Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame Seeking Recognition and Relevance

Posted by Charlie Maikis on November 17th, 2016

Clemson has always been a football school, but don’t tell that to Jaron Blossomgame. Coming off an All-ACC season in which he won the conference’s Most Improved Player Award, the redshirt senior is now looking to lead the Tigers to their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2011. Clemson started the campaign with a win over Georgia at the new Littlejohn Coliseum last Friday night, and it will continue with an opening round game later this morning  against Davidson at the Tire Pros Invitational in Kissimmee, Florida. A lack of postseason success has prompted many to overlook Blossomgame as a legitimate candidate for All-America honors, but after averaging 18.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game last year, “JB” comes into his final season looking to cement his status as one of the premier players in the nation.

Dec 18, 2015; Greenville, SC, USA; Clemson Tigers forward Jaron Blossomgame (5) celebrates during a timeout in the second half against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Bon Secours Wellness Arena. The Gamecocks won 65-59. Mandatory Credit: Dawson Powers-USA TODAY Sports

Jaron Blossomgame is poised for a monster season. (USA TODAY Sports)

A legitimate inside-out threat, Blossomgame’s versatility makes him very difficult to stop. Per Synergy Sports, he ranked in the 89th percentile nationally in points per possession on post-ups, but also shot an outstanding 44.6 percent from beyond the arc (on 102 attempts). There is no easy solution for guarding him — an opponent needs a player quick enough to chase him around the perimeter but also big enough to avoid his punishment on the blocks. The dearth of players around the country capable of defending Blossomgame allows him to take advantage of his spots. And yet, as lethal as he can be in the half-court, he may even more potent in transition. Between points and assists, Blossomgame created 1.604 points per possession in 53 transition opportunities last year. In last week’s opener, Blossomgame did just that — he picked his spots en route to 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting with six rebounds and three assists. While he is already an elite offensive threat, there are still areas in which the senior can improve. His three dimes last weekend matched his second-best output ever in that regard, and as assistant coach Steve Smith said about his improving passing ability, “we stress those things to him daily.” Blossomgame’s defense also has room to grow, as he and Donte Grantham inside last year proved incapable of containing opposing bigs to the tune of 1.17 points per possession.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part I Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 17th, 2016

morning5_ACC

Note: To gauge relative team strength, we use current KenPom ratings.

  1. Tire Pros Invitational: Clemson (#25) tips off the ACC’s early season tournament action a bit later this morning, taking on Davidson (#74) in the first round of the Tire Pros Invitational (ESPNU – 11:00 AM). This may look like a brand new event, but it’s actually a relocation, as the tournament previously known as the Puerto Rico Tip-off moved to Orlando because of concerns with the Zika virus. Clemson has a chance to pick up some impressive wins here, especially if the Tigers draw Xavier (#12) in the second round. Three more top-100 schools are on the opposite side of the bracket so, no matter what happens, the Tigers’ non-conference strength of schedule should get a healthy boost.
  2. Charleston Classic: A key for Wake Forest (#69) this year will be the development of its young post players, and sophomore John Collins has already answered the bell by averaging 18.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in the Deacons’ first two outings. Danny Manning hopes his young frontcourt holds up well as his team opens with UTEP (#217) this afternoon (ESPN3 – 1:30 PM) in the Charleston Classic. A win today would likely set up a meeting with mighty Villanova (#2) in one of Friday’s semifinals. The rest of the field in this event is not very strong, with host Charleston (#76) the favorite to come out of the other side of the bracket. The tournament finals will be played on Sunday night (ESPN2 – 9:30 PM).
  3. 2K Classic: Pittsburgh (#53) heads to Madison Square Garden tonight for the 2K Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project. The field is extremely balanced, with all four schools rated within 22 spots (KenPom) of one another. The Panthers face SMU (#34) in tonight’s opener (ESPN2 – 7:00 PM) with Marquette (#31) and Michigan (#37) squaring off in the nightcap. The two winners will meet in Friday night’s championship game (ESPN2 – 7:00 PM). Pitt is guaranteed to play two high-caliber teams here, but it needs to register at least one win to make this trip a true resume-builder.
  4. Paradise Jam: Unfortunately for Mark Gottfried, N.C. State (#46) will not be taking freshman forward Ted Kapita with it to the U.S. Virgin Islands. This makes the Wolfpack very thin up front heading into their Paradise Jam opener versus Montana (#172) on Friday night (CBSSN – 6:00 PM). If the Wolfpack can get past the Grizzlies, N.C. State would likely get Creighton (#33) on Sunday evening. Two other top-100 squads — St. Joseph’s (#88) and Mississippi (#84)  — are on the other side of the bracket, so this is a decent all-around field. The event’s championship will be contested on Monday night (CBSSN – 8:30 PM)
  5. Hall of Fame Tip-Off: Duke (#1) will try to shake off its first loss of the year — Tuesday’s buzzer-beater versus Kansas in the Champions Classic — by heading to Connecticut for the Hall of Fame Tip-Off event. The Blue Devils are likely to still be without their three injured star freshmen forwards, but they will meet Penn State (#103) on Saturday regardless (ESPN3 – 12:30 PM) followed by either Cincinnati (#22) or Rhode Island (#35) on Sunday afternoon (ESPN – 1:00 PM). In its current form, Duke could be vulnerable to tough-minded teams like the Bearcats and the Rams, so don’t be shocked if Sunday’s game is another nail-biter for Mike Krzyzewski‘s squad.
Share this story

Opening Weekend in the ACC: Early Goals For All 15 Teams

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 11th, 2016

As we welcome back college basketball this weekend, all 15 ACC schools will be in action, with several suiting up more than once. While teams like Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and Louisville have Final Four aspirations as their ultimate objective, others like Boston College and Georgia Tech would probably be content with a winning record. Whatever the preseason expectation level of each team, there are some specific things each would like to accomplish right out of the gate. Here’s our best guess of what each ACC school’s coaching staff will be focused on this weekend.

ACC schools are presented in alphabetical order. (opponent’s preseason KenPom ranking in parenthesis)

Boston College: Find out who can play.

  • Friday Nov. 11, 7:00 ET vs. Nicholls State (#321): The Eagles have a plethora of new players, including three transfers and four freshmen. Jim Christian has watched all of them perform in the preseason, but he will be anxious to see which newcomers can emerge as dependable options when the real games begin.

Clemson: Start building the resume.

Clemson's Brad Brownell has an improved offense and a surprisingly big home court edge in ACC play. (Bart Boatwright/greenvilleonline.com)

Clemson’s Brad Brownell needs a much better performance in non-conference play this year than the 7-5 mark posted by the Tigers a year ago. (Bart Boatwright/greenvilleonline.com)

  • Friday Nov. 11, 7:00 ET vs. Georgia (#58): A horrible performance in the non-conference portion of the Tigers’ schedule cost them dearly last year. One of those resume scars was a blowout loss to Georgia in Athens. The Bulldogs are the highest rated opponent on the ACC docket this weekend, so a revenge win by Clemson would represent a great start for Brad Brownell.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

The ACC’s 15 Unsung Heroes

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 11th, 2016

Casual ACC fans know the stars. But on any successful basketball team, there is always at least one unheralded player who helps his team by contributing in any number of different ways. Perhaps a scorer who brings energy to a second unit; a defensive stopper who anchors the back line of the defense; or a newcomer claiming a role for the future. Who are those guys in the ACC this season? We’re glad you asked.

  • Boston College: Connar Tava. Tava had a terrific junior year in 2014-15 at Western Michigan when he averaged 12.3 points per game and shot 52.1 percent from the field. After suffering a season-ending foot injury early last year, he redshirted and transferred to Boston College in the offseason..
  • Clemson: Marcquise Reed. When you have a player as talented as potential All-American Jaron Blossomgame, he is going to attract a lot of attention from opposing defenses. The best way to take advantage of that? Surround him with players who can knock down the three-point shot. Reed, a transfer from Robert Morris hit 41.3 percent of his shots from long distance last season.
Matt Jones is the key to Duke's defense. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Matt Jones is the key to Duke’s defense. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

  • Duke: Matt Jones. It’s tough to make a case for a Duke player being relatively unknown, but Jones is the best option here. He averaged 10.4 points per game for the Blue Devils last season, but he won’t be asked to score nearly as much this year. Rather, what he will be asked to do is guard the opponents’ best perimeter players, especially during the home stretch of tight games. He is a terrific on-ball defender and versatile enough to adequately defend both guards and wings.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC Burning Questions: Clemson Tigers

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 1st, 2016

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Is this the year that Clemson returns to the NCAA Tournament?

Clemson head coach Brad Brownell has a swanky remodeled home arena, a returning All-America candidate and three talented transfers ready to join a group that finished last season at 10-8 in ACC play. After five consecutive seasons without an NCAA Tournament appearance, the Tigers may finally be poised to crash the Big Dance once again. Brownell’s job security may or may not depend on an invitation to the NCAA Tournament this year, but history shows that it is an extremely rare situation for an ACC coach to remain in his post after six straight years of missing the games premier event.

Brad Brownell hopes this is the year that Clemson makes it back to the NCAA Tournament. (sportstalksc.com)

Brad Brownell hopes that Clemson makes it back to the NCAA Tournament after a five-year hiatus. (sportstalksc.com)

In his six seasons at the helm, Brownell has developed a deserving reputation as a coach who maximizes his available talent. With a six-year 50-54 conference record, the Tigers have become a consistent middle-of-the-pack ACC program. Early in Brownell’s tenure, road wins were scarce — he logged only five such victories during his first three years at the school. But lately, the Tigers have improved in that regard by claiming 10 road wins over the past three seasons. Last year Clemson was very competitive in most of its away losses, dropping three games by three points or fewer and winning three others. Speaking of playing on the road, the Tigers also return to a remodeled Littlejohn Coliseum this season after spending 2015-16 at Greenville’s Bon Secours Wellness Arena — a 45-minute trip from campus. Capacity at the new Littlejohn is slightly lower now, but 9,000 wild fans should be plenty to recreate the electric home court atmosphere that students at Clemson have historically provided. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Happy Halloween: Tricks or Treats Around the ACC

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 31st, 2016

In the spirit of Halloween, let’s examine some potentially spooky scheduling situations facing ACC squads this season. We all experience anxiety about frightening things that we know are in our future, but sometimes we can also get a good scare from an unexpected source. Below we will present examples of both types of hair-raising situations.

halloween-1008165960720

Fright Night: Potentially Scary Non-Conference Match-ups

When schools release their non-conference schedules over the summer, most fans focus on the name-brand opponents first. This frequently means that they fail to notice some of the tricky mid-major schools on the ledger — teams that are often as good or better than many power conference schools. Below is a list of such frightening opponents for ACC teams this year. Beware of these so-called “buy” games, and don’t be surprised if some of these teams put a real scare into your favorite ACC squad. (preseason KenPom ranking in parenthesis)

  • November 11 – Eastern Michigan (#88) at Pittsburgh – The top four scorers return for the Eagles, the second highest-rated team in the MAC (KenPom’s ninth-best conference in the preseason).
  • November 13 – Chattanooga (#93) at North Carolina  The Mocs are coming off a 29-6 year as the defending Southern Conference champs. They return four starters and will expect to be in the Big Dance again next March.
  • November 15 – Iona (#102) at Florida State Normally a mid-major school that loses four key players wouldn’t represent that much of a threat, but Iona is a program that wins at a high level year after year. The Gaels have won at least 20 games in each of Tom Cluess’ six seasons at the helm.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC M5: 10.24.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins on October 24th, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. Syracuse tipped off its season on Friday night with Orange Madness in the Carrier Dome. Jim Boeheim may be in the twilight of his great career, but the way his school renews the basketball year is not old-school at all. Much like Kentucky’s Big Blue Madness, the event attracts celebrities and is all about entertainment — making sure that players, fans and recruits enjoy the festivities. Sophomore forward Tyler Lydon is expected to have a breakout season for the Orange, but this week he experienced a different sort of breakout — a rash caused by poison oak which caused him to miss two days of practice.
  2. Unlike the light-hearted action at Syracuse, Duke‘s players really got after it during their 20-minute scrimmage that wrapped up Countdown to Craziness in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday night. The intensity of the game was good from a competitive perspective, but it almost backfired when Grayson Allen awkwardly barreled into Amile Jefferson‘s legs while aggressively pursuing a loose ball. After an anxious minute on the floor, Jefferson got up and appeared to be sore but not injured. In other news from the practice, freshman Jayson Tatum showed why he is considered a top-5 NBA Draft pick by pouring in 18 points to lead all scorers.
  3. North Carolina got some bad news over the weekend when it announced that junior Theo Pinson will be out indefinitely with a fracture of the fifth metatarsal on his right foot. Pinson is expected to replace the departed Marcus Paige — who, ironically, also missed the beginning of the 2015-16 campaign with a foot injury — in the Tar Heels’ starting backcourt. Roy Williams has the luxury of good perimeter depth this season, although senior Nate Britt is the only other player with much experience. In the meantime, Britt should get the nod as Joel Berry’s starting running mate, but expect sophomore Kenny Williams and freshmen Seventh Woods and Brandon Robinson to gain some extra early playing time as well. Pinson will probably not return until mid-January at the earliest, and sadly this continues his historical pattern of being prone to injury.
  4. After years of struggling to advance deeply in the NCAA Tournament, Mike Brey has now guided Notre Dame to the Elite Eight in each of the past two seasons. Two key players that played on both of those teams are now missing — point guard Demetrius Jackson and center Zach Auguste. As the Irish’s only viable post threat, Auguste may be the more difficult player to replace, and it seems that is what Brey had in mind when he started talking up seldom-used Martin Geben back in the spring. Under Brey, it’s not uncommon for big men to make a leap in productivity as upperclassmen, but we would be shocked if Geben approaches anything close to what Auguste posted during his last two years in South Bend.
  5. After having to play its home games in Greenville, South Carolina, last season, Clemson is looking forward to playing in a remodeled Littlejohn Coliseum this year. Everyone around the program seems very pleased with the new facility, but head coach Brad Brownell has the right perspective when he said, “The building doesn’t win you any games. A better office, nicer TVs and couches doesn’t win any games. Hopefully it brings guys together in an environment where they spend more time together and become closer and that bond wins games.” The other hope is that the updated facilities help the Tigers in recruiting – Brownell has proven he can compete with the big boys in the ACC when he has decent talent.
Share this story

ACC Way Too Early Power Rankings: Part II

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 8th, 2016

Yesterday we presented our projected order of finish next season for the bottom third of the ACC; today we will take a look at the upper two-thirds. The truth is that not all that much appears poised to change. Most of the contenders from this season should expect to be contenders again next season, and most of the teams that struggled are likely to do so again. However, one squad should enter the 2016-17 season as a clear favorite. With another top-ranked recruiting class and the return of several key players, Duke will be the conventional choice to win the ACC and compete for the national title next season. The ACC should also have three other teams that will rank among the top-15 nationally. After the top four, the next six teams could be placed in almost any order — the race should once again be that tight in the middle of the league. Here’s our top 10 as we look ahead to the 2016-17 season.

1) Duke

Grayson Allen led the way for Duke with 29 points. (Credit: Getty Images/ Jim Rogash)

Grayson Allen returns to a loaded Duke squad that will be the favorite to win the ACC in 2016-17. (Credit: Getty Images/ Jim Rogash)

  • Key Losses: Brandon Ingram, Marshall Plumlee
  • Key Additions: Amile Jefferson (RS-Injury), Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson
  • Nutshell: To say the Blue Devils will be loaded next season may be an understatement. The question will be whether Mike Krzyzewski can find sufficient chemistry between talented newcomers and veterans like when his team cut down the nets in Indianapolis in 2014-15. He hasn’t had this kind of depth in quite a while, but perhaps Coach K’s experience in managing minutes for his U.S. National Team this summer at the Brazil Olympics will be good training.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC Way Too Early Power Rankings: Part I

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 7th, 2016

After a pair of impressive performances in the NCAA Tournament over the last two years, how will the ACC measure up next season? Based on what we know to this point, it looks like 2016-17 could be another very strong year for the league. Some roster adjustments — transfers and the like — will naturally occur between now and October; and a new NCAA policy allowing college players until May 25 to declare for the NBA Draft is likely to impact a few rosters as well. Today we list our bottom five teams heading into next season; tomorrow we will reveal our top 10. To get started, here is how the 15 ACC teams finished this season, ranked in order of their final KenPom rating.

Most of this season’s lowest-rated teams are projected as improved next year, while several schools near the top may drop off slightly. That means we should once again expect a logjam in the middle of the league standings. The following predictions assume the return of the following players who have declared for the NBA Draft but will more than likely be back.

  • Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson
  • Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State
  • Chinanu Onuaku, Louisville
  • Abdul-Malik Abu, N.C. State

On to the 2016-17 way too early power rankings:

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Selection Sunday Outlook for ACC Teams

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 13th, 2016

A bunch of questions will be answered later this evening when the Selection Committee announces the 2016 NCAA Tournament field. From an ACC viewpoint, one of the big ones will be answered early in the Selection Show – did both league heavyweights (Virginia and North Carolina) earn #1 seeds? After the top seeds are announced and the rest of the bracket is revealed, ACC intrigue will shift towards the bubble, as Syracuse fans will be nervously watching to see if their team made the cut. With a special focus on those two situations, here’s a predictive peek at what Selection Sunday will hold for the ACC.

Who’s Number One?

Roy Williams and Tony Bennett each hopes they've earned a #1 Seed in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. (Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

Roy Williams and Tony Bennett each hope that their teams have earned a #1 Seed in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. (Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

  • North Carolina (28-6) does not have the profile traditionally befitting  a #1 seed (5-5 versus the RPI top 50), but the Tar Heels may have earned it with its performance over the weekend in Washington, DC. They say that the committee ignores conference records in leagues with unbalanced schedules, so the Tar Heels’ claim of winning both the regular season and tournament championships in the ACC shouldn’t guarantee a top line spot (see: Miami’s #2 seed after winning both crowns in 2013). But if the eye test is brought into play (and how can it not be?), there may have been no team in the country that looked as deserving as Roy Williams’ group. With that small boost from the eye test, we think North Carolina has done enough to warrant the second or third #1 seed, which means the Tar Heels will be sent to the East Region. That would give them a path through Raleigh (First/Second rounds) followed by Philadelphia — the easiest possible road. The other contenders for top seeds in the East — Virginia and Villanova — both stumbled in conference tournament finals yesterday. North Carolina is now ahead of both of those teams in the pecking order for preferred locations.
  • Virginia (26-7) may have a resume better than any team in the country save Kansas. Despite an ACC Championship game loss to North Carolina, the Cavaliers have an impressive total of five wins over RPI top 10 teams. They have four losses to teams outside the RPI top 50, but all were close road defeats to conference foes. After the results of Saturday’s league championships, a reasonable ordering of #1 seed contenders might look like this: Kansas, North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia. As the fourth #1 seed, Tony Bennett’s team would likely be sent to the South Region (Louisville regional), but that would remain the case only if Michigan State fails to win the Big Ten championship this afternoon. If the Spartans win today, we expect Virginia to end up as the South’s #2 seed, a possibility that could mean the Cavaliers are placed in the same region with Michigan State, their March nemesis — remember that Tom Izzo’s team has knocked Virginia out of the last two NCAA Tournaments. Either way, Virginia should be assured of joining North Carolina in Raleigh for the opening two rounds.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story