Saturday, 28 February 2009

Raycom Sucks

Well we lost again...that was another pathetic display. I love that Rivers has a chance to cut it to 2-yes, with 12 seconds left--2, but he throws it away. This is indicative of the type of game it was. We hung in there in the second half but just played like a team that didnt belong with the big boys. We had a chance when we cut it to two and had some bad calls that all went Florida St. team.

How is it that this team is committing so many turnovers?? I saw Rivers, the senior leader, make some truly ugly passes--to Oliver Purnell...Is it late season fatigue, is it the weight of expectation crashing down? I really think we play our best when the pressure isnt on us to have to win. Against Wake we played tentative, scared and committed turnovers partly bc the pressure was on to "arrive" and that carried over to the NC game. The first FSU and the VI games were just lack of execution down the stretch but when we played our best games againt Duke and Maryland we had no pressure and played like it. I think we came in scared to play this game.

Our team has to learn how to feed the post. Booker was getting manhandled and doesnt do a good job of setting himself on the block enough, but you cant really fault him going up against the most athletic 7' 1" giant I have seen in awhile. That block he had on Stitt when Douglas fell down was amazing, my jaw dropped. Speaking of Stitt, down by five with a minute to go and you foul Douglas, one of the best FT shooters in the league?? Pure genius...

Can the ACC not get anyone better to broadcast these games?? I find it amusing, sometimes even hilarious, to hear some drunk FSU fan yelling "Terrance, Terrance" and "I knew it" when OP and Booker fell into each others arms. Tell Raycom to buy better equipment or sell the contract. We are at least the second best league in the country and we are stuck with Raycom?? So we had to win, and we lost--goodbye first round bye, hello fifth seed in the NCAA tourney...


(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.

Thursday, 26 February 2009


Virginia Tech 80, Clemson 77

Uggh, that was miserable. Of the four must-win games I listed last week, the order of concern I felt about each game was approximately as follows:

1) @Georgia Tech
2) Maryland
        big gap
3) Virginia Tech
4) Virginia

I really thought we were on our way to 10 wins after beating GT. Now we have to steal one against FSU or WF on the road, and I really think that's a tall order. We're probably looking at a 9-7 conference record and a 5 or 6 seed in the ACC tourney. I still hold out some hope Clemson can prove me wrong at FSU, but yeah...

So how did they lose the game? I think there were two factors at play. First and foremost, Clemson played a lax game--sloppy ball handling, lazy passes. If you give a bad defensive/good offensive team a bunch of unforced turnovers, its going to make their chances of victory exponentially better (okay not exponentially better, but you get the picture). They also looked tired--I was left wondering if they had hit a wall tonight, they just weren't getting back quickly or running the floor the way like they have at earlier points in the season.

The second factor was the officiating. To be clear, its not the calls going one way or the other, I thought the refs were pretty consistent throughout the game. It was the style of officiating. The refs seemed to call any contact a foul almost the entire night. This of course is a massive disadvantage for Clemson, body contact and slaps at the ball are essential to an effective press, and the refs were having none of it last night. It had the effect of rendered the full-court press pretty much useless. That being said, Clemson has to recognize this and adjust their game plan. I think they stuck to the full-court press way too long, even if they were running a few variants. The halfcourt traps late in the game I thought were fairly effective, it would have been nice to see them earlier.

I've been kind to Clemson during their losses this season, even defending the Virginia loss to some extent. But for last night's performance, they really have no one to blame but themselves. And it could prove extremely costly.

Oh, and Hubert Davis: worst commentary of the year.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Virginia Tech Loss-2 Steps Back

So the game is over and I really felt like we were going to pull it out in the end and force it into overtime. While this game shouldnt have been so close statistically, I think some teams play you tougher-some coaches just have your number. The press killed us tonight, and VT hit their threes. I thought we didnt execute very well at all down the stretch and should have listened to Hubert Davis and his annoying voice telling us to get it into Booker on all those plays. Run some high screen and roll for him, iso, something...

We should have fouled right away and not let those precious eight seconds tick away. Could have tried a two and fouled again and I hate that twice now we could only put up a desperation three that was more an attempt to get fouled than make a three. TO did that in the Virginia final game too. Missed a lot of opportunities there inside four minutes and I'm mainly frustrated with how Stitt played in that time--seriously bricking a wide open three and not converting or creating for teammates on the dribble drive, this isnt going to help with his confidence problems. Poor execution, poor half court offense--bad trends going forward, poor ESPN2 loss on the homecourt...more to come later after the initial frustration subsides some...


(littlejohn, 2/25, 7:30pm)

Aah, deception.

(Watch from the 2:00 to 1:45 mark)

Is it me, or is Virginia Tech the most overrated team in the league this year? I think its a combination of a few things; first, VT is coming off two great years (particularly for a program without recent basketball success). Also, last year they had a good (not great) case for the NCAA tourney but were left out, and Seth Greenberg was all over the airwaves defending his team in the lead up to and the aftermath of the perceived snub, making/defending the VT case. I think this really sort of solidified a narrative for VT basketball that has carried over into this year: a good team in a great conference that gets little respect. Then they pulled out a early ACC shock upset against Wake Forest, which got pundits and broadcasters talking about some kind of traditional "midseason surge" (kind of the anti-Clemson--when will we ever here the end of the late season collapse talk?) (Actually, I'm not sure where this comes from for VT, last year they didn't have any particularly impressive wins, although they did pull a few shockers from out of nowhere in 2007.) Put it all together and I think you have a team perceived as being pretty good--but the reality is quite different.

They're not a bad team, but from a stats perspective, they are no where near the level of the 2007-2008 teams and really can't be considered a team to fear. On top of this, they profile as a team that Clemson has played well against this year, middling defense with a decent offense. Think Boston College with a slightly better defense, considerably worse offense.

On offense, VT doesn't shoot the ball particularly well, but they do get to the line often. VT gets their shots blocked quite often, so look for Sykes and Booker to pad their stats. If Clemson avoids giving up too many easy buckets in transition, they should be able to handle this offense. We all know what happened in game 1, and I definitely second ClemBen: if there is ever a time for Purnell to call off the press from time to time, or mix it up some, its probably at the start of this game.

On defense, look for VT to get a few blocks of their own, and more less keep Clemson's FG percentage down to a reasonable level. One thing they really struggle with is forcing turnovers, 289th in division I. Again, Clemson should like most of this--VT's weaknesses tend to play to our strengths and our weaknesses (like turnover %) are not going to be effectively exploited by VT.

Brace yourself for the broadcasters to drone on ad nauseum about how close these teams play each other, and how the last 27 games or whatever have been decided by a total of 2.5 points. And yes, VT is "fighting for its postseason lives" or something--I'm actually not sure how a team with a consensus 70-80 rank in overall efficiency has any claim to the postseason--but honestly, given the gap in performance between the two teams to this point, I think anything less than a double digit win will be a disappointment for Purnell and crew.


Getting Down Early--Clemson Postseason, Early Exit, Prevention Strategies?

Just read this piece by Greg Wallace on the Tigers feeling they have to be prepared for tonights game but I was impressed by the discussion at the end by Purnell and TO about the need to start quicker. Purnell goes so far as to say:

“It could be personality, could be how good the league is, how good the teams are. I haven’t given up on us finding a way to get out of the gates faster. We have done it a few times this year but not nearly enough. I’ve seen the other side of that coin many times, us falling behind."

His new idea is to get the guys sweating more before the game and have more structured warm-ups. I like how Purnell isnt afraid to try new motivational strategies to help Clemson compete at an optimal level. So I thought I would add in a few ideas of my own, please feel free to add to the list...
  • First I think one of the main reasons we fall behind early is because teams are ready and prepared for the press. They are able to execute early and later get worn down and create the majority of the turnovers. No stats to prove it but it would be nice to see if there was a correlation. So my thought is to mix up different looks for the press early. Still being aggressive, still pressing, but not giving up so many transition baskets early. Once the game progresses then turn up the heat.
  • I think you need to get more dribble penetration early. The team often becomes tenative, tries to get the ball to Booker and then starts launching threes. The way to mitigate some of this is getting primarily Stitt and Rivers to drive and break down the D more. This should result in some easy looks for Booker and Grant/Sykes. Obviosuly you have to keep going inside to Booker as much as possible but early you need some points driving to the basket.
  • Last I would suggest running more specific set plays in the first five minutes. Clemson has been lightyears ahead of last year in their halfcourt offense but running some more backdoor cuts or even an alley-oop--something set to your best players...Thats all I got so far--its a tough question but one worth exploring heading towards the postseason. Please feel free to contribute...

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Baseball Season 2009: Offense

The baseball season is finally underway, and I`m more than ready to put last season behind in hopes of a better year. Things certainly got off to a good start over the weekend with the sweep of Charlotte, keyed by some good freshmen play. I'll get to that in a second, but first a little bit of an overview. I`m going to try and present a little different angle while previewing the team relative to some of the other places you might read; in the last few years I have really tried to get into the statistical side of baseball analysis by reading up fantastic sites like,, and, to name a few. I`m still a rank amateur at this stuff, but I really enjoy it and thought I would take a stab at quantifying what to expect from the Tigers this season--first with a post talking about the offense, then one talking about the pitching staff, and finally one that tries to put it all together. My goal is to get these off in the next couple of weeks or so as the basketball season winds down, and then we'll shift over to baseball full-time, trying to give a brief preview of each series.

Back to the offense and pitching--my goal with these posts is to try and estimate the number of runs we can expect the offense to score, and how many runs we can expect the pitchers to give up. Then we can try and plug these numbers into something called the Pythagorean win percentage, which will give a rough estimate of how many wins to expect this year, since runs scored vs. runs allowed correlates pretty well with overall winning percentage.

Let me just emphasize again here that I am by no means an expert, and due to several limitation in the data, this will end up as very rough, back-of-the-envelope type calculations. In other words, don`t go placing wagers based on any of this. Still, I think in a general sense this will be instructive on what to expect from the Tigers, and what to look for as the season progresses. Please let me know if you see me doing something stupid and/or obviously wrong...

Luckily for me, the Tigers aren`t expected to start a bunch of freshmen all over the field like last year, and there are at least partial-season`s worth of data at every position going back over the past few years which will be used to project this year's performance. Here is the first limitation in the data, I`m going to assume that no freshmen are going to beat out the cast from last year for significant playing time, because it is next to impossible to try and project performance with high school stats (O.K., its also hard with just a year`s worth of college stats, but I`ll get to that in a second). High school stats tend to vary tremendously from school district to school district, and even from year to year within the same district. So I`m just going to plug returning players from last year into the slots that they saw the most time, and also based from the media coverage coming out of practice. So right away, if the coaching staff feels one of the new kids is a better bet to improve production in the field, that likely means that I'll be underrating the overall offensive output.

So how is individual contribution to runs scored at the plate measured? Tom Tango, Andrew Dolphin, and Mitchel Lichtman wrote about this in The Book: the comprehensive guide to playing the percentages in baseball, and came up with one unifying statistic which combines a players ability to get on base and their slugging percentage, in other words, how often they get on base and how many bases they end up taking after getting on base. (This also includes things like base-stealing ability, etc.) They call it the weighted on-base percentage, or wOBA, and it is scaled to fit regular on-base percentage, so you can think of an average wOBA as being around .350, and an excellent wOBA as being .400 or above.

Now in order to get a good prediction of a player`s wOBA, ideally you must have several season`s worth of prior data. Unfortunately, this just isn`t possible in this case. For most Clemson players, we have one or maybe two year`s worth of data. So another assumption I have made is that the performance from last year (or, when available, the average of multiple years past) is a true gauge of player`s ability. This of course is nonsense, last year Kyle Parker may have had a flukishly brilliant year, or he may have been bad by his own standards. But its just an assumption we will have to live with. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that at this stage in a player`s career, its perfectly natural to expect improvement. To be conservative, however, I`m not going to try and work in any kind of adjustments.

So, without further ado, here is the projected wOBA for each Clemson player, alongside their expected position and several of the counting stats:

The next step is to adjust wOBA for park effects and for strength of schedule. This can be done with the help of Boyd Nation's stat page, which has kept track of how individual college parks tend to affect the run environment for several years now. In other words, in some parks its easier to score runs and than others (because of shorter fences, higher altitudes, less foul territory, etc.), so this is a way to normalize so that every player is more or less playing in an equal environment. As it turns out, the Doug Kingsmore stadium rating for 2005-2008 is 109 with 100 being an average park, which means we expect a few more runs to score over the course of a season relative to an average park, something of a "hitter's park". But we're going to use Clemson's total weighted park factor for the same time period which accounts for the run environments of all stadiums that Clemson plays in over the course of a season, this number comes out to 105. This means that Clemson tends to play on the road in parks that are friendlier to a pitcher than Doug Kingsmore. Here are the numbers for player park weighted wOBA:

Next, we adjust for strength of schedule (SOS). This is bit trickier, because we need 2009 SOS for our predictions and of course its impossible to know how exactly the season is going to play out and how good our opponents will be. Luckily, though, Boyd Nation calculates the intended SOS for 2009, factoring in performances of teams over the past several years to get a rough estimate. Clemson is currently projected at a 108.4 SOS, good for 44th in the country. Here, then, are the numbers for player park-weighted, SOS-adjusted wOBA:

Whew, so now we have an idea of each player's wOBA for 2009, but we need to convert this to runs. Basically what we'll do is calibrate every player's contribution relative to an ACC league-average offensive run-producer. This can be done by comparing the projected wOBA to an expected ACC league average wOBA and multiplying this number by expected plate appearances. I calculated the 2008 ACC average wOBA by taking all players logging over 100 plate appearances and running their numbers through the park effect and SOS adjustments described above, with the final league average wOBA for 2008 coming out to .387. Then we can then calculate the total projected runs above or below league average based on total runs scored for the 2008 ACC league teams. Now a couple more limitations need to be mentioned, first, I'm comparing 2009 projections to 2008 numbers, and also calculating the league average runs for 2008. It would probably be better to project these numbers for 2009, or at least to use the past several seasons to come up with a better average. On the other hand, the best leagues (ACC, PAC10, Big12) are known to be pretty stable stats-wise, because the high quality of talent influx that comes in year after year, so I feel pretty comfortable doing this as an exercise in rough estimates.

With the several mentioned limitations in mind, the final numbers come out as follows (with wRAA as the runs above/below average):

Startlingly low numbers, to be sure, but remember its not just how many runs you score, its also how many runs you give up. I'll look at this side of the equation next time when projecting the pitching staff.

Monday, 23 February 2009


Clemson 81, Georgia Tech 73

Two for two, two left to go in the four games we need to win to be in good shape for a first round ACC bye. Still pretty crowded atop of the ACC standings, but I still think a 10-6 finish will get us in the top four. Not much time so I'll head right to the chart:

(Chart from Statsheet. I can't find win probability charts, but this is pretty close. I assume they are using Bill James' formula to calculate safe leads, but I might be wrong.)

Just like in the first game, GT managed to keep it close--I didn't start feeling comfortable until around the six/seven minute mark and even then they stayed in striking range until the game was statistically at the 0:55 mark. That being said, I was mostly encouraged by the offensive play, making good decisions behind the arc resulting in some good shots from three point land. Coming into the game, GT was no slouch defensively on shots from behind the arc, holding opponents to 27.4%, but their three-point defense percentage took a hit in this game.

I think the defense mostly played well, outside the early going in the first half. Clemson's defense didn't force the number of turnovers we're accustomed to seeing--only 16--and not nearly as much as you might expect against a team averaging over 23 per game. This is going to happen on occasion to a team that concentrates so much of its defensive effort on forcing turnovers, there will be nights when Clemson just doesn't get the right bounces, deflections, or calls resulting in the other team scoring a few more points than you might expect. I suspect that this style of defense probably leads to a larger deviations in actual scoring versus expected scoring, something that might be interesting to look into. At any rate, you just have to hope that the unlucky nights happen when you're playing a bad offense (thank you Georgia Tech).

I can't be unhappy about the game from a standings perspective. This was the one out of the four I was most concerned about, and while it was tight, Clemson still won. On the other hand, the game didn't do much to allay concerns about matchup difficulties, and I think the distance we travel in the two post-season tournaments will still depend greatly on who we play. Hopefully Clemson can use the upcoming games against FSU and WF to test out adjustments, giving themselves a better chance to make a deep tourney run regardless of the opponent.

Saturday, 21 February 2009


(Atlanta, 2/22, 1:00pm)

Round two of the must-win series of four games (Maryland, GT, VT, Virginia) for Clemson to be in good shape for a first round in the ACC tourney. Of the four games, this one scares me the most--GT brings some of the same matchup problems we've talked about before. Granted, the 63-51 score from just under a month ago may give the impression we have already beaten them once handily, but if you recall the game was tight until the final 7 minutes or so and keeping the high-powered Clemson offense to 63 points on its home court is no small accomplishment for GT.

The difficulty for Clemson lies in GT's solid defense. They don't really specialize in doing one thing extremely well, but feature a balanced attack, ranking in the top 65 in most major defensive categories--good for 36th best defensive efficiency in the country. Fortunately, the one area they are weakest in is forcing turnovers, one of the more problematic areas of Clemson's offense. The real problem here is not only is GT a good defensive team, they are a good defensive team with height: 31st best in effective height in the country. This should allow them to slow Booker somewhat and block the vision of our perimeter passers.

But make no mistake about it, this is a game Clemson should win. The reason: GT's atrocious offense. Far and away the worst unit for any team in the ACC this year, and well below division I average. This problem is further compounded by an uptempo style of play: a really bad offense combined with the 24th fastest playing style in division I means a lot of opportunities for the opposing team to score after an empty possession. The two "strengths" in the barren, bomb-scarred landscape representing the GT offense according to are the ability to avoid blocks (probably from the height underneath) and the a reasonably good offensive rebounding percentage. We've talked before about how crappy shooting teams get more opportunities for offensive rebounds, which probably means even this number is inflated for GT.

I expect a defensive slough with Clemson hopefully pulling away before the five minute mark in the second half. If GT gets a few rolls and sinks some circus three point shots, though, Clemson might have to win the game in the final possessions. One thing to keep in mind before reaching for the antacid, though, is a six-seven point lead in a game with scoring in the low-sixties means a lot more than it does in a game headed to a low-eighties finish.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009


Clemson 93, Maryland 64

(Chart from Statsheet. I can't find win probability charts, but this is pretty close. I assume they are using Bill James' formula to calculate safe leads, but I might be wrong.)

One down, three to go on the list of winnable games to get to ten wins and the first round ACC tourney bye. The game was effectively over at the under 8:00 media timeout in the second half. It actually took Clemson a little while longer to pull away than I thought, but when they started pulling away they really buried the Terps.

I'm pressed for time, so a quick list of semi-formed thoughts:

  • Things learned first-hand from last night: Maryland sucks at defending the three, Maryland was looking for the open three, Maryland sucks at shooting the open three.
  • I almost feel sorry for Gary Williams, I thought he had an excellent game plan in place: run the floor all night and look for the open shot, wherever it was on the court (not to mention quite a few nice set plays resulting in easy buckets). Too bad his team can't shoot. Give a better shooting team (maybe a Boston College) the same plan and we probably have a game. I'll be watching to see if other teams are looking for open threes after breaking the press, Clemson is too good at getting back and blocking/defending when the other team goes for the layup. I think smarter team may start using space in transition for open shots.
  • But I don't feel too sorry for Gary Williams, bringing in quality recruits also falls under his job description. What has happened up there? With his success you would think this would be last of his difficulties. I know about the quarrels with the athletic department, but can that be affecting recruiting? Is Gary Williams too unbearable to play for these days? (I'm just grasping at straws here...)
  • Grievis had 5 turnovers, Stitt had 2.
  • Stitt played a quietly effective game. I haven't heard much about this, but I've been impressed with his anticipation this year, he's racking up quite a few steals. Hopefully he can stay healthy the rest of the way.
  • I'm really starting to like Andre Young, and getting less worried about replacing Rivers' output next year.
  • Clemben brought up a good point about the possibility Clemson hitting a wall as they run full-court press 35 minutes a game, every game. Still something to watch, but I don't think you can take the second half last night as anything but a positive sign heading to the last five games of the regular season.
  • Lots of talk in the blogosphere about Purnell and the Maryland connections. I have a few thought on this, but I'll save it for a more extended post, maybe for the runup to the postseason. Right now I'm not convinced Maryland is much of a threat to entice Purnell, but you can't underestimate the pull of family ties.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Maryland Halftime Ramblings

We should be up by more on this team, a lot more but I think we take a good bit of momentum into halftime especially with that beautiful trap at the very end. Rivers has been absolutely awful, airballing some floaters but he flushed that last one nicely.
  • Booker is 3-3 shooting and we have got to get him some more touches, keep him from getting frustrated and in the flow of the game.
  • Maryland is a hustle team, not top tier talent but they play hard and make their ft's, got to limit the double bonus opportunities down the stretch if its close. Anyway, they are a hustle team because they lack size so Booker should be having his way with them. Grant had some nice minutes.
  • They are giving the point guard the three. Stitt has played better but Young and the bench have got to find their three point touch. TO is turning into a frustrating player--love him when he hits the crazy three and makes a nice assist but hate the random itchy trigger finger and the defensive lapses.
  • Got to come out fired up and ready to play, like some of the curls on offense but the ball must go through Booker. Go Tigers! Great a timeout on the inbounds?? Oh well, Tigers to the Max! Ha!


(littlejohn, 2/17, 7:30pm)

I'm holding out hope that we flopped against Virginia because Purnell spent the last week getting the team ready for Maryland, figuring his team could cruise last Sunday. Yeah, I know--not likely, but here's hoping. Lets go to the numbers to see how Maryland profiles.

Offensively, they actually resemble Virginia a little in that they shoot the ball poorly from the field; to the tune of 278th in the nation in effective field goal percentage and 297th in 3-point shooting percentage. As I mentioned in the Virginia recap, Clemson's 3-point defense has been steadily declining since ACC play started. Definitely something to watch for tonight, not necessarily the final percentages but watch to see if Clemson is getting a hand in the shooter's face. That should give an indication of whether this is some protracted statistical fluctuation or if the other teams in the ACC may have identified a weakness.

Maryland is good at holding on to the ball, 33rd best in preventing turnovers on possessions. I was pretty surprised here, Greivis Vasquez has always seemed like a freewheelin' guard to me. His personal turnover rate is a bit on the high side but not stratospheric, so I guess we can't turn to him to pick up some quick points off defense. No, I think instead we should be trapping Adrian Bowie every time he touches the ball.

Maryland is also 7th best in the nation in FT shooting, but luckily they are one of the worst teams at getting to the line (325 out of 344). We shouldn't expect much in the way of fouls or foul trouble for Clemson in this game, both because Clemson doesn't want to put Maryland on the line and because Maryland has shown little interest in getting there this season.

On defense, Maryland is middle of the pack in the ACC--but substantially better than the bottom-dwellers like Boston College, NC State, etc. The good news for Clemson is two-fold, Maryland has little effective height and their two biggest weaknesses just so happen to coincide with Clemson strengths: keeping the other team off the glass and defending the three.

If the shots are falling from beyond the arc, Clemson should really pull away at some point in the game and not look back. If not, though, I'm expecting a close, defense-oriented struggle going down to the wire.

Let's finish with easily my favorite play from last year, the play that votes Cliff Hammonds into the all-time ClemBenTigerMax hall of fame**. GO TIGERS!!!!!!!

**no, we're definitely not starting a hall of fame.

Recruiting Round-up: #2 North Carolina

So rather than dwell on that depressing performance lets look at something else. Unfortunately, its equally as depressing...Butch Davis is building a fence around the state of North Carolina. The man can flat out recruit and that is not a positive trend for Clemson. Clemson has been able to pull the top NC defensive recruit for the past three years with Butler, Gilcrest, and Spencer Adams but that ended this recruiting cycle. We got an underrated Shuey and Shatley who I think will be solid contributors especially in terms of toughness, something sorely needed moving forward in Dabo's concentration on controlling the defensive and offensive lines. But thats all we got...

There was some serious talent in NC this year and while its not as important for Clemson to dominate NC, its more important to control SC, we need to be in position to realistically pick off two or three top players but four or five would be ideal. Its arguably even more important bc we are loosing the talent to ACC competition, North Carolina has a top five class, NC State has an underrated class, Duke is now a player in the game, and Wake always seems to get the most out of its recruits and player evaluations. We missed on good defensive talent with Donte Moss being the prize but lots of recruits we had a chance with Shankle, Bell, and Boyd at WR. We really should have been able to grab a couple of them and I am concerned that the coaching staff is going to put more emphasis on Georgia in the coming years, with seven coaches dividing up the state. Maybe this is a reaction to tougher going in NC recently but lots of talent exists, Robert Crisp the ginormous offensive lineman who has already camped before at Clemson will be a good test case.

One trend to note is NC State becoming more of a power. I have been surprised that Tom O'Brien has had a rough start in more fertile recruiting grounds, leaving the BC program he built. But he has always been a good evaluator and developer of player talent. Asa Watson from Rock Hill SC is going to be a good tight end and Denzelle Good is a solid o-lineman at 6-6 from Gaffney, a beast at the Shrine Bowl workouts. Both plucked from under our noses, both four star athletes and undervalued early on. This is the eye for talent that Grobe, O'Brien, and perhaps Cutcliffe posess that our staff needs to develop a little more. Hopefully the new position coaches will help round out our staff. Napier, Dabo and I imagine Jeff Scott are very personable, attract big talent, and are on the cutting edge of recruiting technology but may lack somewhat in scouting player development, something that comes more with experience. That may not be entirely fair at this point but we dont develop players like other schools and maybe this in some small way adds to that problem. Georgia on tap next...

Monday, 16 February 2009


Virginia 85, Clemson 81 OT

(Chart from Statsheet. I can't find win probability charts, but this is pretty close. I assume they are using Bill James' formula to calculate safe leads, but I might be wrong.)

I had to wait a while before I could write this, force myself to calm down a bit from all the rage. I don't have any deep insights into this game, it was obviously a lackluster effort all around, particularly on defense. Clemson can't allow a poor shooting team like Virginia to shoot 54% from the floor. Normally I wouldn't put too much stock into a sub-30% 3-shooting team going 7-15, that's within the realm of believable statistical fluctuation, but I do think it points to a disturbing trend: Clemson's defensive efficiency has been incrementally dropping since ACC play began. Nothing drastic, but they've gone from around 10th in the nation to about 30th. As far as I can tell this can almost exclusively be attributed to giving up more threes. I haven't been watching closely enough to determine why this is happening, but I often wonder why teams don't pull up more often after breaking the press to shoot the open three--a pretty high percentage shot for a good shooter. Something to watch for in the coming games...

Of course this doesn't amount to an excuse for losing this game. Unfortunately, good teams have an all around poor outings and sometimes a bad team will plays its best game of the season at the same time. The extension of this is that over the course of a thirty game season even a top five team will inexplicably lose a game (Note: I do not think we are not a top five or ten team, I agree with ClemBen here--borderline top fifteen right now). Its not very satisfying reasoning, but odds were at the beginning of ACC play Clemson was gonna lose one or two they weren't supposed to lose.

The problem for Clemson is now the margin for error is essentially zero. We need to finish 10-6 to have a good chance at locking up a first round ACC bye, and with road games at FSU and Wake Forest (two bad matchups for Clemson) looming, we really have to win the other four games. The good news is we will be solid favorites in the other four games, the bad news is we will have short rest from here on out. The reality is we may need to steal one from FSU or WF to get to 10-6.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Post-game: Epic Choke

Well thats the Clemson of old on display, cant come through in the clutch...I'm writing this after just yelling at the screen in utter disbelief so excuse the harshness of this re-cap...

So just got done watching that pathetic display by the Tigers. Once again with a potential #5 or #6 ranking staring them in the face the team chokes and bad. This is their first bad loss of the season, Wake, NC, and Florida State all good teams but Virginia is coming off of an eight game loosing streak. Virginia has only been up at half three times during the ACC season at the half. Clemson came out flat once again--a troubling theme this year and we were cold in the first half. Couldnt hit anything. We still had a chance to win in the last minute of regulation but after shooting above 75% for the game, KC cant make the free throw that would have sealed the game. It was on the road but this is an 7-13 team coming in. Dont know if we got caught looking ahead but once again Clemson is sent back down to earth with this poor performance. I think this is a good team--the best Clemson bball team in a very long time, but we arent top ten material yet-we are still a solid top 20, probably top 15 but this loss should have been a gimme and hurts our chances to win the ACC regular season title. Honestly I could care less about that but want the first day off in the ACC tournament. Cant loose anymore easy games in conference. Soft defense, Grant got in foul trouble again early and too many turnovers-7 for to regroup before a pivitol Maryland game...

Saturday, 14 February 2009


(02/09, 1:00pm, Charlottesville)

Virginia is unique in the ACC for its balanced mediocrity. Most teams have something to point to as being above average, even lowly Georgia Tech can point to a pretty decent defense. Right now Virginia is looking toward the future hoping that their young players have enough upside to get the team back into ACC contention. I don't usually buy the lack of experience argument, I tend to think raw talent and good coaching are a lot more important than experience. Even so, I have to admit ranking 319 of 344 in division I average player experience has to be a disadvantage, particularly in this conference.

On offense, Virginia does a reasonable job of avoiding turnovers and also crashes the offensive boards well. But this last stat can be misleading, if you are terrible at shooting the ball (effective field goal percentage rank in division 1: 294th), you naturally have more opportunities to snag an offensive board, thus inflating your offensive rebound percentage; calculated by the simple formula: OR%=(OR/(OR+DR)), where OR is number of offensive rebounds and DR is number of defensive rebounds. (Conversely, a team that shoots the ball extremely well will have less opportunities for offensive rebounds, a couple of poster teams over the last couple of years would be BYU and Arizona State). There is probably a way to adjust for this by considering the total shot differential between teams in a game, but this would have to be adjusted for rate of three point shooting, etc. and gets complicated fast. I haven't seen anyone making this kind of adjustment, at least not for college stats. My guess is it would result in only a small adjustment for a handful of teams, but Virginia very well could be affected.

One player to look out for on offense is freshman Sylven Landesberg, who is making a bid to replace Tyler Hansborough next year as the human ACC foul-drawing machine. He also hits his free throws at about an 85% clip, a big part of the team 74.4% mark.

At any rate, none of this compensates for Virginia's abysmal field goal percentage. And go ahead and cue the tape again--its going to be another Sykes/Booker/Grant blockfest: Virginia ranks 312 in the country in percentage of shots that get blocked.

On defense, Virginia is hovering around division I average in just about any stat category you can come up with (good for third-worst overall in the ACC). They are pretty bad at forcing steals and otherwise inducing turnovers, making Demontez Stitt quite happy, I'm sure.

Any areas of concern for Clemson? Well, Virginia is effectively pretty tall (34th in the nation), and we've noted Clemson's difficulties with tall teams. However, its important to realize there are two factors in Clemson's matchup of doom equation--effective height and good defense. Let's not forget, NC State is an extremely tall team, but they don't put it too much use on the defensive end, and Clemson handled them quite well.

Really, there is no reason for Clemson to lose this game. If Virginia completely reinvents itself with a renewed focus on defense and manages to...okay I'll stop. There's no reason** for Clemson to lose this game.

(**Unless, of course, the basketball lords of improbable statistical occurrence conspire to make our lives miserable by causing every call, every bounce to go the other way. But this is always possible in basketball no matter the opponent, remember Gardner-Webb beating Kentucky last year, or Harvard beating Boston College this year?)

Thursday, 12 February 2009


So supposedly Idaho is going to replace Central Michigan in the football schedule. This has led to a whole lot of debate, already, as to why Clemson is playing such a soft out of conference schedule(MTSU, Idaho, Coastal Carolina, and Middle Carolina) versus those who dont mind the easy win. Those who want a tougher schedule generally want to be entertained by better caliber games and a funner gameday atmosphere, pointing to the boost of name recognition, tv exposure, and the Clemson brand that comes with playing tougher opponents. Craig Loston wanted to come to Clemson initially after seeing us beat FSU on tv, first big game of the season. Another argument for a tougher OOC schedule is that it helps the team play better competition making them better during conference play. Winning too easily can give a false sense of superiority and cause the team to become complacent, especially relaxing during practice, ultimately making them play softer.

The opposite side says the word ALABAMA...with the spotlight on Clemson choked, this hurt recruiting, player morale, chaos in the locker room, and didnt help at all going into the conference. Beating up on weak teams should save the team from injuries(not always the case, Anthony Waters) and at least give your reserves the chance to log some quality minutes. An inexperienced Oline and QB can gel and you work out the kinks of your schemes. It can also give an inexperienced coach some experience, especially since Dabo hasnt been a clock management genius up to this point. The biggest point though is probably that wins are what is needed and with more wins comes the exposure and better recruiting. While a big national tv spectacle can really give you momentum it can also knock the wind out of you--best not to run the risk.

I'm going to propose a middle road. If you think your team is good enough then by all means schedule the game. In Tommy's defense, we didnt know Bama was going to be that good-that quick, and at the beginning of the season. So it seemed a safe bet. And I think thats what these games are--bets. A large part of the success of your season rests on what you do when you draw attention to yourself and create that big game.

With strength of schedule not factoring in much to BCS outcomes, Clemson is going to be constrained by the general view of the ACC if its competing for the natl championship so if that is what your gunning for then bring on the big game. If not I would try to schedule a game against a mid-level opponent, in an area where you are targeting some recruits. I'm thinking a Miss St. or a Vanderbilt, perhaps a Louisville if they continue to struggle. Someone you are confident you will beat but not totally destroy. Obviously easier said than done but with a bunch of question marks and a brand new everything coaching staff-I think I'll take Idaho over Georgia this year. Even if it is Idaho, doesnt mean you cant tailgate...

Oliver Purnell and Free Throw Shooting

Riffing off the review post from a few days ago, I've been thinking more about why Clemson FT shooting has been so bad for so long, when just about every other statistical aspect of Clemson’s play has improved rapidly or gradually under Oliver Purnell. In fairness, he inherited a pretty lousy group of free throw shooters so it’s not like he had a lot to work in the beginning.

Let’s think this through—when he arrived at Clemson, we know he went out and recruited athletic guys who could play solid defense. This is likely due to the high premium on offensive talent; schools with lousy reputations are going to end up fending for sub prime offensive talent scraps. For all the free-marketeers out there, Purnell was exploiting a classic example of a market inefficiency. We all know it takes both a good defense and offense to win championships, so why not start building the less expensive necessity first? You’ll get it done much faster.

So in signing a bunch of athletic guys who lack much of a shooters’ touch, Purnell has to know the team is going to struggle at the line. So why not more FT shooting practice? Well, here’s the thing—there’s a limited number of hours the team can hold practice. Is it worth spending the time to bring, say, a 58% shooter up to a 63% shooter or is it worth more to implement a new defensive scheme, or tighten up an existing one? This is a decision he most certainly had to weigh at some point, and I think from the results we can infer he went with the latter. I’d have to say he made the right choice; the cost in terms of practice time to bring a team lacking pure shooters up a few FT percentage points has to be enormous, particularly when weighed against the value that could be derived from using the time to improve other areas.

Now, I’m sure Purnell encouraged everyone to practice on their own time, particularly in the offseason (I imagine the strides Booker has taken comes from this) but these are (responsible) college students with a lot of things on their plates—schoolwork, social life, girls, in some cases families. So yeah, its not entirely surprising that improvement didn’t come over the years. Improvement has finally come because now Purnell is in the position to attract superior athletes that can play defense and shoot the ball.

Looking back, I can now see Purnell basically giving lip service to the media at the beginning of each year, promising a better FT shooting team all the while knowing that real improvement was X number of years away. I don’t say this to criticize Purnell, I mean, what is he supposed to say? Every sports journalist/broadcaster in the country would tear him to shreds if he admitted to intentionally running out a 59% FT shooting team because he thought it was the best way to try and win games.

This is all speculation, of course, but if it’s true—think about it for a second. Clemson has a coach willing to buck conventional wisdom (or put more strongly, commit basketball blasphemy) because he thinks it will help the team win more games. And you know what? Looking back it’s hard to argue he wasn’t right. It’s strange to say it, but it turns out that years of crappy FT shooting are just another example of why Purnell is a really intelligent basketball coach, and why Clemson basketball is headed in the right direction.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009


(Cool chart from Statsheet. I think I like win probability charts a little more, but I haven't been able to find them for NCAA basketball games and this is pretty close. I assume they are using Bill James' formula to calculate safe leads, but I might be wrong.)

Clemson 87, Boston College 77

After a rocky first few minutes, I thought Clemson settled in and pretty much had there way on offense. Boston College was getting good pressure on the perimeter early and denying the pass inside, but then something happened I haven't seen in a while from Clemson--good second and third passes inside the arc. This helped them find open people around the basket and eventually opened up the outside shot. The guard play was tremendous today, both Stitt and Oglesby took care of the ball and moved it around very well. I mentioned in the preview that Boston College's defense isn't great, but the stats indicate this isn't necessarily true around the perimeter, so that shouldn't take anything away from Oglesby and Stitt's performances.

The defense looked great, too--forcing turnovers against a team that handles the ball well. Sure, they gave up a lot on the glass, but that's going to happen to a team that presses like Clemson. I thought in the first half BC was pushing Clemson around underneath and grabbing a few too many boards in Clemson's halfcourt defense. But Clemson righted the ship pretty well in the second half and got a lot more active on the boards on both sides of the court. As an aside, I don't think we should be too bothered by Clemson's negative rebounding deficit. Even in the halfcourt set, I think Purnell gets his guys to focus on pressuring the shooter, with rebounding being more secondary. Its not uncommon to see two sets of hands in a shooters face when the ball gets down in the blocks. My guess is Purnell feels the value gained from forcing a bad shot compensates for giving up the occasional offensive rebound.

I think there was a lot of (understandable) handwringing in the blogosphere and from the media after the Florida State loss. But I gotta say, i think its best to keep in mind that we now have a reasonable sample size of 23 games and the computers, sportswriters, and coaches all agree that this is easily a top fifteen team, translating to a top four seed in the tourney. Now, its true that certain teams present matchup problems for the Tigers (specifically: tall teams), but despite my earlier warning, with a favorable draw there's no reason to think this team can't make a deep run in the tourney. I'm just saying its an exciting time to be a Clemson basketball fan...

A few ClemBen notes...

  • Is TO trying to steal the label of most hated white guy in college bball away from Greg Paulsen. That dunk when the game was over is just asking for it. But hey, I give him credit--I certainly didnt think he could get that high up with such ease.
  • Sykes definitely stepped up big. Grant is having the kind of season off the bench that has anchored the team on the interior at times this season--something I dont think many foresaw happening, but with four fouls this was perhaps Sykes standout performance of the year. Turns out he is a pretty nice guy too.
  • I got pretty nervous when Rice went NBA isolation on us for something like eight straight points near the end. I questioned keeping the press on when BC got into the double bonus especially with Rice getting fouled and shooting a lights out percentage in ACC conference play. Turns out it was the right decision and forced some turnovers but I think we should pay attention to the physical stamina of the team down the homestretch--particulary with Booker at the top of the press. If some key players hit the proverbial wall then our transition game will suffer, its at least something to look out for as the season progresses and we position ourselves for tourney time.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009


(2/10, 9:00pm, Chestnut Hill, MA)

In contrast to the FSU game, I'm upbeat about tonight's game. Boston College features a top-thirty offensive team and a slightly better than average division I defense, but don't worry, this is good for the second-worst defense in the ACC. On offense, BC favors the inside game, crashing the boards to pick up easy points. Look for a physical game inside when BC has the ball; I expect Sykes, Potter, and Grant to take every opportunity to use their 12-15 fouls. Unfortunately, the Golden Eagles are not too shabby from the line, ranking 63rd in division I. The very good news for Clemson is BC lacks heigth, getting blocked on 11.4% of all 2-point shots this year. Get ready for some highlights...

On the other end of the floor, its worth noting that despite an overall sub-par defense, BC is good at defending the three. What I'm not sure about is if this will translate into getting good pressure on the perimeter, definitely something to look for early in the game. But beyond defending the three well, BC struggles to force turnovers, struggles to keep opposing teams off the glass, and gives up a lot of points underneath. Expect Clemson to run through Booker early and often, with any early three attempts probably coming in transition or before BC gets set in the halfcourt.

Of the teams Clemson has played so far, Miami profiles the closest to BC. Good offense, average to mediocre defense. We all know what happened in the Miami game--I'm not expecting a double digit route, but Clemson has to be the favorite here. If they have problems feeding the post, or Booker lands in foul trouble, the game will likely end up close. I would also mention stamina as a possible factor since we only have a three day turnaround, but BC is coming off a Sunday night drubbing at Wake Forest, which should pretty much cancel things out. Besides, Clemson better get used to it--after the first Virginia game its all three days rest or less until the stretch before the regular season finale at Wake.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Recruiting Round-up: #1 South Carolina

So to continue with the recruiting wrap up I wanted to first look at the great state of South Carolina. Some in the Clemson blogs have discussed and criticized the article I cited previously in about proximity being an indicator of how well a football team will perform. While I agree with some of the criticisms it seems obvious that you need to keep the best players in the 200 mile radius at home. We arent talking about increasing local recruiting just because of fan loyalty, we are talking about keeping top 100-150 players in the home state. By my account SC produced about five to seven of this caliber recruit this year and we got shut out on a lot of them. The recent trend has been in the past couple of years that Clemson takes the best recruit in the state-Bowers, Korn, Sapp, but these have fortunately been hard core automatic Clemson fans(with perhaps the exception of Sapp wavering in the end, contemplating FSU). We obviously did not get the top recruit in the state this year with Goodman(well I think he might be the top recruit), and Jay being our top recruits. I'm not going to go into the history too in-depth but its hard to argue that Clemson hasnt done an outstanding job especially in the past two years of keeping those top 150 kids in state. Of course we have given up a lot of talent to other programs that shouldnt have gotten away Dunlap, Epps, a whole bunch to FSU. So we have lost a lot of battles and talent. I really think that if Clemson could put a fence around the state of SC, despite the academic problems, and consistently beat out SC for all the top eight to ten players in the state we are talking legit national championship contention year in and year out. Historically there is the talent level.

This year we see a shift from pretty much dominating to giving up a whole lot. South Carolina got the two Jefferys and were very impressive in convincing Alshon to stay at home. So you give Carolina their automatics. But the battle for the rest is what was disappointing. Rock Hill turns out to be the last place we wanted Devonte Holloman to go when he changed schools. It was supposed to turn both Holloman and Gilmore over two us but with his decommit the two of them left to SC. Gilmore turns out to be the state player of the year. The other big loss was of Sam Montgomery who had his eyes set on going out of state perhaps from the beginning but neither we nor SC could keep him from joining our pal Craig Loston at LSU. Even after a mediocre season they get it done. I think its important too to give credit to our staff for holding on to JK Jay. If he goes to Georgia then I think the while class comes undone and we are left resorting to our fall back board and a lot of kids we didnt want.

Next year is no different but SC will be loaded with talent, its going to be a big year so its positive to note that if this was a good year to have only 15-17 schollies and we will want them all for the great crop coming in. We have to win the battles close to home. We have Martavis Bryant already, a potential five star WR, but the coots have their automatic recruit with Kelcy Quarles. The rest are up for grabs--should be a landmark year-one that will determine the course of the next three to five years, in both recruiting and our chance to win a natl championship. Glad to be a Tiger and not a coot. Glad CJ Spiller is back....

STATE OF CLEMSON BASKETBALL: 2008-2009 ACC season midpoint update

Well, 8 games into the conference schedule and 21 games into the season, we're just starting to accumulate enough data to make some reliable observations about how the team is faring this year. I'm mostly interested in comparing this year to previous years, to try and identify any encouraging or discouraging trends. I am hoping to do this maybe three times a year, at the start of the ACC season, at the midpoint, and then at the end of the postseason. I thought I would start this time by looking at general offense and defense trends since the start of the Purnell era, to give a kind of baseline for future discussions. This post is based on the stats provided at Ken Pomeroy's site, if you haven't headed over there to check it out I really recommend it. I tend to lose several hours of the day when I visit...

Before looking at the offense and defense, the first comment I want to make is that the strength of schedule is shaping up to be weaker this year than the last two years, particularly the non-conference schedule. This might be different from what you've heard elsewhere, but I think people are underestimating the near-complete collapse of the SEC has a major basketball conference. After being up near the top of the rankings for several seasons, the SEC sucked in 2008, ranking last in overall conference efficiency among the major conferences. This year, it’s barely fending off the Mountain West for sixth place. It’s pretty sad when your best teams match up results-wise with the perennial first round 8/9 game-losing BYU cougars. So while in the past a victory over Alabama or USuCk might have been impressive, this year it means very little. But who am I kidding? If the coots are ever threatening to take a division, you know your conference has serious problems. Maybe Purnell will consider diversifying the competition a little in the coming seasons, but really these kinds of years will happen even with the best of intentions.

Now let’s take at offensive and defensive efficiency: stats that are adjusted for opponent strength. This way we don’t need to worry yet about the weaker 2009 schedule.

The first year Purnell arrived our defense was 43rd best in the country, and hasn’t dropped below the top thirty since. Over the same time, the offense has gotten progressively better. I think this confirms the tag always placed on Purnell: defense-first coach. Personally, I think we should apply a different tag to Purnell: extremely intelligent coach. I think he saw that to some degree lack of innate defensive talent can be overcome with raw athleticism, hustle, and good defensive schemes. This is not as nearly as true for offense, where lack of natural talent is more difficult to hide. Being the extremely smart coach, Purnell recognized that a strong defense is easier to build from the ground up than a strong offense, so he brings in athletic guys that can run the floor and listen to the coaches. As the program gets some recognition, he can then bring in athletic guys with more natural talent on the offensive end. Clemben is more of the recruiting guru, but from what I understand we can have high expectations this trend will continue with next year’s crew.

Next stat—one everyone has watched in horror for the past several years: FT percentage.

I think finally this year, after years and years of hearing about how improved we were going to be, we have finally actually improved. There’s still time for a late-season collapse, but it looks like the improvements by Booker, Grant, and to a lesser extent Sykes have more than offset regressions from Stitt and Oglesby. Again, though, I think this emphasizes Purnell’s defense first strategy to building a program, and while I’ve been as frustrated as the next guy, if the percentage rises another 3-4%, next year we’re looking at an average FT shooting team. Never thought I’d say it.

Last stat, just to drive home the point from the last couple of posts: average effective height. Unfortunately, the numbers are only calculated back to 2007.

Sunday, 8 February 2009


Florida State 65, Clemson 61

I think there is a temptation to believe that Saturday's loss was the result of a post-Duke letdown, an inability to sustain the emotional high from Wednesday for 40 minutes. This is bound to lead to articles and editorials by local sportswriters about Clemson's lack of consistency this year. My feeling, however, is that there is an emerging, recurring problem here. If left unaddressed, the wrong matchup will send Clemson to an early exit in both post-season tourneys they will participate in.

By my reckoning, Clemson has now played three teams with top 10-caliber defenses that also rank in the top ten in average effective height. Effective average height is a statistic generated by Ken Pomeroy at Basketball Prospectus, and it essentially ranks teams by how much taller they are at each position relative to average height at each position. Those three teams? Wake Forest, Illinois, and Florida State. We have soundly beaten good defenses this year, but have struggled against good defenses that are tall across all positions.

Random thoughts:

  • I think the coaching staff recognizes the problem. I saw more patience in the first half than I did in the WF game, as the guards looked for openings to drive the ball inside instead of shooting the three if the pass wasn't there. There was also what looked like set plays to free up perimeter players not necessarily for a shot, but for clean look inside. Unfortunately, a lot of these plays still ended in a turnover.
  • Even though we were up by 19 in the second half, I never felt comfortable. I just didn't feel like the offense was getting the ball into the paint with any consistency, and too many of our points were coming from sloppy FSU play.
  • I'm not sure what else to do if you are Clemson. You can't suddenly teach/train an extra 5 inches around the perimeter.
  • Maybe more inside the arc jump-shots instead of always driving straight to the hoop? Could extend the interior of the defense instead of padding the other team's block totals.
  • Yeah, Sykes hit a few baskets in the first half. Everyone's gonna hit a few with that much space.
  • It will be interesting to see what adjustments the coaching staff comes up with for the rematch in Tallahassee on Feb. 28th, should serve as a preview for the final game at Wake.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Recruiting Post-Mortem

Recently an article from talked about the relation between a college's ability to recruit close to home and its winning percentage. So if you can recruit your backyard(about a 200 mile proximity) you should be winning a lot of games. This is especially important for Clemson because it can get a little crowded when your backyard overlaps with a bunch of other ACC (NC, NC State, Duke, WF, GT) and SEC teams (Cootville, Georgia). I thought we would look at how we fared this year, especially looking towards 2010 and if this correlation will lead to an increase in victories.

I think we started this year with big plans and a vision for extending the scope and reach of our recruiting. We had the momentum coming into the season, the top ten ranking, and the expectation of the ACC championship and a BCS bowl game. The coaching staff bought into this and coupled with our increased effectiveness in places outside the 200 miles like Florida and Alabama, we expanded our reach. This all came to a crashing halt first in the Georgia Dome but really when the ACC championship seemed out of reach. So how did we fare despite the meltdown...I'm going to divide this into four seperate posts about the various states, South Carolina, NC, Georgia and all the rest.

In the mean time lets talk about what we got and how to divide recruits up. We pulled Malliciah Goodman and JK Jay who commited early, enrolled early and were the foundation for the class. If we lose JK after Bowden leaves to Georgia then this class wouldnt even look half the same. But these guys were also always Tigers--I would put McDowell in this same category as well. These are guys were born and bred Clemson fans--you have to get these kids. In past years we have done well and were fortunate to have top talent like this with Bowers, Korn and even Sapp. Likewise your going to have kids who grow up Coots and are going to go hang out with Micheal Phelps and get arrested. Some also are dead set on leaving the state to play with the supposed big time schools. Clemson needs to become that big time school and put a fence around its backyard. Where the battleground lies is all the rest in the middle because while SC has plenty of talent I'm not sure two teams can share it and make a run at a national championship.

I think we should be happy with the level of talent we got but it puts a lot of pressure on the class coming in. South Carolina did a good job of mooching off other schools and building some momentum despite the end of their season--loosing Mackey and Fields really hurts at the end but SC couldnt close on some key targets as well--Washington, Montgomery, getting away. Alshon Jefferey is the diamond though and to be a successful program you have to keep those top caliber prospects from jumping state and thats a big time program can do. Lucky for Clemson fans SC is still going to be known as the place where washed up coaches go to die(unfortuately some rise again and become ESPN talking heads).

(littlejohn, 02/07, 7:00pm)

Besides the finale against Wake, FSU scares me more than any other team left on the schedule. Florida State couples an average offense with a great defense--not just great for the ACC, but for all of division I. FSU has the tallest average height in division I this year (!), and are fourth tallest in average effective height. Sound like any other team we've played this year?

Yeah, a comparison to Wake is instructive, I think; I expect a pretty similar game plan. FSU will probably try using their size to pressure the three point shot and obstruct the passing lanes the same way Wake did. Then they use their remaining size underneath to try and slow Booker, while giving Sykes the opportunity to (not) beat them. Now, FSU hasn't been great against the three (certainly not as good as Wake) so hopefully this means they lack the quickness/athleticism of Wake and we can get some open looks.

Clemson I think can try and counter FSU's heighth by using Stitt to drive inside the arc or at least get the perimeter defense to overplay. Clemson had some success with Stitt and Potter driving against Wake, but Wake had enough quickness to keep the ball from moving past the perimeter most of the night. Here's hoping FSU is a little less disciplined on defense.

Luckily for Clemson, things get better on the other end of the court. FSU has a slightly better than division I average offense, but its pretty weak for the ACC. Digging in a little deeper care of Ken Pomeroy, we see that that they are pretty good at getting to the line, where they average ~71%. Also, they don't get their shots blocked very often (which plays against a Clemson strength), and they crash the offensive boards very well (which plays into a Clemson weakness).

So, where's the good news? First, they shoot poorly from behind the arc. But then so does Wake Forest, if you recall. I would focus more on their poor 2P%. While a 5% difference 2-point field goal percentage between Wake and FSU might not seem like much, if we figure around 40 2-point shots in one game, we're looking on average of 4 points less than Wake Forest would score with the same number of shots against a division I-average defense. Since Clemson is well above average defense, the effect is mitigated somewhat; maybe dropping a half or full point off of that difference. Three and half points can obviously be the difference in a game, but its also nothing to hang your hat on. No, the really good news for Clemson is FSU's abysmal turnover percentage. 23.9% of all FSU possessions end in a turnover--just awful. Nearly one in four possessions end in FSU giving the ball back to other team. I guess FSU can blame inexperience, but still, that's quite an accomplishment. I mean, Clemson is running out there at an 18.9% turnover rate which is higher than I would like to see, but wow. And yes, to continue needlessly driving home this point, FSU currently sports the 307th best turnover percentage rate out of 344 teams in division 1. Ouch.

Oh, and Clemson happens to be pretty good at forcing turnovers.

Its a game Clemson should win, but probably not easily. If FSU has some success running their big men at our 3-point shooters, and potential turnovers don't bounce the Tigers' way, it will end up a close, low-scoring affair.

Thursday, 5 February 2009


Fwam, since I might not hear from you in a couple days might as well post…that was the most satisfying basketball game I have watched since I became sports aware around the 1986-1987 season. You would think I would alternate between jubilation and euphoria: utterly defeating, even humiliating Duke on our homecourt is the fulfillment of a deeply-held childhood hope. Instead, I feel strangely serene.

Anyways, I have been worrying over the past week or so about Clemson’s lackluster performance against top-caliber defenses. I feel much better now, Duke absolutely has a top-ten defense and we shredded it. I think we can narrow Clemson’s problem down a little, they have struggled against teams that play good defense and are really tall. Jay Bilas (by the way, all things considered I thought Bilas did a great job with the commentary, I guess that’s easier to say when your team is beating Duke by 30) made the same point when he said Clemson struggles when teams have disrupted the vision of the perimeter players trying to pass the ball inside. This could present some problems when they play FSU, I’ll get into that in the next preview.

Some random thoughts:
  • Purnell hired a sports psychiatrist? Growing up with a psychologist in the house I’m understandably a little skeptical about potential benefits, but at the very least it indicates Purnell isn’t afraid to look stupid if he thinks it will help the team, and he’s also cool with sharing credit for success.
  • Clemson has a two game winning streak against Duke.
  • 21 games into the season, Clemson has fewer losses than Duke.
  • 7 games into the ACC season, Clemson has the same number of losses as Duke.
  • Kyle Singler looked pretty silly at the end of the game. Does Duke recruit babies or do Duke recruits become babies?

A blog about all Clemson Tiger University sports--football, basketball, baseball, along with the occasional South Carolina coot bashing.