By Ashley Denny.
CLEMSON, SC- Coming off of two straight ACC victories, Brad Brownell and his Clemson Tigers’ are set to make the trip to Chapel Hill, a place where they are 0-55 against the North Carolina Tar Heels. This losing streak however is something that Brownell steers away from when talking to his team about the Tar Heels and preparing them for what will be a difficult match up.
“We’re looking forward to the opportunity of playing North Carolina, certainly the most talented teams in our league and one of the most talented in the country,” Brownell said on Friday. “They have an incredible front line in Zeller, Henson and Barnes, three guys that can affect the game in several different ways. Zeller and Henson can both do it defensively around the basket, Zeller is a tremendous offensive post player, and Henson is a guy that’s improved, one of the best defensive players in the country. And unfortunately we know what Harrison Barnes can do, we saw that last year. Kendall Marshall is a guy I really like. I think he’s a player that makes other guys better, his basketball IQ and passing ability is as good as anybody I’ve ever seen in college. He’s got tremendous feel for playing with pace and poise and knowing how to lead other guys in to baskets. It’s going to be a tremendous challenge for us in terms of slowing them down offensively, great transition team, terrific offensive rebounding team, combine that with talented players and it’s no surprise that they’re having a good year.”
Another challenge that Brownell sees in Saturday’s matchup is the length that the Tar Heels possess.
“It’s hard this is a game where we’re undersized at every position,” Brownell said. “Sometimes it proves to be problematic because you can be in good position defensively and they’ll score right over top of you. You just have to try and push them out a little farther than they’re comfortable, our smaller guys at times will have to try and get up under them and make them uncomfortable. That’s hard to do because their skills are so good and they’re physically strong, it’s one of the reasons why they’re as good as they are and why a lot of those guys will be playing at the next level because they have the size and length that you need to be successful.”
Was Brownell aware of “The Streak” before he started coaching at Clemson?
“I was,” Brownell said. “That’s because whenever you turn on a Carolina vs. Clemson game that’s what the announcers will open with, so I’m sure spending time in North Carolina watching games every once in a while you can’t help but hear about it. But it’s not anything that we talk about with our players, we just talk about the strengths and weaknesses of North Carolina, which there aren’t many weaknesses, so we talk about a lot of their strengths and put together a plan to win the game.”
What weaknesses has Brownell found in this Tar Heel team?
“Their weakness is that they don’t have a lot of guys playing right now,” Brownell said. “They’ve got several of their guys hurt so they’re only playing about 6-7 guys. It’s not that problematic for them, but you’re hoping that you can maybe wear them down a little bit. Having said that, they don’t slow their style down because they’re playing with 6 or 7 guys, they still come at you. They have older guys, their big guys are older so they’re not young guys still trying to find their legs or anything, and they’re sure of themselves and confident. It’s a team that’s beginning to turn it up a little bit to get themselves cranked up for the ACC and NCAA Tournaments so I expect them to be playing very well and try to get off on a little bit of a run.”
Last season the Tigers’ played the Tar Heels on three occasions including the ACC Tournament where the Tigers’ took UNC into overtime before eventually losing a close one. How much confidence can the Tigers’ take into Chapel Hill this weekend knowing that every time they played them last season it came down to one or two possessions?
“A little bit,” Brownell said. “It helps a little bit that some of the guys who play this year were a part of the team last year that played some good games against North Carolina but this year is a lot different. Unfortunately we lost a lot and they didn’t, so this year’s team is different, our identity is different. It does help though that some of our guys were in the thick of it against them, some really good games and hopefully they can draw on some of the good experiences they’ve had where they played well.”
When Brownell prepares for the Tar Heels, instead of focusing on the talent on their team as much, the Tigers’ focus on studying their style of play and how to defend against it.
“You have to do both, but I think we certainly have to focus on their style of play,” Brownell said. “For two days we’ve practiced against transition defensive drills and do things like when we run a set or when we run offense and score either don’t have the other team take the ball out of bounds, just grab it and go or have a second ball with a coach under the basket and tell the team on defense to take off and initiate with the coach, throw the ball to the point guard immediately to save a few seconds. We’ve also done things defensively to just work to get back but you certainly have to prepare for the style because it is different than other people. The talent you can’t do much about, you just have to work on tendencies like you would with any game, talk about guys and their moves, favorite plays, North Carolina isn’t an overly complicated team in how they play, they’ve added a few more actions this year that they didn’t have last year. But again it’s not the actions that beat you it’s the way they play, their style fits their personnel. They do what they do very well and when you have really good players and talent you can play to your strengths and things normally work out for you.”
One thing that Brownell knows going into Saturday’s game is that his players must be careful about taking quick shots.
“We have to make sure that every shot we take is a good one,” Brownell said. “And that’s not easy to do, you’re going to take one or two that will be wild every once and a while if you’re going to go play. But at the same time we have to take care of the ball, have a low turnover number and a high shooting percentage night. And then we have to play great defense and have a lot of things go well.”