Not so many years ago, the hardwood edition of the Carolina-Clemson rivalry had the full attention of the Palmetto State. It was deemed sufficiently worthy, in fact, that you could honorably ask for (or give) "double or nothing" on the hoops match-up if you had lost your football bet a few weeks earlier. Well, times have changed.
Did you watch it yesterday? Or better yet, did you go? I didn't. And that's even after I had promised myself I'd do what I could to support the roundball squad and Frank Martin. Did you even know it was on at noon on ESPNU? Believe me - I'm not calling you out as a fan if you did not. I didn't either. I got caught up doing stuff, and had the NFL on; I somehow thought tip-off was at 4:00. My bad for not checking more closely.
Nevertheless, does it still bum you out that we lost to the Striped Beasts? Good. That's a start. If you bleed Garnet and Black like we all do, you'll never be "meh" about a loss to Clemson whether it's women's golf or men's club lacrosse, or even a backgammon game with your neighbor who wears a tiger paw t-shirt that has probably been two sizes too small for him since his wedding day. (And if you still live in SC, you do have a neighbor like that).
OK. So we lost by double digits at home, even though we had a halftime lead and a three point lead at the 17:00 minute mark in the second. We made just nine buckets in the first. Ditto in the second. We turned the rock over 19 times - which just so happens to be our season average (CU only coughed it up 13 times). We did outboard the Tigs (playing without their senior 6'9" F Milton Jennings) 31 to 28, and registered 10 assists to their 8, but we only shot 34% from the floor (26% from the arc) - and Clemson easily led us in steals and blocks. Clemson - with its defensive emphasis - was clearly the more physical team in a physical game. At least attendance was OK at the Colonial Life Arena - announced a little over 10,000.
So what gives? Aren't these Darrin Horn-esque numbers? What does it mean for the season? And what does it mean for Frank Martin?
Answering the first question - yes, these stats seem reminiscent of a lot of nights the 2011-2012 campaign. But it's clear that Senior 2G LaShay Page and Freshman F Michael Carerra, who have been playing really well out of the gate must be a bit banged up - both started, but both played less than 15 minutes and both scored 3 points each - way under their season averages. Even against an equally young CU team without Jennings, we needed better production from Page and Carrera to notch a victory against a scrappy Clemson.. Like Page and Carerra, it was much the same for starting Junior F R.J. Slawson (who only mustered 2 points and 3 boards in 13 minutes with just two 2 PF's) and starting PG Eric Smith - who had an identical line as Slawson (2 pts, 3 RB's). You just can't win if your starters only score a combined 14 points.
From the reserves, Brenton Williams led all Carolina scorers with 16 points in 33 minutes (apparently showing no lasting ill-effect from his bad fall at Barclay's Arena against St. Johns on Thursday), while Bruce Ellington and Minda Kacinas contributed 12 and 10 points each while playing 27 and 29 minutes, respectively. (Ellington will play a couple of games before returning to football, but barring injury will be available for the SEC regular season). Notwithstanding good bench play, is an off-night against CU a portent of things to come? I don't think so. We're a young team struggling to find an identity with a bunch of guys who haven't played much together. We have to accept that there will be days like this.
Turning the second question (what does this mean for the season), there's no reason to panic. Yes, we're on a two game skid to the only "Big 6" conference opponents that we face in the early-going. But we have a nice trophy from the Hoops for Hope classic, and we'll be favored to win out the next five games to finish the out-of-conference slate; if we go into SEC play at 10-3 as expected, we have a puncher's chance to scratch and claw 8 or 9 wins that might get us *just* on the NIT bubble. After the abysmal start for SEC hoops (I don't have the stats, but standard-bearer UK is on a bit of a skid themselves, and I've only seen mostly ugly losses in the sports pages), we might be more competitive than we thought. Then again, if the league's RPI stays in the basement, we'll be lucky as a conference to get more than a handful of NCAA or NIT bids. A lot will depend on how Coach Martin can gel this squad together.
As for the final question - how does losing to Clemson affect Frank? - I don't see it as a problem. Obviously, he would have liked to have started out strong record-wise against our in-state rival, but Martin has already exceeded expectations in his first two recruiting classes. Brad Brownell seems like a good guy building a decent program in Tiger Town, but Martin's national exposure and demonstrated coaching skills will eventually manifest themselves over our benighted, Orange-clad friends. Spurrier didn't win his first CU game, either. Or his third or fourth for that matter. It takes time to build a program - especially one that was as far in the ditch as the one inherited by Martin. It seems to me - though I admit to being a homer - that Frank already has the upper-hand in in-state recruiting over the Tigers.
Only time will tell, however. In the meantime, chalk up the Clemson game as a bad night and lets keep looking ahead on our season goals.
Our next game is Friday night at home against Jacksonville. Tip-off at 7:00. Go Cocks!