ACC Basketball

ACC Tourney | Clemson vs Florida State

Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the battle of the 10-seed vs. the 11-seed, i.e. two teams that have no chance at an at-large bid, with only Clemson having a very outside shot at the N.I.T.

After a rough start to the season, the Tigers were a popular bandwagon team when they won six of eight in the month of January, including wins against projected tournament teams, Syracuse and NC State. Yet, the defense began to slip and the loses piled up, as they dropped six of eight, managing only victories over Tech schools (Va Tech and Ga Tech), to finish 16-14 on the year, 8-10 in the conference.

Florida State’s start wasn’t much better as they dropped three of their first four. They finished their non-conference schedule strong and entered ACC play having won seven of nine, but eventually dropped four of five, all against quality opponents. They would end up winning six of nine and there was some talk that if the Seminoles finished strong, they would be able to sneak into the Big Dance. Unfortunately a three-game losing streak put an end to that conversation. They finished the year ruining Pittsburgh’s season at home, finishing 16-15, 8-10 in the conference.

These two team have met twice this season, each winning on the other’s home court. In the first contest, behind Xavier Rathan-Mayes (17 points) and Devon Bookert (14 points), the Seminoles opened up a 12-point lead midway through the second half, yet the Tigers were able to get back to within one at 56-55. Yet, Rod Hall missed a game-tying free throw with 23 seconds to go, then Demarcus Harrison missed a three, down two with 16 seconds to go, as FSU wrapped up a 59-55 victory.

Two weeks later, thanks to 17 FSU turnovers, Clemson was able to open up a 44-34 lead midway through the second, but the Seminoles rallied behind Rathan-Mayes and Boris Bojanoksky to get back to within two with 29 seconds left. However,  Josh Smith and Jordan Roper went 4-for-4 from the free throw line to seal a 63-56 win.

Traditionally, both these teams have relied on defense to win games, but Florida State’s D has fallen off this year. Overall, their defensive adjusted efficiency rating is 71st in the nation, which is pretty good, but they certainly padded those stats during a less-than-stellar non-conference run. In ACC play, they’re ranked just 10th out of 15. While they’re good at making teams miss shots (length will do that), they never force turnovers (14th in ACC), they struggle to grab defensive rebounds (13th) and they can’t keep their opponents off the free throw line (15th). The problem isn’t size, it’s just that they are not a very disciplined team defensively. They struggle with screens and too often are found out of position.

Oddly enough, they do a nice job rebounding on the offensive end (4th in the ACC), which is key since they’re second-to-last in effective FG%, struggling from both deep and inside the paint.

Their offense comes primarily from three sources, the high-flying Montay Brandon on the wing, Devon Bookert, the team’s best three-point threat and of course Xavier Rathan-Mayes. The freshman is averaging 16.1 points per game in the ACC and he’s only gotten better as the season as progressed. He’s the key. Disrupt his game, eliminate good driving lanes and force him out in screens and you’ll beat Florida State.

Clemson, on the other hand, was a solid defensive team for most of the year. They are third in defensive efficiency in the ACC, fifth in 3P%, third in 2P% and a decent 6th in block%. Yet, those numbers are down because over the last three weeks, the Tigers have been pretty bad defensively. They’ve had an efficiency rating of 98 or above in their last six loses, where as before, they rarely went above 90.

This is key, because this is a team that struggles to score. They’re second-to-last in the ACC in offensive efficiency, 14th in 3P% and 13th in 2P%. The only thing that saves them is their ability to rebound on the offensive glass, led by Landry Nnoko and Jaron Blossomgame. The latter is the only player I would consider a scoring threat. averaging 13.1 points per game, Blossomgame isn’t afraid to launch a three, but he does most his damage with superior athleticism in the paint.

From deep, there is no three-point threat, as no one approaches 35%. Jordan Roper got hot for a while, averaging 14.2 during one seven-game stretch, but he’s cooled off lately scoring just 19 points in his last five.

WORTHLESS PREDICTION: Florida State, 64-56

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