's still a career high, by the way. (He hasn't scored more than 11 in any other game.)

DeVoe is struggling in a big way (35.7% from two, 29.9% from three), but we learned last year how moot that can be. Djitte is a brilliant offensive rebounder, though not usually much of a factor in the scoring.

CU Defense -- Four Factors eFG% (National Rank) TO% OR% FT Rate
Regular Season (Nat'l Rank) 47.3 (70) 18.1 (182) 29.3 (142) 28.1 (25)
ACC Games (Conf. Rank) 48.9 (7) 17.6 (9) 31.3 (6) 30.3 (3)

Brownell's track record with defenses is very good and probably deserves a little more recognition. (It'd probably help if he'd taken Clemson to the NCAAs more than once in the last five years.) He's been a head coach at three different places, and he's had at least one top-25 defense at each stop. If he could get his offenses figured out with any sort of consistency, he'd really be on to somethin'.

His Clemson defenses generally have made their success through defending the paint well and avoiding fouls. The Tigers rank 56th this season in 2FG% defense, and they are ranked among the top 10 in block percentage for the second time in the last three years.

They are only average at forcing turnovers and grabbing defensive boards, but that's not such a big deal if there are no glaring problems elsewhere, and Clemson has none. Like the offense, the defense doesn't really jump off the page, but when you put all the average-to-above-average parts together, you have a pretty good unit.

The Pomeroy Predictor likes NC State by two.