Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Thoughts on the Draft

As far as I can see, the current tally is:

  • 4 drafted (#103, #165, #166, #195)
  • 3 signed in free agency
  • 1 invited to minor league camp
Gauging the chatter out in the blogosphere I think its safe to say this year's draft has been perceived as being somewhat disappointing for Clemson as a program. I agree to an extent, but most of what I've read focuses on the lack of high picks. Its true Clemson can't point to a potential impact player, i.e. a player we can hope is starting at some point this year or even next, but four total players is nothing to shake a fist at. I think its easy to argue this year's draft was more of a success than 2008's draft, where we got just the #32 and #170 picks, or maybe even the 2006 draft (#15, #81, and #241) or 2005 draft (#57, #98, #140). Yeah, this was not the best draft year ever for Clemson, but we've had worse years.

I think the angst surrounding this year's draft might be a little misdirected (as angst typically is). For me personally, I think what stings the most is that basically NFL scouts, after poring over miles of videotape, are affirming the field performance of the 2008-2009 team. Its not that we were just poorly coached or had bad chemistry or whatever, we just didn't have the kind of elite talent we thought we had, or at least were led to believe we had. A couple of disclaimers to this feeling that I haven't been able to shake since the draft; first, I realize the college game and pro game in a lot of ways are quite different entities at their core, and what makes a college player special isn't going to necessarily predict success in the NFL (see Reggie Bush, or closer to home, CJ Spiller). Second, the NFL scouts get it wrong, all of the time. Draft busts are common, and to a lesser extent a lot of sleeper players emerge as success stories (case in point: Clemson's own Leroy Hill was drafted #98 in 2005 by the Seahawks and as a starting rookie was a key cog in the rebuilding of a defense that ended up reaching the Super Bowl).

Still, despite the disclaimers, its hard to look at this and not conclude that there really wasn't the level of elite talent a lot of people, myself included, were anticipating. This time last year, I would have told you I expected at least two players on the first day (Davis and Scott, maybe Jackson), and then possibly a couple more in Round 3 (two of Kelly, Clemons, Hamlin). Yeah, that's definitely a Clemson fanboy and not an analytical scout talking (and of course the injury likely affected Jackson's stock significantly), but what exactly happened between this year and last?

I think one thing that gets lost in looking back to two years ago is how well the 2007-2008 squad played together. Sure, Clemson got unexpected career years out of Merling and Harper, but it still largely felt like a team playing a little better than the sum of its parts. But somehow, over the course of an offseason, I started believing that superior individual performances from certain players from the team left us the favorites in the ACC, despite what in retrospect look like glaring flaws in team construction (depleted LB core, woefully inexperienced OL). Obviously I blame myself primarily, but there was a lot of hype out there and I wonder if the coaching staff couldn't have done more to curtail expectations (and then they might still have had a job today). Does this indicate that the coaching staff lost control of the team and media messaging during the offseason?

I don't know, but that's enough looking back for now. I can only handle the pain in small doses.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Vacation Had To Get Away

So I thought I quickly clarify for you all why we have been MIA for a little while...both of us have been on vacation. Hawaii is a nice destination but without the tubes that connect you to the internets it can be tough too post. But we are back and better than ever--couple new things to look forward too--soon we are going to be starting a weekly feature called BETTER KNOW A in-depth interview with a Clemson Tiger each week...check back for one with the Beast from Bamburg soon...also some recruiting updates and way too early predictions...for now we relish in our championship Rowing Championship!!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Baseball Team

It's been a while since i wrote anything about Clemson baseball. Watching the season unfold, though, I don't think you can complain about anything if you're a Clemson fan. I had the team pegged as being a little better than .500, maybe sneaking into the Tournament if a few things broke the right way. Over half way into the season, and its clear I was totally wrong; they will best the .500 mark and barring a total collapse down the stretch, should find themselves in a decent position to make a run in the Tournament. This is no fluke where the Tigers have won a bunch of close games and been blown out by the better teams, either. Clemson is hovering around the #15 mark in simulated RPI standings and Boyd's world has them at #20 in the iterative strength rankings. Not too shabby. To be clear, I don't think this team can necessarily make it to Omaha, but the season has to restore some faith in Leggett's recruiting and coaching abilities.

So how have they done it? I tried previewing/projecting the offense earlier in the season, and this is what I came up with for some of the important counting stats:

Here's what the actual numbers look like so far:

Big differences, but its hard to gauge the actual impact from just looking at the raw numbers (good patience at the plate by Clemson's middle infielders, though). If we convert these into wOBA (a measurement of total offensive worth, scaled to be similar to on-base percentage) and the wRAA (runs created above average), we get a better picture. Here are the numbers I was projecting:

And here is how the players are actually performing to this point in the season:

When I talked about Clemson's chances earlier, I mentioned that they would have to see either small improvements across the board or get a couple of players to step up with monster seasons. I didn't plan on both happening. Ben Paulsen is absolutely having a monster season, and Kyle Parker, while not quite as good as last year, is still putting up great numbers. But looking further down, we see great improvement from Jeff Schaus, Mike Freeman, and even Matt Sanders. On top of this, Brad Miller's rookie season at SS has been an improvement over what we could have realistically expected from Stan Widman. The only players not showing a lot of improvement (Addison Johnson, John Nester) are playing premium defensive positions, and its not like they are killing the team, either. The only real exception is probably Boyd, who hasn't really been performing at DH, probably explaining why he's been the odd man out when someone needs a rest in the field.

All in all, the upgrade on offense over last year has been worth somewhere around 100 runs. Using the old adage that 10 runs netted == 1 win in the victory column, that's a swing of about 10 wins. Add these 10 wins to my earlier guess that the team was a little better than .500 and you have a good estimate of where the team will end up, maybe 13-17 games above the .500 mark? Of course, all the usual caveats apply since this ignores defense and pitching contributions. But if guys stick around for another year or so and keep improving, even if not at the same rate as this year relative to last year, next year's offense is looking Omaha-worthy.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Springtime Evaluations

Spring practice tells you nothing. Thats what I used to think before last season. That is to say, I dont think Spring is any indicator of what team you will put on the field but in the Fall but to the trained eye, you can observe and take away some very important things from Spring ball. Now I am not professing to have that eye but last year I saw it and either no one wanted to talk about it or they were wishing it would go away. This year I dont know if I have anything of substance but I will give it a try nonetheless...feel free to add in or correct anything I say.

My case study comes from the medias insistence last year on the improved offensive line play. That obviously wasnt the case and when we heard about Sapp being unblockable in spring practice it should have been raising red flags all over the place. Our D-Line couldnt get pressure all year and our O-Line wasnt improved it was just that bad. So what are the debates this year??

1. O-Line vs. D-Line-This is the same as last year--do we really have an improved line like we have been told the past three years?? Ok--to break this down a bit we do have five guys returning--something that hasnt happened in a very long time but I am only cautiously optimistic because I keep hearing about Lambert pushing Landon Walker at tackle and now Dalton Freeman (granted a 4 star recruit) pushing Mason Cloy at center. Now obviously some of these guys need a fire lit under them and some push to reach a higher level but if you are still seriously considering Lambert then I can not help but conjure up memories of Alabama and seeing Lambert and Grant absolutely blown up, pushed over like rag dolls. Coach Scott just never has given me any sense of security about our O-Line.

D-Line looks fierce but without Sapp being 100% after ACL surgery, I still am not completely convinced. I like Jenkins and Thompson in the middle, especially with the added depth that Cumbie and Moore bring and I think a new scheme on D will help open up the field with the added pressure. The talk of moving Alexander to strong side linebacker sounds like a good idea--I like the use of bigger linebackers in the ACC because of the inability of most teams to torch you downfield bc of suspect QB play and the overall reliance on the run.

2. QB vs. DB's--First I know our DB's are the most experienced in the ACC and that the two deep could all end up in the NFL but I think that the CB's will be most suspect to the change of scheme. They have not played straight up man to man in a long time--90% zone coverage for the past three years is tough to break from overnight. They are talented but I'm not sure they will be the automatic strength we are needing. They arent going to suck but there is going to be some growing pains. The second safety spot is also a big question mark--just put in Gilchrist already...

So are the QB's really throwing well with Kyle "The Cannon" Parker and Willy's reconstructed arm or is it more the result of an inexperienced group of DB's? Its no secret that Parker is ahead in the epic QB battle but how good he really can be is tough to gauge. Everyone loves the local boy--its hard to root against EKR, but I would personally be afraid to put him on the field because he is so brittle...maybe he is just too extreme for the field. Tajh Boyd is doing everything he can to get himself in position to avoid the redshirt but if he has some miracle cure he should pass it on to Sapp and take the redshirt, just saying.

3. Napier as the new OC--Everyone wants him to do a good job and frankly I dont think you can do a worse job than Spence did considering all the offensive weapons we have wasted. But he needs to do more than write a term paper on running a football team at Furman to have success. I havent seen anything to suggest one way or the other--he seems intelligent, organized and "all in" but is it enough to win week in and week out. How much of a learning curve do we suffer through until he 'gets it' himself. I guess this goes for Dabo too, saw some rookie mistakes with little things like clock management at crucial times, blown formations, etc. I think a lot of the season hinges on producing competent WR play to free up the running game. Good thing CJ came back for another year, best thing to happen to modern Clemson football hands down!

If you have any contradicting opinions, I would love to hear them...

Thursday, 9 April 2009

PG, SG, and Donte Hill (My Diaper Dandy of the Week)

Demontez Stitt had a successful freshman campaign but a lot was needed from him for Clemson to be a contender in his Soph season. Stitt remained average bc while he was able to penetrate and score in the first half of the season, an ankle injury limited his explosiveness for a period as he regressed in his assist to turnover ration and ft shooting.
Andre Young was a solid contributor off the bench who gained more confidence with each game. His outside shooting improved as the season progressed and had the best assist to turnover ratio of any Tiger. OP has not recruited any PG's in the 2010 class so I hold Young as the future-Stitt will still get the majority of the minutes going into 2010 but Young will continue to take more and more time away, eventually replacing him in the starting line-up. What Clemson will need is less of a playmaker and more of a distributor at PG as the season winds down. While being considerably undersized-look for Young to show the most progress of any freshmen from this season.

Terrence Oglesby is on my bad list right now. What a frustrating player...I know he will work hard in the offseason and will improve, just like he did from his fresh to soph years but I would have no problem if OP yanked him from the starting line-up next year. He is a legit three point threat from anywhere on the court but fails to play within the flow of the system too often. Something that would help the entire team including TO would be to learn how to throw a variety of entry passes to the post. I dont know exactly where TO fits in next year, he isnt that great a defender and his moves driving to the basket need a lot of work, they were laughable at times this year and his meltdown versus Michigan was inexcusable. I guess you take the good with the bad and live with it but OP has found his new defensive replacement with incoming freshman Donte Hill. This kid covers like a blanket and while not flashing anything extraordinary on offense, he will add a new level of intensity to the press. I am really high on this kid and have a feeling that he will be a bigger contributer than we think come fall. The kid is solid, he is already physically built and rebounds like a small forward, which may be where he ends up. He is 6' 5 but may be closer to 6' 4 but really gets after it. He doesnt play above the rim but is athletic, takes good shots, and is fundamentally sound.

At the Charm City Challenge he played a great game. Something like 9 ACC recruits played with James Padgett(Maryland) and Richard Howell (NC St) being the supposed headliners but Donte had the best stat line earning All-Tourney honors. Padgett won the MVP with his 22 pts and 3 rebounds while Donte had 18 pts and 10 rebounds on 8 for 1o shooting, two for three behind the arc. You can see what I mean in this video of the game where he makes some nice drives and defensive plays. Obviously its an all-star crap game but he looks legit and looks like he can come in and play some real minutes in his first season at Clemson. Like I said--lots to look forward to!!

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Congrats ACC

So its been awhile since the ACC was the strongest conference in the land but thanks to our very own national champion North Carolina Tarheels, we now have the talking points to battle the Big East machine and can again listen to all the ACC coaches talk up the ACC at every opportunity, ad nauseam. Hopefully Clemson starts in the top twenty or twenty-five next season, a stronger perception of the ACC helps the tigers. And that is all conference ranking is--pure perception. Its like Mel Kiper and his draft projections--you pick and choose what you want to make into criteria to justify your argument. Having the "National Champs" sure helps the cause so thank you NC NC. Now all of you please declare for the NBA(Aminu, Teague, Henderson-that means you too) so Clemson can finally beat you all. Things are looking good for next year, very good...

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Quick, deep thought

Since no Big East teams made it to the championship game, is the Big East overrated? That's the only logical conclusion I can draw from the pundit chatter we heard over and over again early in the tournament...

Seriously, as fun as March Madness is, anyone who takes 3-4 basketball games played at the end of the year as indicative of a conference's true talent level over, I don't know, the entire season in question, probably isn't worth listening to.

About the light posting: I've been seriously bogged down at work with the old 12-hour shift. Hopefully I'll be back to normal soon, covering the baseball season.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Ronald and You, Yes You Milton Jennings

So just wanted to quickly put up something about the McDonalds All-American game last night. One of our prized recruits Milton Jennings got to play and the results were...well they dont really matter do they. That game is an all-star game where all anyone wants to do is dunk the ball. Anyone trying to play real basketball looks a little lost--like Milt. He got second in the skills challenge which is probably a better gauge of skill than this game. I love how this game actually mattered when kids were drafted out of high school (I love how many no talent nothings got drafted) but now, not so much. This is like Spring Practice to me--no matter how good Rendrick Taylor looks every year it doesnt translate into anything--granted that has a lot to do with the departed coach spence, rest his soul. So he played 14 minutes, scored 4 points or so, a steal and a block. But kinda looked a little slow compared to the other players. It will be interesting to see how good he really is and if he is the elite type talent Clemson has been can tune in tomorrow to see him play in the RISE ESPN high school bball thing. Should be a better gauge of his talent...
A blog about all Clemson Tiger University sports--football, basketball, baseball, along with the occasional South Carolina coot bashing.