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Clemson and Futility

What are we going for this weekend, number 56? Clemson's 0-55 record in Chapel Hill is one of the things treasure about basketball. Rationally, I know it must eventually end, but in my heart I feel the last thing that occurs before the heat death of the universe will be UNC beating the Tigers in Chapel Hill one last time. It's a streak that's outlasted nine Clemson coaches, and the tenth, Brad Brownell, got things started on the right foot last year with a ten-point loss in the Smith Center.

That game was also the first start for a plucky young kid named Kendall Marshall, back win he was still splitting time with another Carolina point guard. Both players had a little trouble with Clemson's 11th-ranked defense, so it's nice to see the Tigers aren't quite as tough this time around. That's mostly due to the graduation of Demontez Stitt and Jerai Grant; the loss of the former especially makes it a bit easier to shoot on the perimeter. Clemson is still to be reckoned with in the paint, but things are a little easier on the wings.

The Tigers play a slow, deliberate game and spread their scoring amongst most of the starters. The team's leading score is Andre Young, the undersized shooting guard who takes primarily threes. He struggled in his two games against the Heels last season, and with Reggie Bullock guarding him, I'd expect that trend to continue. This will leave point guard Tanner Smith – not a bad shooter himself – to try to get the ball inside more, where the Tigers' best, if underutilized, players are.

That would be Devin Booker and Milton Jennings. Jennings is constantly on the cusp of breaking out but never quite making it. Most recently he's been held back by an indefinite suspension for academic reasons, which became decidedly finite after he was reinstated after two games. The Tigers barely lost to Maryland in his first game back, and has won two games since. He's the team's best defensive rebounder and most prolific shooter, and had a very strong game against the Heels at Clemson. He might be ready to explode this time around.

Booker, on the other hand, has improved more gradually, becoming the team's leading rebounder upon Grant's departure. He's not as prone to foul trouble as he was last season, but Carolina will probably attack him hard to get him sent to the bench early again. Should he leave the game, the Tigers' only replacement is the 7'2" Romanian Catalin Baicu. A senior, he got practically no playing time in his previous three seasons, but there really isn't anyone else, so he's playing about a quarter of the time.

The rest of team is a motley collection of shooting guards and wing players. There's always the chance that one will go off against the UNC defense, and the Tigers' best bets are freshmen K.J. McDaniels and T.J. Sapp. Sapp gets more playing time, but McDaniels has the bigger upside. As a three guard though, he'll be paired off against Harrison Barnes. And that's the biggest flaw with this team – they really have no one who can handle Barnes. Last season, when they could put Booker, Grant and Jennings on the floor at the same time, or play Bryan Narcisse on him, they had a little more success, though the Carolina wing still put up twenty points on the road. Narcisse has been getting less and less playing time though, and I don't think he can give Barnes too much trouble. Couple that with Clemson's road woes outside of Chapel Hill, where they've only won one ACC game, and number fifty-six should be easily obtained.