By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
CLEMSON — No one is quite sure if Clemson head coach Brad Brownell will classify tonight’s game with 17th-ranked Gonzaga as a litmus test, but when the first-round game of the Old Spice Classic is complete, he is sure to know a little bit more about his basketball team than he did this time last week.
Clemson will take on the Bulldogs at 9 p.m. at the HP Field House in Orlando, Fla. The game will be televised by ESPN2. This will be the first of several high profile contests for the Tigers in the next two weeks. Clemson will play Oklahoma or UTEP in the second round of the tournament on Friday, and then a team to be announced from the rest of the field on Sunday.
The Tigers (2-0) return home next Wednesday against Purdue as part of the ACC-Big 10 Challenge and then visit South Carolina that following Saturday. On Dec. 8 they will host Arizona, who is currently ranked 10th in the latest Associated Press Poll.
“It is a good trip for us,” Brownell said. “We are certainly going to have a very challenging next two weeks with some high level competition, starting with Gonzaga.”
Milton Jennings welcomes the competition. The senior sees the Old Spice Classic as a tournament that will have an NCAA Tournament feel to it.
“These are NCAA Tournament games we are going to be playing,” he said. “It is going to be really good for the freshman. They will really find out what the end of the year is going to be like. They’ll get an idea of what the ACC Tournament will be like in these games.
“They have a lot to look forward to. I’m sure they will have emotions that freshmen have. As seniors, we will too. There will be emotions all around. It is a big game.”
And right now Gonzaga is a big-time team. The Bulldogs (3-0) are averaging 94 points per game as all five of their starters average double digits with guard Gary Bell and forward Elias Harris leading the team with 13.0 points per game each.
Harris also leads the team with 10.7 rebounds, and will pose problems for the Tigers thanks to his 6-foot-8, 240-pound frame.
“It is a difficult matchup because there are some many guys that can score,” Brownell said. “It is hard to key in on one area. They have shooters. They have big post players. They have experience and good depth so from that standpoint it will be a good defensive challenge.”
Gonzaga reminds Brownell of another team he sees a couple of times a year in the ACC.
“When you watch them on film, they remind you a lot of North Carolina,” he said. “They are averaging 94 points a game right now and they are getting it out just as fast after makes and misses. They do a great job of running the floor and pushing it ahead and feeding it to their big guys right away and scoring.”
The Bulldogs are also very big, physical and strong on the defensive end of the court.
“This will be a great opening game for us to see where we are in relation to one of the better teams in college basketball,” Brownell said.
But it’s not a litmus test. It’s more like a small sample size of how things might be.
“You have to put in 120 percent effort and then go out and have to do it again the next day,” Jennings said. “You find out who really is able to sustain, able to stay on board and who really wants to win.”