Clemson (15-6, 6-3 ACC) takes on the undefeated and nationally top ranked Syracuse tonight at 6 on ESPNU. The Orange are off to their best start in a very storied program history. Their attack is led by a very solid offense that is backed by a defense that ranks in the top ten in the nation in both steals and points allowed per game. Syracuse has won the majority of its games handily and has only come close to being defeated a handful of times. They are one of only two remaining undefeated teams, and is the only undefeated in the major conferences.
Clemson carries hope into the game based on their performance against other elite teams in the nation, specifically Duke. The Tigers can take some confidence in the fact they beat the Blue Devils, who went into Syracuse and pushed the Orange to the limit and forced them into overtime. Unfortunately for Clemson, they match up very poorly with Syracuse. The Tigers’ weakness all season on offense has been going against a solid 2-3 zone, and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is famous for running the best 2-3 zone in the history of the league. The zone can be beaten in two ways: good outside shooting and a versatile post presence who can break the middle of the zone and distribute the ball. Realistically, Clemson has neither. The Tigers have struggled mightily all season shooting the three and really only have three players who can be trusted to take more than a few outside shots over the course of the game. If Clemson hopes to score at all on Syracuse, at least one player will have to step up and make several shots from outside. Clemson also lacks a post player with the basketball knowledge to break down a zone consistently. Clemson coach Brad Brownell will likely allow the Tigers’ best player and small forward, KJ McDaniels to work the middle of the zone in the hopes that he can distribute the ball and throw off the zone. However, this will inhibit McDaniels’ ability to work offensively, and this could really hurt Clemson as he is the team’s leading scorer. Overall, Clemson will have to play its best basketball of the year every possession to have a chance against Syracuse, and it still might not be enough. But if the Tigers can find their range from beyond the arc and find a way to penetrate the zone they might be able to hand the Orange their first loss of the season.