Wednesday, 25 March 2009
First I want to be clear that this is not some Gamecock exercise in looking toward next year because the current year sucked and you have nothing else but to look forward. This was a better than expected season. I repeat THIS WAS A BETTER THAN EXPECTED SEASON!! Coming into the season we were an unknown and for most unproven commodity. Most believed our run to the ACC Championship was a aberration at best, most considered it more of a fluke. So the line-up was not going to be as good defensively without Mays and would lack the leadership, ball handling , and shooting of Hammonds. The season depended on the emergence of Booker and Stitt. Booker was not the manbeast last year like he was this year, and that was due mostly to getting into foul trouble too often especially on the back line of the press (same problem Grant had this year). Booker was the reason this year was a success as his rebounds, points, and blocks were all up. Its true he faded(I think he got tired) and got more frustrated towards the end of the season but when guards cant throw you the ball in the post, you deserve to be a little frustrated. He single handedly brought Clemson back to almost beat Michigan. I love that he is coming back and will hopefully fast-track the education of his little brother, T-Book was a solid performer his freshman year--lets hope his brother will be even better.
So Booker was better, and the team did not take a step back--maybe they didnt take a step forward but not much was expected in the beginning of the year--to go 9-7 with a chance to reasonably go 10-6 or 11-5 in the last week...I think any of us take that at the beginning of the year. We had ACC title hopes and were a projected 4 seed, now obviously we performed the classic Clemson fade and fizzled with another winnable loss in the tourney but we had a good season, a building season. One of the measuring sticks is in recruiting and I think this season helps to continue the improvement of the caliber recruit we are bringing in to Clemson.
So in the spirit of moving forward we are going to breakdown the team by position to look at where we stand in regards to next year and beyond. The three recruits we have coming in are solid--and thats not just through orange colored glasses.
In the ACC season midseason update, I showed this chart plotting the division I rank of Clemson's adjusted offense and defense efficiencies as calculated at KenPom.com:
Aaah, the good old days when things were looking really good. Defense efficiency was more or less holding steady in the top 30, and you can't be unhappy with the offensive efficiency trend. Unfortunately, here's what the same plot looks like now at (post-)season's end:
I think there are two ways of interpreting these charts: 1) the first chart was a result of an extended statistical fluctuation that overvalued Clemson's defense, and the second chart is actually a closer approximation of Clemson's true talent level for the season. 2) Something happened midway through the ACC season, whether it be team chemistry-related or the league suddenly discovering how to break Clemson's defensive scheme, causing Clemson to play dramatically worse on defense the remainder of the season.
I tend to favor the latter interpretation for several reasons: 1) twenty-two games is probably enough data to give you a pretty good measure of the team's talent level, 2) I think there are obvious adjustments the rest of league made that we've pointed out on the blog before, and 3) subjectively I think we can all agree that Clemson just played like a different team in the second half of the ACC season, putting forth a much "sloppier" effort over the last 8 games and the postseason.
At any rate, to dig a little deeper into the defensive decline, I plotted some of the component defensive statistics over the years since Purnell has taken the helm. First, how the defense fared against the four factors of opposing offenses. The four factors (effective FG%, turnover%, offensive rebounding%, and FT attempts) were determined by Dean Oliver as the most important factors in predicting basketball success:
Right away we can can see where Oliver Purnell's defenses have made their mark: forcing turnovers. Clemson has consistently been amongst the best in division I at forcing turnovers since Purnell took over. The other difference between 2008 and 2009 that jumps out at me is the slight rise in effective FG% against rank. At first glance it might not seem like much, but what this chart fails to capture is the relative importance of each factor. As it turns out, FG% is by far the most important factor, generally twice as important in determining success as the turnover% and also about twice as important as offensive rebounding% and FT attempts combined. In other words, a rise in FG% against is twice or four times as bad as comparable increases in the other factors.
Looking deeper still, we can break the first two factors down a little more by looking at 3-point and 2-point FG% against, as well as steal% and block% against:
Here we again see some Oliver Purnell staples: steal% ranking in the top ten in division I and block% typically ranking in the top twenty or so. We can also possibly see a little more of the problem, the sudden jump in 3-point% against increased rapidly. This may have been negated somewhat by the drop in 2-point% against, but again, the 3-point% would probably have to be weighted as more important. Now, its true that the 2007-08 team was superhuman at guarding against the three, so we could have expected some regression coming into this year based on previous performances. But this is clearly the worst 3-point% against since Purnell took the helm.
One last chart to look at, this one breaks down how teams scored their points against Clemson into the percentage of points from the 3-point, the 2-point, and the FT shot:
Here we see the total percentage of points coming from 3-point shots taking a larger chunk of the points we gave up over the course of the year. This doesn't mean that we gave up more points, it just means that teams appear to have been looking more to the three point shot to put points on the board against our defense.
While none of the above three charts are particularly convincing on their own, I think they all add up to a pretty strong argument that Clemson's defensive struggles were directly related to a much poorer 3-point shooting defense. While this is worrying, it takes more than one point to indicate a trend. Definitely something to watch for next year, however, because over the course of an entire season that kind of 3-point defense could land us back in the NIT.
Friday, 20 March 2009
(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 thought we came out with a solid game plan on both sides of the court. On defense, we might have pressed a little longer than I would have liked, but it didn't matter much since Michigan wasn't really looking for the shot in transition. They got a couple of early open looks from behind the arc but for the most part, it looked like they were really trying to slow the game down (which they successfully did) and run their set offense. I thought we generally did a good job in the halfcourt defense, much better than some recent outings. In the first half I we were collapsing too much on drives into the lane, leaving guys open out on the perimeter. But in the second half we adjusted, and I thought the perimeter defense was as good as I've seen it this year. Manny Harris was the only reason Michigan was scoring in the second half; he's a great talent and his driving, shooting, and passing almost exclusively led to Michigan's second half points.
On offense, the plan seemed to boil down to getting it inside to Booker. No one could really guard him, and when they brought the double team, Booker was finding wide open shooters who knocked down some of our only outside shots. We even did a great job of not turning over the ball--first time I can say that since the Boston College game, I think. Unfortunately, there was a span of about 15 minutes between the last five minutes of the first half and the first ten minutes of the second half where we just executed poorly on offense and made bad decisions. A lot of crazy, well-guarded three point shots (even when the pass inside was open) were taken, sprinkled in with some ill-considered drives to the basket. I thought Michigan was doing well defending against anyone slashing to the hoop, and when that's happening you have to wonder who is drawing up the Tanner Smith-driving-to-the basket plays. I know Booker was looking winded during some of that same stretch, but even a winded Booker could have drawn in the defense, opening up the outside a little more.
None of this touches on Terrence Oglesby. All season I have tried to hold my peace on his extreme lack of poise. But after tonight, I have to wonder out loud if he will be back on the team next year. Purnell must be seething right now, not just about the intentional foul and ejection, but the overall sloppy play leading up to it. I think Oglesby is a valuable role player when used in the right way, and he even has some upside suggesting he could be something more, but last night makes you wonder if someone else can't do the same job without bringing the same baggage.
Its a shame the season ended the way it did. All in all, the coaches did something amazing with a set of players who were arguably less talented than a year before. I'm glad they managed to come back and make it close, showing flashes of the team that had everyone's hopes up back in January.
Thursday, 19 March 2009
We have played some alright defense and Booker is a personal offensive rebounding machine, so some good points to build on. But we are still leaving a lot of threes open and the manny harris show is killing us. If I hear "thats just MANNY BEING MANNY" one more time...
On a personal note I am so emotionally invested into the outcome of this game...if we bite the dust here its going to take me awhile to recover...ahhh...the life of a loyal clemson tiger!!
Go Tigers! Please, please you can loose in the second round--just please win this one!!
I had the opportunity to see the Tigers practice this morning (Through the looking glass) in advance of their game tonight. They looked to have more focus and a higher intensity than yesterday. My goal was to take many pictures, but I did not want to be a source of distraction. I did manage to take a few through the glass into the gym. I apologize that they are not of a higher quality. I also captured them loading up their bus for their return to the hotel.
My highlight came as they were leaving the court. I was standing off to the side in my Clemson Orange, looking to take some pictures. Coach Purnell came up to me and asked if I was a fan – I don’t think they’ve seen a whole lot of orange and tiger paws here in Kansas City. I introduced myself, told him I was an alumnus, and that I lived and worked here where they were practicing. He told me that this was a very nice area and inquired if I was going to be at the game.
So, until the game tonight, here are a few photos to tide everyone over.
Everyone is loading up the bus - I only got the last of the team getting on.
Wednesday, 18 March 2009
Of more importance to most is information on how the team is doing here. I am sure you are all aware of the official team video diary and reporting on the trip here in Kansas City. What isn’t well known is that Clemson held their private, closed practice today in the Associate Gym on the Cerner Corporation campus. The sports gods must really be pleased with me because I just so happen to work for Cerner. I was able to observe the team from outside the court, through the glass today. My overall impression of them today is that they look to be relaxed. I watched as they worked plays, ran sprints, stretched, and loosened up after their travels here yesterday. They looked to be upbeat and not visibly stressed about tomorrow’s game. Coach Purnell and his staff were observing, but not pushing the team very hard today. This was undoubtedly more of a warm-up practice to get loose and ready for the public practice they had this afternoon in the Sprint Center.
Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me today (I wasn’t expecting them to be at my work). They will be back tomorrow for another practice, and I hope to get a few shots of the team. I will provide as many pics as I can during tomorrow night’s game as we power through Michigan for a victory
Clemson on Defense
There are two main areas of concern for Clemson's defense, first, Michigan is 16th best in the country at not turning the ball over, an obvious problem for a team that thrives on creating turnovers. Granted, a low turnover rate does not necessarily guarantee a team will handle a full-court press as good as Clemson's, but we can safely view this as a pretty good indicator that the press isn't going to be exceptionally effective. Second, Michigan shoots the three to the tune of 6th most in country. Clemson can expect roughly one of every two Michigan shots to come from behind the arc.
Now, these two points have been made here and around the Clemson blogosphere over the last couple of days, usually with the qualification that while Michigan likes to shoot the three they aren't particularly good at it; ranking well below average for division I (207th). But what I haven't seen anyone point out in the same breath is the rapid decline of Clemson's three-point shooting defense. We have gone from being pretty good at defending the three to slipping to average to free-falling into downright atrocious. We now rank 263rd in the country at defending the three. That's really just embarrasing for a team playing in a top conference. If you've read the blog at all, we've been pounding the same theme over and over--teams that break Clemson's press have been pulling up for open three-point looks instead of driving to the basket (which often allows a very athletic Clemson team to get back and defend or block layup-attempts). This strategy has really cut into Clemson's defensive efficiency, dropping our ranking from the inside the top ten to 52nd in the country.
If and when Michigan breaks the press, I expect nothing but three point attempts. And therein lies the real problem for Clemson, giving up open 3-point looks will substantially improve every shooter in the Michigan lineup and negate their overall poor 3-point shooting percentage. If, as is customary, Purnell and Clemson insist on running the press full time, the team will almost certainly look to the scoreboard at the five minute mark in the first half and find themselves staring down a 10-15 point deficit. To be clear, I'm not advocating complete abandonment of the press; I think Purnell just needs to be more judicious in its application during this game. Use it as a weapon, attack them for the first few minutes of each period, try to catch them by surprise by using it out of timeouts, and try different variations to slow them down.
Now, admittedly, Clemson's halfcourt defense has been way too porous of late, particularly around the perimeter. This has undoubtably also contributed to their declining defense. From my vantage, I feel this is more a product of a frustrated team losing its discipline. If playing in the NCAA tournament isn't enough to motivate Clemson into tightening up the defense, we can fold up the tents right now.
Clemson on Offense
The good news: Clemson should more or less have its way on offense. They should control the boards (on both ends of the court), hopefully leading to a few highlight Booker/Sykes dunk put-backs. Michigan does defend the three fairly well, 42nd best in the country, but they struggle against the inside shot. This leads to one fairly obvious conclusion--everything will run through Booker. Because Michigan lacks a significant height advantage, we can hope for the love of all that's holy that feeding the post won't be as difficult as in recent games. Eventually this will open up the perimeter for some bombs from Oglesby and Rivers. I don't think Michigan will be quick to double-team Booker, they might instead try to neutralize him with 6'10 Zack Gibson. This will certainly be a matchup to watch, but Booker isn't slowed by just height, tall players also must play excellent defense to keep him in check and I don't think Gibson is quite that caliber of a defender. If he does manage to slow Booker, Clemson can always turn to Stitt and Potter to open up the offense by slashing to the hoop.
This is fairly straightforward for Clemson. The only way I see Michigan winning is by getting into a situtation where they are trading threes for twos with Clemson's offense. If we relax the full-court press and concentrate on getting some stops in the half-court, we should win fairly handily. The question is, will Purnell turn down the press early and often enough? I don't know too many Clemson fans willing to place a "yes" bet.
Tuesday, 17 March 2009
Let me start this post by saying that statistics-based projections like these are never going to substitute for a detailed look at the actual matchups. On the other hand, I don’t know anyone (including most national columnists) who has enough knowledge of all 65 teams to make a detailed matchup-based projection that covers all 63 games in the tournament. I see these projections as a supplement of sorts to aid in more detailed looks ate the weaknesses and strengths of teams that could matchup with one another.
Here’s a quick outline of what I’m doing. Every year I take the field and using a Markov-like process I start with the first round and go through all the games; picking winners based on the probability of a given team winning the game. Calculating the probability is probably the hardest part about this, and there are many ways to do it. The methods for this are a little dry for a blog post, but I’m more than willing to discuss the process with anyone who’s interested, just drop a comment or we can work something out via email. At any rate, after I get the probability of winning for two teams playing each other, I simply generate a random number. This number determines the winning team according to the probabilities (for example, if you think Clemson has a 70% chance of beating Michigan and the number you generate is 56, Clemson wins. If you generate 79, Michigan wins). Then I continue with the winners and move up round by round until finishing the tournament, keeping tally of which teams finished where. Then I rerun the process a million times; this gives the percent likelihood of each team advancing through to a round.
The chart below shows how well Clemson fares in the simulations, I’m showing it alongside Clemson’s numbers from the 2007 tournament for reference (initially I thought of showing the 2006 numbers as well, but yeah…)
The percentages in each column indicate the likelihood of Clemson making it through to that round. First thing to keep in mind is that all teams see substantial drops as they move through the bracket (well, except the 1 and 2 seeds in the first round) because with every round the pool of teams that can reach a particular spot increases. For example, there are eight teams vying for any particular sweet sixteen spot, so the percentages have to be divided up among all eight teams.
By my projections, Clemson is looking at about a 16-17% chance at reaching the elite eight. Oklahoma has the best chance in our group of eight, clocking in at about 32%, with Syracuse and Arizona State around 25% each and the other four teams at fractional percentages. Doesn’t sound like anything to write home about, yeah? But these are really fascinating results—you don’t usually see such an equal distribution for a sweet sixteen spot and that’s a pretty low percentage for a two seed. Moreover, Clemson comes out way in front of other 7/10 seeds, no one else clears 5% in the simulations. Clemson even equals or performs better than exactly half of the 4/5/6 seeds. I think we can take this as pretty strong evidence that Clemson is grossly under-seeded. If I’m an Oklahoma fan, I’m pretty upset about Clemson being in the neighboring game.
Well, I don’t want to dwell too long on this, because like I said, it’s a poor substitute for looking directly at the matchups. Tomorrow I’ll try to add to what ClemBen said about Michigan in his last post. If anybody has any specific questions about the simulations, drop a question in the comments. I’m probably going to tweak a few things in the next day and see how they come out. I don’t think it’s wise to post the entire projection before Thursday because I don’t want anyone taking this too seriously (just look at Clemson’s chances last year—we all know how that turned out). Plus, I can’t have ClemBen stealing any of my picks…
Monday, 16 March 2009
Beilein is perhaps most known for taking a West Virginia team with a white kid named 'the Great Gansey', taking them to the brink of a final four birth as a seven seed in 2005, they were up against Louisville by 2o at one point, effectively turning them into repeat "Cinderella" disruptors. I really think that Michigan beating Duke early on had to do with a Duke team still finding itself...and a coach who can impressively gameplan given adequate time to prep. Beilein may be the best thing about this Michigan team.
Some of the strengths of this Michigan team and points Clemson needs to plan for are:
- Main guard Manny Harris--17 pts a game, 7 reb, 4 asts. That is impressive and we know how Clemson has trouble with scoring guards-Douglas, Downey, Clinch etc. Ft shooting is a crazy 85%-the entire team shoots a good percentage at 74%--could be pivotal down the stretch.
- This team loves to take three pointers. They arent the best or the worst three point shooters but everyone on the team can shoot. Thats classic Beilein style--think about that Pittsnogle guy, so we might be giving up a lot of easy threes in transition off of the press. If the press is porous and they are hot from three land we are one and done.
- What we have going for us is that as stated before is that we have a height advantage against this team especially when Michigan goes to its bench, everyone on the bench is short. Beilein likes to go nine deep, sometimes even 11 deep--so we arent going to wear them down. OP if the press aint working lets go full court man to man...
- Lastly Michigan cant rebound ranking 275th in the nation. That has to do with the 1-3-1 zone but also because they launch threes and dont get a lot of offensive boards. It would be absolutely criminal if Clemson allowed itself to get outrebounded.
Looking quickly at the broader picture, of the immediate 8 teams in Clemson's draw none fall in the list of the potential matchups of doom from the last post. In fact, this is probably the most wide open group of 8 teams in the tournament this year--I don't think you can choose an overwhelming favorite. Just look at the Kenpom rankings for the top four teams:
12. Arizona St.
Now I know Kenpom has underrated Oklahoma all season relative to other ranking systems (most of which peg OU at a 10-13 rank), and also Oklahoma has the advantage of playing close(r) to home in Kansas City. But I think the takeaway here is Clemson's got more than a fighting chance to come out of this group. I had been harboring hope for the last several weeks that they might draw Oklahoma, as they seemed to be the best matchup for Clemson of all the teams likely to land a one or two seed. Now, if they do manage the miracle run to the elite eight, they likely run into one of two brick walls: Gonzaga or North Carolina (if by some unlikely chance they get through, Illinois does not present a very appealing matchup either). I plan to run some simulations of the tournament in the next day or so, and I'll let you know how Clemson fares, but I'm holding out hope that they have better odds than other 7/10 seeds.
The bad news, though, is that none of these 8 teams are a perfect matchup for Clemson; each team seems to play well to a Clemson weakness of some kind. For example, Michigan is superb at handling the ball. This is clearly not good for Clemson as Fight Tigers astutely pointed out in a recent post--to be most effective, Clemson's defense really has to force turnovers. I'll try to take a closer look at the Clemson-Michigan matchup before Wednesday.
A couple of random, half-formed thoughts from quickly looking over the bracket:
- I cracked a malicious smile when I saw BYU's eight seed. It seems no matter how well they fare, they just can't break out of the 8/9 seed. But as much as I hate to admit it, they have a halfway decent team this year and I think this turns out to be a really bad draw for UConn in the second round.
- Most under-seeded team: WVU. I know they don't have the record, but they could do some damage from the sixth seed. Runner-up for me is probably Gonzaga.
- Most overrated: Michigan State? In other words, what Dave Cameron said.
- Biggest surprise inclusion: probably Maryland. I have a hard time getting worked up about the last two or three teams in, most of the time these teams lose in the first round anyways. I just mention Maryland because I happen to have seen them a few times this year, and I each time I thought: NIT material. Maybe the committee owes Gary Williams a favor?
Friday, 13 March 2009
The concept is simple: knowing the kind of teams Clemson struggles with and the general reasons why, we should be able to infer which teams across the NCAA are most likely to pose serious matchup difficulties for Clemson--"matchups of doom". Last week I simply collected the top-ranked teams in defensive efficiency, average effective height, and average height from Kenpom.com and then did a re-ranked them by weighting these three factors equally. Then I took the top twenty and removed any teams that have no shot at making the NCAA tourney (sorry UTEP--it doesn't matter how tall you are if you don't have an offense or a defense). That leaves us with about 12 teams:
Its good to see Wake Forest and FSU at the top of the list, and Illinois (another team that gave us all we could handle)--it confirms that the list contains teams with similarities to WF/FSU. For what it's worth, GT was somewhere around 15 on the list. Now, we won't end up playing WF or FSU early on (thank goodness) due to rules the selection committee follows, but there but there are a few intriguing teams that we could see in the earlier rounds: Utah, Missouri, Gonzaga, USC (the real USC, of course--although I admit its a bit of a stretch to expect them to make the tournament at this point). There's also some completely unsurprising teams on the list like Memphis and UConn, teams that would be hard to beat anyway.
This is the list that I'll have handy come Sunday, hoping the names are as far away from our part of the bracket as possible--thought I would share it with anyone interested.
As much as I talked about how tough a matchup GT is for Clemson, there is no way they should play this poorly, giving up 86 points on another night of 60% effective field goal percentage defense. 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.)
I thought Clemson played like a team that thought they shouldn't have to play in the first round, and as a result they won't be playing in the second. Tonight's effort looked like it came from a collapsed team; there was little attempt to play as a team, as evident from the complete absence of defense.
Purnell has a week to talk some sense into the players--I really hate seeing a well-coached team with this much talent go out like this (mainly because it's such a rare occurrence with Clemson basketball). The rest of us can pray for a 7 (or 10) instead of a 8/9 seed.
Thursday, 12 March 2009
Aaah, the ACC tourney...a great warmup for next week's main event. I have to say, the first weekend of the NCAA tournament: best sports weekend of the year. It used to get competition from the three day bowl period around New Years, but the NCAA has pretty much ruined that by dragging it out over a couple of weeks. Thank you NCAA for not screwing up the men's basketball tournament...yet.
I haven't spent much time previewing Clemson's (hopefully first two) matchups because I don't think I can type much more about Georgia Tech or Florida State. I even touched on why we struggle against GT/FSU-type teams earlier in the week. One point to emphasize: the stakes are high for Clemson today/tomorrow. A surprise loss on the eve of Selection Sunday to a perceived bad team could drop us down to an 8/9seed of death. A couple of wins, though, would solidify a 6 seed, and maybe push us up to the 4/5 level.
I want let me be clear about one thing, though: despite this being a tough draw for the Tigers, both of these games are winnable. Against FSU, an extra bounce or a blown call or two going our way and we could have beaten them twice in the regular season. Unfortunately, if we bruise our way through two of the three tallest teams in the league, our reward will likely be North Carolina...and your going to see a tired Tiger team take on arguably the best team in the country. But hey, in basketball you just never know: Potter could drain 5 three attempts and/or Stitt could hang 30 points on his former favorite team. All I know is I'm glad its tournament time.
Wednesday, 11 March 2009
In the chart below, I've plotted the number of regular players each ACC team has against their percentage of minutes played for the season (stats culled from Kenpom.com). I've set 10% minutes played as the cut-off in order to avoid including guys who see a lot of minutes in garbage time, so no Bobo or Narcisse.
Unfortunately, the chart is too jumbled to be very instructive. What we can see is that 9 of the 12 ACC teams run out between 10-12 players a game, Clemson is one of 3 teams that only plays 9. At first glance, this seems to put us at a considerable disadvantage. But one thing i realized as I constructed this chart is that depth can't be defined by just the number of players getting regular time, but also the minute distribution amongst the players getting on the court. In other words, if a team only plays 9 but all of them are on the floor 60% of the time, no single player is accumulating a lot of time. At the other extreme, if your team has 9 players, but 5 are playing 90% of the time, than your team really has no depth at all. I would call this a "virtual depth"--it doesn't show up in the raw player total but it can still keep your team from tiring as quick.
But how do we visualize this? One way is to plot a linear regression for each team depicted in the above chart; the slopes of these regression lines should allow for an extremely rough comparison of both "virtual depth" and raw player depth. The idea is the straighter the line, the better the minute distribution for the team. This can be thrown off by outliers, but to get a very general picture it should be reasonable.
(Colors for the trendlines match the chart above.) So what shows up in this chart? Well, among the teams with 9 players, Clemson looks like the best, with North Carolina clearly lagging behind. This was probably the most surprising observation--in terms of both minute balance and number of players, North Carolina doesn't have a lot of depth. Enough to give one pause before crowning them the 2009 NCAA champs? Also surprising: the team with the most depth in the ACC, both in terms of minute balance and number of players, looks to be NC State.
On balance, it looks like Clemson trails at least NC State, Duke, Miami, FSU, and Virginia--landing somewhere around average for the conference. Two things to keep in mind though: 1) I'm not considering balance of contribution, which is different from balance of minutes, and 2) this doesn't take into account team conditioning. I tend to think the latter isn't that important at this level of a play, any coach worth his contract in the ACC is going to get his team in top condition. The first point, however, is really important. A team can further mask depth deficiencies by distributing contribution (whether it be offense of defense) across as many players as possible. If your team has one or two guys that provide all of the scoring, then it doesn't matter how much other players get in the game, when they get tired the team is going to struggle. This would seem to be a point in Clemson's favor, as they appear to have more offensive balance relative to other ACC teams.
Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Another basketball season is coming to a close, and unfortunately the way things have unfolded may remind Clemson fans of recent seasons: good start followed by a slow finish. Since there was talk a scant two weeks ago about contending for an ACC title and now we have managed to miss the first-round bye, I think its totally understandable to make the connection to the "traditional" late-season collapses of yesteryear. Without making any statistical arguments, I think there are clear differences between Clemson 2009 and Clemson 2005-2007, which are the years people typically point to as evidence of our late season problems.
First of all, let me preface this by saying that if you had told me at the start of the season we would have gone into WF for the last game of the season looking for our 10th conference win, I would have taken it every time. At the start of the season we all knew this team would take a step down from previous years, probably most prominently in our defense. The most optimistic pundits/projections pegged us as matching 2008, the more realistic had us around .500 in the conference, looking at an 8/9 seed of death for the NCAA tourney. And while I don't think the term "rebuilding year" can really apply to college sports, I was certainly willing to endure a down year after the steady improvement of the last four, and with all signs pointing to a great 2010. At any rate, despite my constant pleas for adjustment as the season wound down, I think the results this year point to an absolutely tremendous year-long effort from the coaching staff.
So what makes this year different from 2005-2007? In those years we struggled immediately upon entering ACC play, and it was evident that even if the coaching was there for Clemson, the talent level on a lot of the nights just couldn't hold up. I don't think that's the case for 2009. We have talent comparable to most teams in the ACC on this team, but the problem lies in team construction. We just have too many significant, exploitable flaws. And the flaws were identified, the rest of the ACC took notice and there wasn't much we could do to adjust. I would point to two turning points this season--the first Wake game and the Maryland game.
The first Wake game showed the rest of the conference how to defend Clemson. They suffocated our perimeter with incredible height all night long, altering shots from behind the arc and keeping passes out of the post. This neutralized Booker underneath, and took away our 3-point weapons outside, the two weapons the offense runs on. Not every team could mimic Wake's success without their height (think Virginia, Maryland, and even Duke), but I think from that point on we saw every team from trying to apply intense pressure around the perimeter, even overplaying because we weren't too keen on driving to the hoop or taking open jumpers.
The Maryland game gave the rest of the conference the book on how to beat our defense. Gary Williams and Maryland attacked the press relentlessly and put up run-outs all night long on our full-court press. Other teams (VT, for example) had similarly run with Clemson, but Maryland did something different...after breaking the press, they had players spotting up for open threes and also had the ballhandler pulling up for easy jumpers. This really took away one of the strength's of Clemson's press--their ability to get back to the hoop and block shots even when a team thought they had a clean layup. Maryland turned the tables by opening up the floor. Luckily for Clemson, Maryland is an absolutely horrible shooting team, and we ran away after some untimely Maryland turnovers and some Maryland fatigue in the second half. But this strategy was employed effectively by other teams in the waning games of the season, I would pin the VT loss squarely on the open threes Clemson kept giving up to sharp-shooters Vasallo and Delaney.
This year's team rode an excellent game plan to a great start for the first ~21/22 games of the season. But give ACC coaches some credit, they watched the tapes and smelled the blood--eventually constructing a game plan that attacks Clemson's makeup, not something you can easily adjust to. The WF game might offer some glimmers of hope for a postseason run, but no matter how things finish and despite our late season swoon, I don't see how we can view this season as anything but a success for the program. Nothing extraordinary, perhaps, but a solid season for a program seriously lacking a history of solid seasons.
Monday, 9 March 2009
Well, all the intangible factors I was worried about in the preview came to pass--North Carolina beat Duke and FSU beat VT, meaning Wake Forest was playing for a two seed and Clemson was locked in the five seed. That being said, I thought Clemson played pretty well--let's go 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.)
It was back-and-forth throughout much of the contest, with Clemson opening up a short-lived advantage late in the first half and Wake starting to pull away around the 7:00 mark. Even though the formula says we weren't out of it until 15 seconds to go, I felt it really slipping away around the 6:00 minute mark. It was almost like the players realized they had acquitted themselves pretty well, but were still staring down a double digit deficit late in the game.
Wake is the one team in the ACC Clemson doesn't come close to matching in terms of raw athleticism (I don't think any team in the ACC does, for that matter). It showed up in the stats last night--Wake outrebounded us and controlled the paint on both ends of the floor. The last point helped lead to a 63% (!) effective field goal percentage against and 30 FT attempts vs. just 15 for the Tigers. Results like that will make life incredibly hard for the opposing team. It didn't help that our halfcourt defense was incredibly porous, but I do think this was partly by design. It really looked like Clemson decided that while they couldn't do much against the big WF frontcourt, they would try to shut down Teague. I think it was definitely worth a shot, and it largely worked in their favor.
But let's be clear, I thought Clemson showed some life last night. I thought I was finally seeing some adjustments--the defense picked its spots to press (like when Teague was out of the game), resulting in some nice forced turnovers. On offense, Stitt was creating space for his teammates by driving to the hoop and Rivers was looking to shoot from different places on the court. I thought this (and a somewhat lazy half-court defensive effort from Wake--definitely not as crisp as the first game we played) led to some open looks and some feeds to Booker in the post that I haven't seen to much of lately. Maybe I'm looking too much for a bright side here, but after watching this game I feel a little better about our prospects for a tough ACC tourney draw. I just wish they had tried something like this against FSU last week, and we might be looking at the 4 seed now...
The big downside here is the loss yesterday probably drops us down near the 6/7 range in the NCAA tourney. A surprise first round loss to GT and suddenly we could be staring at the 8/9 seed of death (don't be fooled--the GT game is no gimme for Clemson. Not too mention it will be a bruising, physically draining game when you want to rest your players as much as possible...). Clemson needs to beat GT and probably FSU to ensure a 6 seed--the drop from 5 to 6 seed is not as damaging as the 6 to 7 seed. And as much as I've fretted about FSU and worried about the matchup problems they pose, we've played them close twice and its definitely a winnable game.
Sunday, 8 March 2009
Wake can turn it on in a second, (I loved them barely even listening to Dino during the timeouts) they have the NBA level talent to do that and Johnson had some amazing dunks while Aminu seemed to grab every rebound over Rivers or whoever...speaking of rebounds, we couldnt get any in critical moments where we could have made a run. Not enough effort on the boards, effort needed against the taller Wake players. Clemson had a chance to make a run at the end but couldnt put it together...I think the press with three to five minutes to go hurt us...they got to many easy scores when we needed to play smarter and tighter defense. I know you want to speed the game up but Young's botched layup was all the defense was able to produce and that would have only cut it to eight. I think the Tigers have forgotten how to come from behind in the past couple of weeks. My guess is thats its a question of confidence and Clemson is lacking in that department now.
So now we play a talented GT squad and then go on to face FSU!! At least we get a chance to stare down the demons of this season and make a run at that elusive ACC championship game. I thought we were tired going into the NCAA tourney last year so maybe an early exit isnt the worst possible scenario but who wants to loose? And for the record no team without a bye in the ACC tourney has ever won the ACC tourney...
Well Tigers...time to make a little magic...
Saturday, 7 March 2009
To be honest, I'm having more trouble getting excited about this game than I thought I would. A couple of weeks ago it seemed that a lot more could be riding on this game; but if, as expected, FSU dispatches of VT earlier in the afternoon then the game will have no impact on Clemson's final ACC standing. They will be looking at a #5 finish. In fact, chances are WF will have more riding on the game, as a Duke loss (the Duke-UNC game should be wrapping up around tip-off time) will give them the #2 seed by beating Clemson.
Moreover, I just don't see Clemson being competitive in this game. We've talked about how poorly they match up with teams that have an FSU or WF-like profile (effectively tall--meaning taller than average at all positions--with top-20 caliber defense). They also are freakishly athletic, and showed they can move the ball at will against Clemson's press. I don't think I've ever seen Purnell's pressing attack rendered as porous as it was in the first WF game. They were going over the top, outrunning, and running right through the press, sometimes in the same possession. Aminu had some absolutely insane dunks where he seemed to go right through a defender on the way to the basket.
I thought our best hope going in was if WF lacked any particular motivation and decided to more or less not show up for the game--a common occurrence this year. You'll notice this isn't a statistics-based argument. The reason why: looking through their wins/losses this year I can't identify any trends that explain the weird results. I mean, a team with this much raw talent losing to VT at home and GT on the road in the span of one week? It just seems like they don't show up to play some nights. If Duke loses to UNC (highly likely), then I'm afraid they'll have all the motivation they need to put us away by double digits.
I'm certainly hoping that Purnell has secretly been adjusting the game plan in preparation for Sunday's game, springing some surprises in a bid for a big upset. But if there are some secret adjustments, I would think the right time for their debut would have been the FSU game (as I wrote about in the last FSU preview); any way you look at it FSU is an easier target for picking off a victory. I'll certainly be watching intently for any different approaches, but it's entirely likely (and even understandable) if at this point Purnell and staff just plan to go as far as they can with their current strategies in place.
Friday, 6 March 2009
- North Carolina-Although not the unbeatable juggernaut they were at the beginning of the season-the core of Ellington, Hans, and Lawson is formidable-especially with Lawson more motivated to pick up his game as the end of the season looms.
- Duke-No I dont want Duke to be this high but I cant justify putting FSU or Wake ahead of them. Somehow Coach K has been able to right the ship. Clemson exposed their lack of athleticism but that Coach K can still coach and, unfortunately, still star in credit card commercials. I still think there are too many white players, especially ones named Paulus, to have a chance at a deep NCAA run. Second round defeat sounds about right.
- Florida State-After their solid defeat of Clemson I want to put them as number two but just cant do it after loosing to Duke. They are slightly ahead of an uneven Wake team and despite the loss are clicking down the stretch at the right time.
- Wake Forest-Perhaps the most lottery talent on one team in the country. At times they are absolutely dominant but at other times cant figure out how to share the ball and play without passion. Too much selfish play. Granted they beat on FSU the first and only time they will play but losses to GT, NC State and a poor showing at Virginia and Maryland give me cause for concern.
- Clemson-My Tigers just cant seem to get the ball in to T-Book. This team has been overachieving all year and has had a rocky week but its been a great ride. Still capable of beating any team in the league and perhaps the country when they are on. OP can flat out coach and hopefully makes the right adjustments down the stretch.
- Boston College-Rice is the heart and soul of this team but they can lack consistency as evidenced by their loss to NC State. Must win against BC to secure NCAA bid and must find some scoring help to ease the burden on Rice. Its funny how a lot of these teams primary colors are the same...
- Virginia Tech-This season has been a disappointing one for me and I'm sure for Hokies fans. After being shut out of the NCAA's last year and coach Greenberg wailing and moaning about it I think its safe to assume we will be hearing more of it. Bad ref work cost them at Duke and maybe even NC but they have to beat FSU and win some games in ACC tourney or its NIT city. Still this is a more talented team than their record indicates.
- Maryland-Gary Williams should be commended for the job he has done with this team. Watching them almost beat a superior Wake squad is why I love college bball over the nba anyday. David 'churchballer' Neal and the Grevis man a team that is as much about heart as it is about skill.
- Miami-Welcome to Miami, home of the most disappointing team in the ACC. Projected by some to finish third, with the loss to GT I think we can say that barring a massive run deep into the ACC tourney they have punched their NIT ticket. McClinton is still amazing and can still take over a game but this team just cant find any semblance of consistency.
- NC State-Someone needs to give Coach Lowe a clue. He is the most awful coach in the ACC and his teams reflect it. State has picked it up here at the end of the year, beating BC and will give Miami a hard rub but its hard seeing how this team is going to rise out of mediocrity with Lowe at the helm.
- Georgia Tech-I'm not sure I've ever seen a team do so little with so much talent. Paul Hewitt has been giving the aforementioned Coach Lowe a run for his money as the worst coach in the ACC this year. This team has the talent and potential but cant put it together and if it were not for the stellar recruiting class coming to GT, I would think that Hewitt's days would be numbered, regardless he is on a short leash heading into next year.
- Virginia-The fact that Virginia is on the bottom of this list speaks to the relative strength of the ACC, top to bottom-perhaps the best conference in the country. This team is all about Landesberg, Chad Ford even has him going in the first round if he declares, but not much is surrounding him. If he goes the team is done for next year and I dont see Coach Leitao weathering the storm for much longer. There is some young talent here but it still needs a lot of developing.
Wednesday, 4 March 2009
ClemBen outlined the ugly turn Clemson's chances for a first round bye took tonight. If I understand right (going off the 2007 rules here), if we end in a three way 10-6 tie, Clemson is the odd team out. The combined record of the ties teams against each other is compiled, leaving the following (assuming a Clemson win and a FSU win):
3) Wake Forest 2-1 (one win over Clemson, one over FSU-gives them the tiebreak for the #3 spot)
4) FSU 2-1 (two wins over Clemson, loss to FSU)
5) Clemson 1-3
Clemson has to beat WF and hope for a VT upset of FSU. Both of these seem pretty unlikely, so get ready for GT in the first round, FSU in the second. Yeah, FSU...there's the bad postseason matchup I was worried about.
Clemson had the game put away at the under 4:00 timeout, second half. Its good to get the win, but I honestly didn't see much that encouraged me. The first half was more of the same from Clemson, and a better shooting team would have been up by 12 at the break. Too sloppy with the ball, giving up open looks on defense, and unable to feed the post.
I did like how Purnell went man-to-man in the second-half, mixing things up a little. But I think the credit for tonight's victory has to go to the Cavaliers' meltdown, a few unforced turnovers resulting in some easy buckets for Clemson and they really unraveled.
One last chance for some serious adjustments as we go against WF on Sunday. Let's hope to see some focused play and some early different looks from Clemson's defense, or things could get ugly fast. One other thing to keep an eye on for the WF game: according to Tigernet, KC Rivers played the second half with an injured shoulder. Given his poor play in the last couple of games, I'm wondering if this hasn't been some festering issue for Rivers.
It was good to finally play a decent half of basketball. Virginia is not that good of a team and this game shouldnt have been tied at the half. Their star Landesberg had an atrocious night but a win is a win and as we get set for a showdown against Wake. But it may not matter that much bc everything that would have helped us last night didnt happen.
A quick rundown:Duke beat FSU and Wake pulled it out against the Terps. Duke cant be caught now-if they had lost to FSU and NC, we pull ahead with a win against Wake bc we own the tiebreaker. Not going to happen so we need FSU to loose to Virginia Tech and we obviously have to beat Wake. Tough road to the ACC bye despite church baller Dave Neal's best efforts.
A few notes from last nights game.
- The above chart shows how many turnovers we are committing. We were yet again, another turnover factory in the first half. Hard to figure out how to correct it, our post players cant get position and our guards dont have the patience or presence to know when not to force it and pull it back and when to give T-Book the rock. I'm sure that OP has been stressing getting the ball inbounds but this leads to the younger guys (Tanner Smith, looking at you) forcing it too often. I loved an inside/outside play with Booker and Young that led to an open three from Young. If only TO could learn to do that...
- Sykes is left so wide open that I cant wait to have Milton Jennings not let defenses collapse the way they do.
- Potter fouls a whole lot. I know he is playing bigger men but he commits a lot of stupid fouls. Good to see OP give him a nice chat about it on the sideline.
- In the beginning of the second half OP went full court man to man, thought it was one of the reasons we went up big. Good to see we might be thinking about not living and dieing by the press. Dont get me wrong, love the press, but I love a diverse selection of pressures even better.
- Rivers needs to step it up and not throw the ball into the stands-Sykes made some truly awesome dunks and four straight FT's, quite a senior night...
Tuesday, 3 March 2009
I don't have much to add to the first preview, except that Virginia has now clearly established itself as the second worst team in the league, lifting itself out of its titanic struggle with Georgia Tech (largely thanks to us...). Looking at the stats this is a game Clemson should win 9 times out of 10 (which gives us about a 1 in 100 chance of losing to Virginia twice in the same season). But at the same time, let's not kid ourselves here--this is the kind of game where stats don't tell the whole story.
The book is out on Clemson--on offense, get your best three-point shooters spotting up behind the three point line in transition after breaking the press, and on defense do everything you can to deny the entry pass into the post. Do that, and a lot of teams are going to give themselves a chance to win down the stretch. Virginia's a bad three point-shooting team, but that didn't stop them from putting up a plus-forty percentage performance against us before. Look for Sammy Zeglinski and even their big man Jamil Tucker to spot up, catch, and shoot after breaking the press.
If we trot out the same game plan, particularly defensive game plan, we have used in the last few weeks, there is a real possibility we lose this game. If we make some adjustments, hopefully we see a team that can win handily today and also put up a fight in the postseason. To be clear, I'm not sure what, if anything, can be done at this point, particularly on offense. Your backcourt can't just grow a few inches overnight. But please, please, maybe a little more focus on halfcourt defense at the occasional expense of the full-court press? Doesn't have to be much, just don't let them get comfortable shooting those threes...
Sunday, 1 March 2009
(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 don't have much to add to ClemBen's impassioned take below...just to say that today dashed any realistic hopes of a deep postseason run. I still think 10 wins gives us a shot at an ACC bye, but we lose the tiebreaker to FSU, and, moreover, beating Wake Forest in Winston-Salem is probably about twice as hard as beating FSU in Tallahassee. Even with the bye, though, chances are we meet up with FSU or WF at some point, and we've shown we can't beat these guys.
The only stat you have to look at for this game in three point attempts: 28. Right away, we know they weren't getting the ball inside, which was really the key to the game. Going 12/28 is a testament to the good shooters we have right now, 43% shooting from behind the arc when the inside game is non-existent means guys are knocking them down even with lots of pressure.
On defense, I said in the preview to watch FSU's 3 point shooting. They went 7/17, making them the fourth out of five average to middling 3-point shooting teams to hang a plus 40% on our defense. The only team that failed was Maryland, and it wasn't for lack of trying; they had many, many wide open threes that missed the mark. The book has gotten out on our defense, its time for the Clemson staff to make an adjustment...even if it means being a little more conservative with the press.