(Tallahassee, 2/28, 2:00pm)
This is a big game, not just because a first-round bye in the ACC tournament is likely on the line, but it should be something of an indicator for post-season success. We've been talking about it on here for some time--Clemson's offense struggles against effectively tall good defenses. Our guards just don't have the height or court vision to move the ball inside and have a harder time shooting the three, and our big men get tend to get slowed down or become non-factors. Drives to the hoop also tend to be less than fruitful, as Stitt and sometimes Rivers seem to lack the skill to finish when there are exceptionally tall players on the defense. So here we go, the first of two last chances (WF is up next Sunday) for Clemson to show they can make significant adjustments and play with the tall, defense-oriented teams. If things go poorly, the chance of a bad matchup combined with weaknesses other teams have recently been exploiting will almost certainly spell early exit for the Tigers.
I'll refer you to the last preview for an overview of the FSU team. If anything has changed since the last meeting, the stats say FSU's offense has gotten slightly worse while their defense appears to have gotten a little better. This is what I'll be watching early in this game to gauge Clemson's chances: Trevor Booker vs. Alabi and K.C. Rivers on offense and FSU three point-shooting on defense. In the second half of the last game, FSU left Alabi on Booker alone pretty much the entire time--calling off the double team. And he pretty much shut Booker down. This let the rest of the team focus on their assignments and increased pressure on the perimeter, which made it even harder to get the ball into Booker, kind of a positive feedback loop for FSU. Not many players have been able to individually shut down Booker this season, so hopefully this was something of a fluke. But that doesn't mean anything if he can't get his hands on the ball.
I think the key to countering this is K.C. Rivers. Rivers is really the only player who can create shots for himself (although I do think Oglesby is getting better at this) that don't involve suicide drives to the hoop (Potter and Stitt can handle this nicely). Rivers has to force FSU to defend the middle of the offense by hitting some open jumpers in space of his own making. That will keep the FSU's taller perimeter defense from cheating so much on the three, which will in turn hopefully open up Booker a few times underneath.
On defense, Clemson has to stop the bleeding from behind the arc. Easier said then done, since a lot of teams have started going to the open three in transition after breaking the press. We've been warning about this--eventually teams were going to wise up and see that we were too good at getting back and defending layups, but were leaving the long shot open. I think this really contributed to our untimely downfall earlier in the week vs. VT. Luckily, FSU is a pretty bad three point shooting team, but here's the problem: neither were VT or GT, and we know they were knocking them down in the last two games. An open shot from three point land is going to dramatically improve even the worst shooter (Hank Thorns says hello).
"Big game" is maybe not the right description for today--"fate-determining" might be a little closer.