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.

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 10th, 2016

With the season tipping off on Friday, there’s no better time to roll out our the RTC Preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of seven national columnists provided ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

1stteam

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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 »

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Handing Out ACC Awards and Superlatives

Posted by Matt Patton on March 8th, 2016

The chips have fallen where they did, so it’s time to take a look back at the best the ACC had to offer this season.

First Team All-ACC

Malcolm Brogdon Has Helped the Cavs Turn the Corner (Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty)

Malcolm Brogdon gets the slight nod for conference player of the year honors. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

  • Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia (POY)
  • Brice Johnson, North Carolina
  • Grayson Allen, Duke
  • Cat Barber, NC State
  • Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame

With 15 ACC teams from which to choose, the normal difficulty of selecting a first team was mitigated by Brogdon, Johnson, Allen and Barber being virtual locks. Brogdon gets the nod for ACC Player of the Year over Johnson for his outstanding defense, but it was a close race. The senior is the best player to suit up for Tony Bennett’s team in recent memory thanks to his incredible efficiency and on-ball defense. It’s certainly possible that these four players end up on several All-American teams, although Barber will lose some votes because of NC State’s lack of success this year. The wild card is Notre Dame’s Jackson. I went back and forth here. The media and coaches chose Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame, but Jackson won the eye test for me. He was a tremendous pure point guard for the Irish this year, and Mike Brey’s team would have likely ended up in the bottom third of the conference without him.

Second Team All-ACC

  • Michael Gbinije, Syracuse
  • Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson
  • Anthony Gill, Virginia
  • Michael Young, Pittsburgh
  • Damion Lee, Louisville

Gbinije, Blossomgame and Gill were head and shoulders above Young and Lee. The first two took on greatly augmented roles this season, playing as deluxe Swiss Army Knives for teams that overachieved.

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Evaluating All-ACC Candidates Heading Into the Home Stretch

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 10th, 2016

With four weeks to go in the regular season, it’s a good time to start thinking about potential all-ACC players. Below we list 10 players whose play to this point deserve highest consideration for conference honors. With nearly four weeks of action remaining, there’s plenty of time for movement within and perhaps into or out of the group.

Note: all statistics and (ACC Rank) are for conference games only through Sunday, February 7.

1) Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber, N.C. State   JR

PPG – 24.1 (1), APG – 4.1 (6), FT% – 91.0 (1), 3FG% – 43.1 (6), MPG – 39.1 (1)

Mike Krzyzewski lavished praise on Anthony Barber after Duke's latest game with N.C. State. (newsobserver.com)

Mike Krzyzewski lavished praise on Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber after Duke’s latest game with N.C. State. (newsobserver.com)

The debate has already begun concerning Barber as an ACC Player of the Year candidate. There is a school of thought that says he must be on a team that finishes highly in the league standings – and that’s normally the case. But the ultra-quick guard is also getting support from at least one of the league’s most prominent coaches. Here’s what Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski said about Barber just last weekend after the Blue Devils’ win over N.C. State:

That kid is really good. I’m not NC State’s sports promotion here, but don’t judge just how good a guy is by the record of his team, because they’re close to winning five more games. He gives them a chance to win every game. He’s the toughest out in the league because in trying to get him, he spoon feeds some of those guys too. He’s responsible for a lot of points for that basketball team and you can figure it out mathematically with assists, but also spacing and this and [Maverick] Rowan might get open a little more because of it, big time. He’s very good.

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ACC M5: 02.03.16 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 3rd, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. RickPitino.net: Wait, Rick Pitino is the newest ACC basketball blogger (h/t to Card Chronicle)? Pitino hits us with some great Alfred Pennyworth-esque coachspeak in his latest post: “Many get knocked down; you judge character by how they get up.” Beyond the very bloggy writing, you actually get a pretty cool PDF of the team’s “MVP” metrics for Monday night’s game against North Carolina. It turns out that the Louisville coaching staff tracks everything from hockey assists to poor shot selection.
  2. Duke Basketball Report: This is a great look at the ACC through the first half of the season from Al Featherston. The league is really competitive this season, which has led to some peculiar oddities: for example, Georgia Tech is a lot better than its 2-7 conference record (people called last night’s game a “must-win” for Duke, but that Yellow Jackets team isn’t bad). My only real disagreement with the article concerns Pittsburgh‘s inclusion in the “contender” category. The Panthers have only two impressive wins so far: at Florida State and at Notre Dame. Both of those wins were really close calls, but their three losses weren’t. Maybe this Pittsburgh team is good, but I haven’t seen it.
  3. Anderson Independent Mail: Jaron Blossomgame is earning his name this season, as he’s become a much more efficient player than last year. An amazing factoid from Dan Hope’s piece on the junior’s emergence is that he’s the first Clemson player since Terrell McIntyre in 1999 to score at least 20 points in four straight games against ACC opponents. He then made the streak five in row in last night’s win over Wake Forest. Blossomgame has an inspiring story, recovering from a grisly high school injury to become a quiet ACC star.
  4. Winston-Salem Journal: Wake Forest is officially reeling, having lost nine of their last 10 games including a 56-point second half to Clemson on the way to a blowout loss. That makes Dan Collins’ column on Dave Odom‘s improvement as a color commentator a welcome distraction. Odom will be Wake Forest’s basketball “legend” this year at the ACC Tournament.
  5. Miami Herald: What to make of Miami? The Hurricanes looked like a juggernaut against Duke; then they turned around and were blown out by NC State. Maybe the games are related or maybe they looked past an underachieving Wolfpack team. Or maybe, like Angel Rodriguez mentioned, there was a tighter whistle in Raleigh. Either way, Miami’s ups and downs mesh with the whole league outside of Chapel Hill (although with Monday’s loss, maybe the Tar Heels are regressing to the league randomness).

EXTRA: Coach K was “under the weather” (reportedly treated for high blood pressure at Duke Hospital) and missed Duke’s win last night at Georgia Tech. Jeff Capel took the helm, possibly foreshadowing the future in Durham. Krzyzewski is expected to be back on Saturday for Duke’s game against NC State.

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Is Clemson For Real?

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 28th, 2016

Heading into league play, Clemson was but an afterthought in the ACC. They had not only played one of the weakest non-conference schedules in the nation, but had also performed miserably against it, posting a record of 7-5 with the “marquee” win coming against Texas Southern. But somehow, Brad Brownell’s Tigers have engineered a shocking turnaround in ACC play. Against the toughest league slate faced by any ACC team up to this point, Clemson has won six of its first eight games and currently sits in third place in the league. No other major conference school in the country has seen such a dramatic change in performance. How have the Tigers done it? Can they maintain this level of play? And most importantly, can this Clemson team make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Brownell’s first season at the school?

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 Has An Improved Offense And A Surprisingly Big Home Court Edge In ACC Play. (Bart Boatwright/greenvilleonline.com)

There have been two key improvements that have led to Clemson’s turnaround, one statistical, one more subjective. By looking at Brownell’s coaching profile (table below), we see these Tigers actually have the worst rated defense in his six years at the helm. But that is being more than offset by the most potent offense Brownell has put on the floor during his tenure at Clemson. In a league like this ACC – with seven of the country’s top 27 offenses, you have to be able to score at a high level to compete with the best teams. The Tigers have done just that – ranking fifth in offensive efficiency in ACC games. The two main factors in the improved Clemson offense are turnover percentage and effective field goal percentage, both of which are vastly better this year compared with recent seasons. And after years of struggling from behind the arc, three-point shooting is now a strength of this Tigers’ squad (as seen below).

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.18.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 18th, 2016

Saturday was a day for upsets in the ACC as four underdogs were victorious. Notre Dame won a shootout over Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium in the marquee matchup of the weekend; the Clemson Tigers continued their amazing run with a home rally over Miami; Virginia Tech overcame a large late deficit to beat Georgia Tech in Atlanta; and Syracuse got its second ACC win by blasting Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. The other two games on the day ended as expected – Pittsburgh handled Boston College at home and North Carolina, the ACC’s only undefeated team in conference play, overcame a slow start to finish off North Carolina State in Chapel Hill. In the only ACC action on Sunday, Virginia‘s road woes continued in a loss to Florida State in Tallahassee. Here are some of the other highlights from the weekend in the ACC.

Brad Brownell and Jaron Blossomgame have had plenty to celebrate during Clemson's five straight ACC upset wins. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

Brad Brownell and Jaron Blossomgame have had plenty to celebrate during Clemson’s five straight ACC upset wins. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

  • Best Win: In one of the most improbable occurrences in college basketball this year, Clemson has overcome one of the ACC’s toughest early league schedules by winning five straight games as an underdog. The latest victim was Miami by a score of 76-65 on Saturday afternoon in Greenville. With seven minutes to go and Miami holding a six point lead, it looked like the Tigers’ streak was near its end. But Clemson closed out the game with a 25-8 run and has now won five straight ACC games for the first time since Rick Barnes was coaching the Tigers in 1997. Jaron Blossomgame led the way with 25 points on 9-for-15 shooting. During the Brad Brownell era, the Tigers have always played good defense, but the difference this year is the Tigers’ offense. After finishing among the bottom three in ACC offensive efficiency the last three years (and never above 1.00 points per possession), Clemson is currently sixth in the league at a much improved 1.12 points per possession. A huge part of that success is the Tigers’ ability to punish teams from the foul line – they rank second in the ACC in free throw rate (45.1%) and first in accuracy (79.6%).
  • Worst Loss: Even though Wake Forest’s dismal effort in a home blowout to Syracuse technically may be the worst performance, we instead will go with the squad that suffered the most heartbreaking defeat, mainly because of what it may mean for that team’s confidence going forward. The team in question is Georgia Tech, who suffered a total meltdown at home against Virginia Tech. In our last weekend recap, we lauded Brian Gregory’s team for finally getting over the hump in winning a close league game. Well, the praise may have been a bit premature. The end of Saturday’s game in Atlanta played out exactly like many of the Yellow Jackets’ league games did a year ago, as the Jackets blew a 10-point lead over the last 4:14 of the game. In its final 12 possessions, Georgia Tech had more turnovers (4) than points (3). It certainly didn’t help that Adam Smith, the Jackets’ main outside threat, only made one three-pointer in seven tries from deep.
Notre Dame's Bonzie Colson punished Duke with 31 points in the Irish's big road win. (Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY Sports)

Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson punished Duke with 31 points in the Irish’s big road win.
(Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Most Outstanding Player: Notre Dame’s Mike Brey has many weapons at his disposal, and that includes sophomore Bonzie Colson, who apparently loves to play against Duke. Colson helped the Irish defeat the Blue Devils in last season’s ACC Tournament semifinals with a then career-best 17 points. He nearly doubled that output on Saturday afternoon, finishing with 31 points and 11 rebounds (eight offensive) to lead the Irish to their fourth win over Duke in five meetings as ACC members. Colson scored in a variety of ways: post moves, putbacks, free throws (5-5) and even from deep (2-3 on threes). Afterwards, Brey commented on his play, “He gets pretty fired up when he does play them. Bonzie’s a big game guy. He loves a big game, and I thought he helped his teammates get confident.” Colson did not start the contest but logged 33 minutes as Brey recognized early on that the burly forward was a huge matchup problem for the Blue Devils’ thin frontcourt.
  • Unsung Heroes: With North Carolina’s top three scorers struggling against NC State, Roy Williams needed someone else to step up. That someone turned out to be Kennedy Meeks, who scored 25 points, grabbed six boards and blocked three shots to help the Tar Heels pull away from their rival. In only his second game back from a knee injury, Meeks had his highest point total since he tallied 25 in the season opener. Syracuse has not been a balanced team this year, having been carried by its backcourt to this point. But in Saturday’s rout of Wake Forest, junior forward Tyler Roberson delivered a dose of frontcourt production with 16 points and 13 rebounds. That makes four consecutive double figure scoring games for Roberson, who also helped the Orange’s defense Saturday with three steals. Pittsburgh’s Cameron Johnson only played 15 minutes in the Panthers’ win over Boston College, but he maximized that time with 20 points on an efficient seven of ten shooting performance. The redshirt freshman wing flashed a nice touch from deep, making four of his seven long-range attempts. He is now shooting 42.4 percent for the season from three-point range.
  • Most Efficient Offense/Least Efficient Defense: With Notre Dame visiting Duke in a game featuring two of the top four offenses in the country, we expected a shootout. Boy did we ever get one. Rare are games in which both teams score at a rate higher than 1.30 points per possession, but that’s what happened in Cameron Indoor on Saturday. The Irish prevailed with an offense that posted 1.36 points per possession in the exciting 95-91 win. That’s the most points per possession allowed by Duke to an ACC foe at home in the 15-year KenPom era. As one might expect in a performance that efficient, Notre Dame was outstanding in multiple offensive areas. They made 51.8 percent of their two-point attempts; hit 43.8 percent from three-point range; converted 80 percent from the foul line; grabbed 16 offensive rebounds, and only gave the ball away six times. It took every bit of that efficiency to hold off a Duke team that made half of their 24 three-point attempts.
  • Most Efficient Defense/Least Efficient Offense: In the weekend’s most lopsided game, Wake Forest managed only 0.77 points per possession in its 83-55 home loss to Syracuse. The Deacons had a tough time figuring out how to attack the Orange’s 2-3 zone from the outset and finished with 18 turnovers. When the Demon Deacons did get shot opportunities, they failed miserably, making just two of 20 from deep and missing 17 of 42 free throw attempts. Coming into the game, Wake figured to take advantage of Syracuse’s normally weak defensive rebounding, but things played out differently, as the Deacons only grabbed 25 percent of their misses. That percentage is well below Wake’s season average (35.1%) and that of Syracuse’s opponents (also 35.1%). Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim said, “This was the best defensive game we’ve had all year. We just were tremendously active. We had been doing a good job at the three-point line, but not so much inside. We were much better inside tonight.”

 

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ACC Stock Watch: Feast Week Edition

Posted by Matt Auerbach on December 1st, 2015

As the the majority of the league transitions from Feast Week into the ACC/Big 10 Challenge, now is as good a time as any to make some initial evaluations. Based on what we’ve seen through two-plus weeks of the young season, let’s take stock in each of the 15 ACC clubs, reviewing what has transpired so far, and considering in what direction we surmise each to be trending.

Trending Up

Jim Boeheim has his Orange playing at an extremely high level right out the gates. (Getty)

Jim Boeheim has plenty to be thankful for after his club’s performance in winning the Battle 4 Atlantis (syracuse.com)

  • Syracuse: Not many teams are feeling better about itself than Syracuse is at the moment. Picked to finish ninth in the ACC standings, the Orange probably surprised even themselves in taking home the title at the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis. Seamlessly intertwining veterans Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney with rookies Malachi Richardson and Tyler Lydon, Jim Boeheim looks to have a team capable of reinvigorating his spirits during his 40th year at the helm. Banned from the postseason a year ago and forced to miss the first nine conference games this season, Boeheim appeared worn down last March as tumult swirled around his program. His current team, however, showed considerable resolve in coming from behind to beat both Connecticut and Texas A&M in the Bahamas, appearing eerily similar to some of his special clubs of the past and proving that there is still some juice left in the Hall of Famer’s tank. The Orange entertain Wisconsin on Wednesday before a weekend trip to the nation’s capital to visit old friend Georgetown.

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ACC Preview: Clemson’s Burning Question

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 27th, 2015

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

Will Clemson’s offense improve enough to make the Tigers an ACC winner?

Near the end of the 2014-15 season, we reviewed the pros and cons of Brad Brownell’s six-season tenure at Clemson. We concluded then that his positives and negatives have pretty much been a wash. The Tigers are usually competitive on the floor – especially on the defensive end — and well-behaved off the court. But a lack of elite-level talent has kept Clemson from being able to join the ACC’s upper tier, and the Tigers’ slow, offensively-challenged style of play has not exactly ignited the fan base. Can the Clemson faithful expect any improvement from a team that only loses a couple of key performers from last year? And if so, will it be enough improvement to keep Brownell off of the coaching hot seat? To search for those answers, let’s begin by looking at Brownell’s coaching profile over 13 years at three different schools.

BrownellCareer

The above table reveals that Brownell has some consistent historical head coaching traits. First of all, he has been a winner everywhere he’s been, sporting only one overall losing record (13-18 in 2013) during his career. Additionally, he likes to employ a slow tempo, with every one of his 13 squads finishing among the bottom 100 nationally in pace. Another thing that sticks out on Brownell’s resume is how well his teams play defense no matter the personnel. Conversely, a Brownell-coached squad has finished among the nation’s top 120 offenses on only four occasions. In two of those instances, Brownell was in his first year at a school, indicating that he may have inherited some players who could score. And maybe it’s no coincidence that both of those units (2003 UNC-Wilmington & 2011 Clemson) earned NCAA Tournament bids, representing two of the only three trips Brownell has made to the Big Dance. The other takeaway from Brownell’s profile is that by his fourth year at each of his first two head coaching gigs, he was able to develop pretty good offenses after a couple of down years. That kind of turnaround, however, has not yet happened at Clemson.

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