Saturday, 30 January 2010
Two teams have been pegged in the early going as ACC surprises: Maryland and Virginia. While Virginia is improved from last year (not too hard considering they were the worst team in the league), they have been the beneficiary of a soft early schedule (with a notable victory of Georgia Tech at home). Maryland, on the other hand, looks like its the real deal; I expect them to be battling with Duke for the championship come season's end. It certainly didn't appear to start that way--losses on neutral courts to Wisconsin, Cincinnati, and Villanova don't seem too bad now, particularly given the way Villanova and Wisconsin have played since and given that the games were closer than the scores might indicate. But the home loss to William & Mary on December 30th put the Terps in the back of my mind when it came to sorting out ACC contenders at the beginning of the ACC season.
Since then, however, Maryland has been on a tear; losing only a tough road game to Wake Forest in overtime by two points. There statistical profile is insanely strong right now, as a team they have very little in the way of glaring weakness, playing defense and offense on par with some of the best teams in the country. Its easily the best squad Gary Williams has fielded since 2007. How did this happen?
I point to three reasons: 1) the continued development of Greivis Vasquez, 2) the emergence of Sean Mosely, and 3) the underneath play of freshman Jordan Williams. Vasquez continues to shed the label of overhyped Terrapin by logging his fourth consecutive improved season. He's always been a good passer and decent shooter, but his first two years he constantly turned the ball over. This year he's retained the reduction in turnovers that we noticed last season. At the same time, he's shooting the ball better from behind the arc than ever in his career (~39% vs ~32%) and he's playing better defense. Meanwhile, Sean Mosely has turned into a scorer this season, a guy who drives to the basket without turning the ball over, makes shots, picks up fouls, and has a decent three-point stroke to boot. Jordan Williams has anchored an inside defense that ranks #6 in the country in defending the two-point shot (could be a long night for Trevor Booker).
This is a tough matchup for Clemson. Maryland does not turn the ball over and they hold opposing offenses to a low FG% against--two of the team traits that I think gave Clemson real problems against Duke. If Clemson wants to win, they will have to rely on their halfcourt defense to slow down the Maryland offense, which is probably too much to ask given the points Maryland is going to rack up in transition against the press. That means they'll have to play better on offense. They will need to make some three-point shots (Maryland's FG% against is driven almost entirely by their defense against the two-point shot) and then crash the boards. Maryland's one weakness is giving up too much height on the frontline after Jordan Williams, which can lead to a lot of offensive boards. I expect the game to be close, but Purnell will have probably need to ease off the press early on to make sure we don't dig ourselves into an insurmountable hole. And if the threes aren't falling again...
On top of all of this Clemson has to deal with Gary Williams. This is the coach that broke down our defense for the whole league to see last year, so I'm not eager to see what he's got this time. It will be interesting to see whether he opts to apply some token pressure like GT and BC to eat up Clemson's game clock on offense to reduce the already long amount of time we need to find a halfway-decent look at the basket.
Goes without saying, Tigers need to win some games people aren't expecting them to win. Kenpom has us projected for an 8-8 finish, which I think is a little optimistic--I might lean towards 7-9 right now. Either way, that's good for about an 8th place finish in the league--and there ain't gonna be 8 ACC teams in the tourney. LET'S GO TIGERS!!!
Friday, 29 January 2010
From the Rivals board someone was nice enough to take this screen shot of Parker's page. Ladies he is single. First, that is awesome to catch the guy lying like that. Here is what I think should happen.
- Everyone who is a Tiger go add Justin Parker as a friend and tell him to come to Clemson, welcome to the family, looking forward to you starting at MLB next year, etc.
- Everyone add Keith Allsep as a friend and firebomb his page. Then take a picture and share.
Thursday, 28 January 2010
Last time I posted on recruiting the top priority I stated was keeping all of our current commits. Well we have done an admirable job up until this point. Georgia and Auburn just will not stop trying to pick off our kids. They have been relentless and finally got David Beasley to visit and are trying to turn him. It would be a big blow, he is probably our best OL commit. Hopefully the Darius Robinson saga is over, apparently he visited Auburn then lied about it but everyone should take a deep breath and try to understand that these kids have a lot of pressure on them and good kids make mistakes. Darius if you are reading this, welcome to the family, to Tiger Nation, you got a lot of talent don't waste it like some two bit Coot(ie committing a felony).
The other concern about holding on to players is getting them all to qualify. There are rumblings that our top WR commit Bryant may not make it. This would be a major blow bc I love DeAndre Hopkins but he lacks the top level speed that Bryant has (although Bryant has slowly been slipping down recruiting boards). Also I recently heard that Craig from Gaffney is going to be close on the SAT. That is pure rumor though and should be treated as such cause we need serious help at WR soon. Charon Peake in 2011 is one of the top WR's in the nation and a Clemson lean.
Ok so the names I said to look out for were Justin Parker, DJ Howard, Ethan Farmer, Lipford and some others.
Then our staff got on their needs and by miraculous intervention have somehow put us not only in the race but potentially leading for KEENAN ALLEN!! I don't think Tiger fans know how good this kid is. I was literally drooling watching him play at the Shrine Bowl. Easily the best player on the field, best player in the Carolinas. Perhaps the number one WR in the nation!! Could start day 1 at WR or Safety in my opinion. Lets not forget that we also are leading for his older brother Zach Maynard. Let us set the record straight Maynard is not a bad QB. This isnt some 2 for 1 deal like Alabama fans, and Coot fans are trying to paint it as. I honestly think with Korn transferring we would be after Maynard regardless of the linkage. He is leaving Buffalo because his coach Turner Gill left (if it was me, it would be bc its stinking cold up in Buffalo--end of story), and you can't fault his brother for wanting to play with his brother. That is certainly not blackmail and to call it such is just sour grapes.
The two are also going to Cal but you got to think the hometown proximity favors the Tigers. We don't have a QB prospect in this class, Parker could be MLB bound and then you have Boyd as an unproven commodity to compete against. He has 18 TD's and 15 ints as a freshman--not all-world but competent and certainly with a year to sit out and learn the system would put him in good shape. Plus the brothers are together.
Back to my gushing though, KEENAN ALLEN!! He is way better than Lattimore and would be an amazing addition to the team. Would literally solve our problems at WR or legitimately replace McDaniel next year. Insane...go Dabo, go!! This was the big splash I was looking for--we have close to a top 10 class with this signing and about 5 top 150 players already verbals for 2011. Now that is championship caliber recruiting!!
So we need to finish strong by getting Justin Parker--he is still the number one defensive priority for me. A solid Mike Linebacker who averages between a 3/4 star. Right now it seems to be between us and LSU but Parker has been everywhere this recruiting season and I wouldn't count on it until the ink is dry. That being said I think we lead and if it really is a two team race, I don't know how many plane rides that give you headaches Parker wants to go on. Justin stay close to home because we desperately need you. You know USuCk isn't going anywhere in the SEC, they will have another .500 season next year but Clemson can win the ACC and soon compete for the Natl Champs. This year we lost to TCU and GT twice (even Maryland and its slow QB ran on us) because we lacked elite LB talent--you could change all that and erase those losses.
DJ Howard has to be monitoring the Lattimore situation. Auburn is stacked at RB and you'll get buried on the depth chart. Clemson gives you a chance to be the big back. Jamie Harper is good but there is plenty of room there for you to contribute right away. I think Dabo has really opened his eyes and made him feel like family. (Dabo has already earned his paycheck by flipping Barnes from FSU, by the way)
Last is Ethan Farmer who might not qualify but we are neck and neck with NCarolina for his services. I really like him and hope he comes to Clemson. He is the type of kid who doesn't care if he redshirts or not, just wants to get in the weight room and get to work. Seems like a lunch pail attitude that would fit in well, especially in contrast to some of our more finesse D Lineman. I would have liked to see him more as a TE, where I think we need some more help--we will see though. It'll come down to National Signing Day.
If we land Parker this is a good solid class that helps the team take a step forward, if we sign Allen we should be cheering. The addition of a QB depth, another big back, a MLB, DL/TE, and all world WR would make my day. Oh and got to hold on to our top OL recruit Beasley. If we could have scored one more plus OLineman like Max Garcia I would have been ecstatic about this class. Good job Dabo and company--now bring it home!!
Wednesday, 27 January 2010
formula to calculate safe leads, but I might be wrong.)
Now we're in trouble. When I said yesterday we were still on pace for 10-6 or 9-7, I neglected to mention that the margin for error was a lot thinner than three weeks ago. When you lose all the games you're supposed to lose, then you have to win the games you're supposed to win. Now we're looking at 8-8 and trending towards 7-9. I originally listed the road game at Maryland as a toss-up, but the way Maryland's been playing, that's looking more and more like wishful thinking.
- This game was lost on lax defense in the first half. Yeah, the first half offense wasn't great either, but you can't give up 42 points to Boston College of all teams in the first half and expect to win.
- I've been semi-sorta defender of Potter in the past, but that was the latest in a string of invisible to bad performances. His defense in the first half was bad and only passable in the second half. With the drop-off to from Potter to Johnson arguably non-existent right now, there's no reason not to give Johnson the playing time. The coaching staff has to think about the long-term future of the club, and giving Johnson playing time should help ensure that he develops into more than, well, David Potter. I'm not holding my breath; Purnell has always had a veteran fetish of sorts.
- I've said it since last year: Tanner Smith should be a shooter. He's not a driver. This is clearly becoming one of the worst personnel mistakes of the Purnell era. No one's saying Smith is a gifted or natural shooter, but if he had spent the last two years working on his jump-shot (not just the 3-point shot) instead of driving the lane...wouldn't that be a nice offensive skill to have right now?
- How many times did we see Dallas Elmore pull up and nail a wide-open jump shot? That's what Tanner Smith should be doing right now instead of embarking on wild lane-drive after wild lane-drive.
- I'm really tired of hearing about how difficult ACC road games are. Give me a break. Home-court advantage gives you about a three point advantage relative to a neutral court. If you are a better team by more than three points, you should beat the other team on the road, not dig yourself into 17 point halftime deficits. Losing coaches and announcers kissing up to losing coaches like to frame ACC road games as possessing some magical property that prevents better teams from winning. I find this extremely annoying. There's a much simpler and believable explanation: lots of ACC teams are losing on the road because there's a lot of parity in the conference this year.
- This, however, was not one of those games. We should have won. This wasn't a case like last year when we lost to Virginia on what I felt was a bizarre series of bad calls and bad bounces all adding up to an improbable loss. We got beat because the other team played largely solid fundamentals and we didn't. We were lax on defense in the first half. The players and coaches are to blame for not getting ready.
- But perhaps the blame should rest more on the coaches for Tuesday's debacle. Not only was the team flat, but we were outcoached. We're seeing something pretty amazing this year in the ACC: teams are all starting to add real pressure to their defensive looks. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but the coaching staff needs to adjust. We haven't gotten killed by turning the ball over (so far) but BC and GT both used the pressure to shorten the game clock against an offense that already has problems getting open shots in the halfcourt. I know Purnell's dictum is that good defense leads to good offense, but he has to adjust. There's no excuse--he has the personnel now to implement a better half-court offense.
- Along these lines, we're starting to see the template for opposing ACC coaches against Clemson: run a halfway competent full-court pressure defense and play tight man-to-man. Has the added bonus of slowing the game down and keeping the number of times you have to break Clemson's press to a minimum.
- This goes back to the point I've been worried about since the offseason. Will Purnell try to force the more gifted offensive players he's recruiting into playing his system, or will he be flexible and creative enough to bend and adjust the system to accommodate the talents he's recruited. Remember, this is the first time in his career he's recruited players on par with other more storied programs. By this point, the verdict is all but in: Purnell has opted for the less flexible route.
- Jerai Grant always "comes out" against inferior defensive teams, Len.
There's plenty more to write, but I'll try to pick something out and be a bit more coherent later in the week. I can't believe I'm saying this, but the coaching staff better make some adjustments or we're headed back to the NIT this year. Last year when it was clear the ACC had developed an effective gameplan against Clemson, I argued that Clemson's roster construction left Purnell without any real options and no way to really adjust. This year, there's no excuse.
Tuesday, 26 January 2010
Only got a few minutes here, I've been back at the 14 hour work day again...things should calm down by the end of the week. I wanted to drop in and comment quickly on the upcoming BC game and the general state of Clemson basketball.
About three weeks ago I wrote that Boston College, N.C. State, and Virginia were bringing up the rear of the ACC this season. Since that time, BC has managed to distinguish itself from the pack, in a bad way. It's not really that BC has played terribly, they beat a better than-their-record indicates Miami team and nearly knocked off VT, both on the road. But they haven't played well against better teams, getting absolutely blown out by Duke, Clemson, and Maryland, with the Maryland game at home. At the same time, I've been reasonably impressed with the positive steps forward by NC State and Virginia so far this season, leaving BC at a distance behind. I think you can make a strong argument at this point that BC is in a bit of a tailspin as a program, its now going on three years since they were a legitimate bubble team, if there is such a thing. BC is still a team struggling on defense mainly because they can't force turnovers and secondarily because they don't defend the shot particularly well. On offense they can't shoot the ball, particularly from behind the arc. Raji and Tripani have been doing a pretty good job getting some open looks, but if the team they are playing has any semblance of an offense, its hard for them to slow it down enough.
Of course, Clemson's offense will be lacking the services of Demontez Stitt and frankly hasn't looked great lately, but this is absolutely a game Clemson should win. I know it's a long road trip to frigid Boston for a two hour game on a Tuesday night, and I know that a lot of people view Stitt as the key to the offense, but this is still the very definition of a winnable ACC road game for the Tigers--they have to take advantage. (By the way, I like the decision to hold Stitt out for this game. Clemson shouldn't need him to get some offense going against BC and if he's not close to 100%, he's just blocking time that would be better spent with Young at the helm. As in the Duke game, when he doesn't have his explosive first step, he's not worth much on the floor. Plus, I'm really worried that he injured himself more severely in the last five minutes of the GT game.)
That brings me to the general state of Clemson basketball. I didn't get a chance to write up the Duke game because I was swamped at work, but ClemBen did a pretty admirable job of summing up my feelings in rant form. With a couple of days to reflect, though, Clemson is right where I thought they would be about three weeks ago. Sure, I thought they would be less competitive in a game where they nearly pulled the upset (GT) and more competitive in a game they never really had a chance in (Duke), but really your opinion of the Tigers shouldn't change anymore after the last two games than it should have after the blowout win over UNC. Duke's a championship caliber team this year and while of course I would have liked to have been more competitive, that's really a game where we need a healthy Stitt to create some offense. Meanwhile, UNC (1-3 so far in ACC play) isn't turning out to be much of a team this season.
Last two games notwithstanding, Clemson is still on track for a 9-7 or 10-6 season (leaning towards 9-7) with an NCAA tournament invitation. Lose to BC today, though, and we'll be fighting the "bubble team" label all the way into March.
Saturday, 23 January 2010
Our defense got worse as the game went on but was alright, pretty good in the first half considering. We just had no flow on offense. Duke presses man to man and shoves our guards out and we can't run any kind of pick and roll. We need better spacing and more set plays, we would be fine if we had some three point shooting but its non-existent. I knew that all that talk about Smith's improved 3 point shooting was overblown but I didn't think that the Freshman Jennings and Johnson would be unable to shoot anything. No one can create off the dribble and no one has a reliable mid range game. I give Duke credit--Nolan Smith added a little floater and a midrange game and Scheyer was just playing around.
I hate losing to coach K. The year isn't over but we need some serious improvement in order to make any kind of a push in the postseason. I think winning one game in the NCAA tourney would be an achievement now. We just are lacking in so many areas. OP I think we need a few changes...
Man I want the game to start already, Go Tigers!!
Friday, 22 January 2010
I'm swamped at work so I'm just going to point everyone to the first Duke preview I wrote about three weeks ago. My opinion hasn't changed much regarding Duke, losses to Georgia Tech and NC State notwithstanding. These guys are a good team. Check out their Kenpom.com page. In the upper left-hand corner notice how everything is either a light shade of green or a dark shade of green. There's no pink or red anywhere. That's the mark of a championship-caliber team--no obvious weakness when glancing over the stats.
That being said, 5 games into the ACC season, Duke has shown some signs of slipping on defense. They still defend the shot very well (the strength of the defense), but they aren't forcing as many turnovers and they are having problems keeping teams off the offensive glass (how do you do that with their height?).
If Clemson plays as well as they did against GT last Tuesday while getting a few more shots to fall and hitting a couple of extra free throws, we'll have a chance to pull the upset at the end of the game and hand Duke its third straight conference road loss. I know it might sound far-fetched considering the 20 point thrashing we got up at Cameron, but if we can get the ball into Trevor Booker in the halfcourt set like we did in the second half of the first Duke game, then we can swarm the rim and pick up some easy points. Its doable, but the margin for error is thin.
Thursday, 21 January 2010
That is just classic. Seriously Clemson should just represent the state of South Carolina and not some jailbird coots. Someone get a local congressman on this asap.
Wednesday, 20 January 2010
Devastatingly close loss. Really had an opportunity to add a win to ledger that wasn't expected. There's another way to look at this loss though: we went toe-to-toe with one of the better teams in the league on the road; a team that poses not insignificant matchup problems for us on offense. Without Demontez Stitt at 100% (although, to be fair, it looked like he was playing around 90-95% most of the time). Let's take a quick look at the chart:
formula to calculate safe leads, but I might be wrong.)
Ouch. Had the 64-62 lead with 1:25 to go. I thought we had a good game plan coming in. For the most part, we kept GT off-balance by mixing up the pressure and on offense we opened them up and got reasonably good looks by having Stitt drive the lane (Young added a couple of nice drives as well) and being able to feed the ball into the Booker brothers (Devin looked great in limited action, banging around inside against the tall GT defense and drawing fouls). We also were drawing fouls left and right inside, putting their big men into foul trouble which helped opened up the inside a little more. I realize we only put 64 points on the board, but that was with a handful of shots that should have fallen and even worse performance at the FT line than usual.
My only complaint would be the offensive plays in the last 3 possessions or so, starting with the wild drive by Tanner Smith (3-11 from the field, that's the disappearing Smith we all know from last ACC season!). I actually quite liked Stitt's decision to penetrate with the lane wide open on the last real possession; he just picked a bad time for another of his inexplicable turnovers (which, admittedly, seem to have occurred less frequently in the past few games). My only real complaint is that we didn't at least try to get the ball inside to Booker in one of the final possessions. He'd been having a lot of success drawing fouls and it felt like we had the GT big men on their heels.
Lastly, can't talk about this game without mentioning the ridiculous call at the end. I don't care if Booker made any kind of contact on Peacock's "drive", you don't call that with 3.2 seconds remaining in a game. As an official, you don't risk making a touch foul call that gift-wraps the game for one team after an evenly played first forty minutes. Officiating in basketball is not, nor should be, context-independent. Let them decide the game in an overtime period, which, incidentally, I think would have likely favored the Tigers because of GT's foul situation.
All in all, I come away from this game feeling oddly optimistic we can end up at 10-6 in the conference instead of 9-7. We played a tall team with well-above average defense on the road to a draw. Trevor Booker held his own and didn't disappear, as was common against teams with a tall inside presence last year. We were able to feed the post on occasion. We managed relatively open looks from behind the arc, and shot the ball pretty well. It gives me hope that we have more than a fighting chance in the FSU and WF games later in the season.
Tuesday, 19 January 2010
A very disappointing loss though that puts us back into the middle of the pack in the ACC. We really need to beat Duke...
Just wanted to add for all of you feeling down like me...Eric Mack just decommitted from USuCk in favor of Auburn or Florida. Since he was probably their best committed player and and O-Lineman it is a pretty big loss. If Lattimore chooses Auburn they will have let three of the top players in the state, including Fulton who committed to Alabama, slip through their fingers....err wings? The only thing about losing Spurrier that scares me is that they could potentially hire someone good with all that SEC money they're getting now--scary thought...
Yeah that is right, Lane and his brother-in-law and Mike Tomlin 'hanging out' with some co-eds. So the man is obviously scum and that picture is enough but the 'rendez-vous' place was paid for by a booster. Yep a Tennessee booster--the same people and institution that are going to steal Steele. Now I am ticked off...Oh and Lane also crashed his car (whoops, not his car--it was from Lexus of Knoxville??) while drinking with a bunch of co-eds in said car. He then proceeded to abandon them for the cops. Is that the Tennessee program you want to go to? I want an NCAA investigation and quick--one that keeps Steele from heading up there.
Steele, say it ain't so!!
Edit: Ok he is gone, but Dan Brooks is supposed to stay. 600,000 to go back to your alma mater. Please don't hire Blackwell...Thanks a lot Kiffin...
ReEdit: Thank you Dabo! The Head Coach earns his stripes again. The "Man of Steele" shows what he is made of and stays with the Tigers! Really glad to hear it and I hope the admin ponies up and gives him a generous pay raise. For all you Steele haters, give him a LB who will play his assignments and a second year to coach some of these younger Defensive players. I think we improve a lot next year and it is a lot better than starting from scratch again.
Before I say anything, Rest in Peace Gaines Adams. I'm not good at these kinds of things, so I'll send you to someone who is (DrB) and add my deepest condolences. Also, if you haven't already, consider heading over and signing the sympathy card at Tigernet.
Since the game will be played one way or another, time to talk about it. The loss of Stitt makes a already formidable task quite a bit harder. Stitt has a mid-foot sprain and is hoping to be ready for Saturday's tilt with the Blue Devils. I'm a bit skeptical with websites that say full recovery requires "a few weeks." And really, a not fully-recovered foot could result in the same post-injury Stitt we saw last year, the one without the explosive first step. The injury is particularly bad timing because this is by far the strongest defense we've played since the Duke game and we could use a slashing Stitt to penetrate against the GT zone. Normally, this would be a great opportunity for Young to show his game is otherwise equal to to Stitt. Unfortunately, it looks like Young's not feeling well, either.
GT's defense specializes in shutting down their opponent's FG percentage, holding teams under 30% from behind the arc and around 41% from inside the arc. This is where Stitt would be pretty invaluable, we need someone who is able to break down the defense and create space. Its a little hard to gauge how our halfcourt offense will perform, most teams haven't been willing to go inside against GT this season with the shot-blocking presence of 6'10" freshman Derrick Favors and 6'9" sophomore Gani Lawal, but I guarantee Clemson will be looking to T. Booker to shoulder the load tomorrow. I think the thing to look for early in the game is whether Clemson is able to feed the post or if Booker is able to score in some other way--that's probably how FSU pulled off their victory earlier in the season. If Booker isn't seeing success, we don't have a lot of weapons to turn to and GT will be sticking right to the arc to keep Potter or Young from getting open shots.
There is some hope, though. It's not that GT has been playing up-and-down so much this season, the only inexplicable loss was to Georgia and they've played well against some other good teams only to come up a little short: FSU, Dayton, and the rapidly improving Virginia Cavaliers. No, the Achilles heel of the GT team right now is their turnover problems on offense, which feeds right into our primary strength this year. They are actually about as bad UNC, with sophomore Iman Shumpert leading the way downhill. Unfortunately this could be offset somewhat by GT's ability to crash the offensive boards, ranking 15th in the country. Clemson has predictably begun to struggle with defending the offensive glass as ACC play has begun, falling to 170th in the country.
This sets up an interesting matchup, we have a defense that we profile poorly against but an offense we profile decently well against. If we can force some turnovers with the pressure and T. Booker can get some baskets to fall, we could very easily keep up with the Yellow Jackets and have a shot to win the game in the final five minutes. But if we fail to get the turnovers machine rolling along, we could be in for a long night. Already down a starter, Purnell might have to consider folding up the tent relatively early in this game to avoid burning players out in anticipation of the Duke game on Saturday. If Stitt is really able to return, we might have a slightly better chance against Duke then playing at GT without Stitt.
Sunday, 17 January 2010
I don't have a lot of time, so straight to the chart:
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.)
All in all, I thought it was a fairly standard outing this season by the Tigers. We're going to hear a lot about how this was a "tale of two halves" or whatever, but the nature of Clemson's game (particularly this year) is such that when the pressure is working, the defense looks great; but when Clemson starts looking tired, the other team makes adjustments, puts in someone who can handle the ball better, or starts getting a few bounces/calls to go their way they are going to put points on the board. UNC could never make the adjustments and we stomped them for two halves. Duke almost never had a problem and they stomped us for two halves. No one's going to accuse Sidney Lowe of being a coaching genius, but limiting turnover machine Javier Gonzalez to 10 minutes of playing time (well below his season average of ~27 minutes) isn't the work of guy who doesn't understand the situation. All of this raises a bit of a red flag: while the pressure defense probably hasn't been better since the days of Hammonds and Mays, the half-court defense (while perhaps a little better than last year), isn't enough to keep even offensively-challenged teams like NC State from scoring.
It's good to keep in mind, however, that the nature of Purnell's (and by extension, Clemson's) brand of basketball is inherently pretty volatile, a number of different factors like referee style of officiating ("calling it close" or "letting them play"), the level of fatigue for Clemson or the opponent, a series of missed calls, etc. can have a dramatic impact on the overall effectiveness of the defense. This can leave the team look like a polished, overwhelming machine at one point in time and totally clueless the next--and I think this is heightened somewhat this year because we lack a really solid half-court defense to fall back on. The prototypical game which I refer people to is the Villanova game in round 1 of the 2008 tournament. We came out and absolutely flustered Villanova's pair of excellent but inexperienced guards (Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher, I believe), building a quick lead in the first ten minutes of the game--and it looked like we could do no wrong. Then the guards remembered that they were pretty good, stopped throwing the ball away, and cut the lead in half by the break. Then in the second half, it looked like Clemson could do nothing right while giving up 48 points en route to a 6-point loss. The key: Reynolds and Fisher shredding through the pressure defense.
Anyways, I've wandered off topic here but I guess I needed to justify my statement above: this did feel like a standard Clemson outing. Ever wonder why Clemson struggles to "close out games" or "finish strong"? The preceding paragraph seems like a reasonable explanation--mull it over for a while. I don't by the lack of leadership argument; a coach couldn't design a better leader than T. Booker. This reasoning also explains how Clemson manages furious finishes from time to time. Remember the Butler game? Remember how tired Butler looked early on in the second half? The same players allegedly lacking a leader managed a thrilling comeback. Remember last year's allegedly dysfunctional squad pulling off an improbable comeback at Virginia Tech? Maryland two years ago? This may be a bit preemptive, but if someone wants to complain about Clemson's failures to "seal the deal", can we at least get some acknowledgement of their ability to unexpectedly storm back to victory? And then maybe we can start seeing the two outcomes as sides of the same coin. Clemson plays a volatile style of basketball, sometimes it works for us, sometimes against us, and sometimes we have just enough in the tank to overcome home-court advantage plus three points.
***Lastly, unrelated to the above, I wanted to comment on Stitt's status. I'm not the biggest Stitt fan, I'm on the record as saying that Young is more than capable of filling most of the roles he plays for the team. But that doesn't change the fact that losing Stitt for any extended period of time is a big blow. No one on the team can replace Stitt's explosive first step and his ability to penetrate and cause problems for the defense. It also seems like he's been cut loose a little over the last three games, and the results have been pretty good. Unfortunately, he's also got a growing injury history. He's got a little bit of Dwayne Wade in him that way--penetration guy with little regard for his body and a litany of nagging injuries hampering his play. Unfortunately, Stitt's injury sounds pretty serious--not a pulled muscle or something. There's also the issue of how healthy he is when he finally comes back. If you watched the team closely last year, Stitt never seemed the same after coming back from a pre-ACC season injury. I'm not going to jump to any conclusions here, but obviously keeping the game close against in Atlanta on Tuesday just became a lot more difficult. I'll try to comment more when we get news of the severity of the injury.
Saturday, 16 January 2010
I’ve returned to earth after last Wednesday’s thrashing of the Tarheels. Great stuff, and worthy of extended celebration. Tigers get a chance to finally win a game after beating a ranked opponent in a game we really should win despite being on the road. NC State has earned the label of “hot and cold” team this year, supported by quality wins over Marquette and Florida State (last Tuesday) and head-scratching losses to a crummy Arizona team, Northwestern, and Virginia; the last two being home games and not particularly close. The Florida State game may seem like the strangest--if you’re a reader here you know that we think FSU has a chance to sweep Clemson in two games this season. So what happened? First, let’s get a general team profile of the Wolfpack.
All in all, I think the 2010 NC State team is fairly similar to the 2008 team, with their youth leaving them a little room to get better as the season goes on. Based primarily on this potential, I debated whether or not to include them in the bottom rung of the conference when sizing up the ACC. As in years past, they are a better offensive than defensive team (if only slightly this year). On offense, they lack any true “strength”, although they’ve managed to shoot the ball at around a league average clip--both the two and three-pointer. On the other hand, they turn the ball over. Not as often as UNC (or as often as us, for that matter), but it’s still bad enough to be a serious concern when you face a pressure defense. Javier Gonzalez looks like the weak link, coughing up the ball 27.5% of the time he handles the ball. While their turnover percentage is 'just' middling, like UNC they are dismal at having the ball stolen away. This implies that while they don’t make stupid mistakes like dribbling the ball off their feet, they are vulnerable to good defensive pressure. On defense, their FG% against is their most redeeming feature, although it is well-below league average, besting only Virginia, UNC, Boston College, and Clemson (coincidentally enough, 2 of the 3 teams we have already beaten). Meanwhile, NC State struggles to force turnovers and also has trouble keeping other teams off the offensive glass. We should be able to put up points in the half-court, even though it may involve fighting for second and third chances.
So how did they manage to beat Florida State on the road? To beat FSU right now, you need a tall three point shooter who can see over the defense and knock down threes, and you need to crash the boards. 6’7” freshmen named Scott Wood walked into Tallahassee averaging only about 7.5 points/game and shooting around 32% from three-point land. He left after putting up 31 points on 7-11 shooting from long range while his teammates did a phenomenal job of keeping FSU off the offensive boards, no mean feat when you are dealing with 7’1” Solomon Alabi, 6’9” Chris Singleton, and 6’11” Xavier Gibson.
All of this could spell some trouble for the Tigers, as they like to get on the offensive glass and we don’t defend the three exceptionally well. However, in basketball, one game shouldn’t be considered predictive of future performance. If Clemson can keep Scott Wood from landing on ESPN with another 30 point plus performance, we should be able to keep NC State’s offense more or less in check.
On the other hand, the Tigers can’t afford to be complacent. NC State’s not a particularly good team, we match up fairly well against them, and while it’s never easy to play on the road in the ACC, recently Raleigh doesn’t exactly have a reputation as a difficult place to play. A loss against the Wolfpack, a game that we’re rightfully favored in, would more than erase the benefits accrued in the UNC game. To put it another way, losing a game you are favored has a much greater affect on your expected win tally than a loss in a “toss-up” game. I expect Clemson to struggle considerably in Atlanta next week, but we should be able to handle the Wolfpack today.
Wednesday, 13 January 2010
After Duke everyone was going to meltdown but thats because lots of football fans dont understand how to be basketball fans necessarily. Basketball season isnt about your record so much as peaking at the right time. I mean sure you want to win the conference regular season champs and have a good seed in the tourney but its about getting your team playing at the optimum level late in the season. Its also very much about match-ups, with Duke last year we matched up well against their suspect guard play--this year we dont match up well at all. However, we do match up well against UNC and made them look silly committing around 26 turnovers. TBooker at the point of the press really helps put on the pressure. It also helps him get into his offensive mindset with a couple easy flushes that come from that position.
We looked a lot better in a lot of aspects of the game but I wanted to just highlight a couple right now. FT shooting!!! We were 18-20 from the line. Hallelujah! I'll take 90% from the line any night. Stitt scored 20 points on 8-14 attempts. We need him to play well and drive the offense. He is the only player on the team with a legit first step who can drive and if he can cut down on some of the turnovers then he will be exciting.
I dont like Potter much at all and his shot selection is mind-bottling but he had 5 steals. We need him to be a legit three point shooter. I liked Noel Johnson sticking those two threes early, really set the tone but we went cold thereafter. We missed 11 threes in the second half--dont think we made one. Smith missed some open looks but had a solid game otherwise. The three point shooting has to get better if we are going to challenge in the ACC. And I do mean challenge because Duke just got beat by a manic GTech team. We beat UNC and FSU is up and down as well. Anyone can win this, Duke should be favored but I think we can beat them at home with the Freshman not looking completely shell shocked.
This was a good learning game, wish we could still get the younglings more time in the games, but a victory to relish. Its been six years since we beat these Tar Heels and I think we could have broken the curse had we played in the Dean Dome. I am looking forward to the Duke rematch. Going away to NC State, playing a lot better than I expected, and the always dangerous GTech team are two tough challenges as well. The ACC will be a dog fight but since I hate that metaphor I'll leave you to discuss what that actually means...
Tigermax adds: Not quite as satisfying as the Duke thrashing last year, but pretty darn close. This was a case of a team with a glaring weakness (UNC's turnover problem) running smack into a team perfectly tailored to take advantage of that weakness (Clemson's pressure defense). As Clemben pointed out above, Duke really had the same problem coming into their game last year.
At the same time, I would caution against viewing this as some watershed moment for Clemson basketball. They played very well against a team they match up well against. Not to underplay the victory, it's good for all sorts of reasons (NCAA tournament resume, ACC standings, ACC tournament seeding, improved FT shooting, etc.) Also, if you put stock in this sort of thing, you can certainly argue that Clemson displayed intangibles last night that haven't been present recently. But it shouldn't really change your opinion about the basic skill level of the team. We still have fundamental flaws that can be exploited by the right team. I'll be withholding any revisions in overall team skill until we play the same way against a tall team that forces turnovers and plays outstanding defense; the general profile of teams that have given us fits in the last couple of years.
Not much time but I wanted to get some quick thoughts out. This game is important to Clemson for two reasons: first, this is the first true "toss-up" game Clemson will play (in the sense that I have no idea who will win) and as I wrote in the last post playing your best basketball in toss-up games is the easiest way to pick up unexpected victories. Second, this game will mark the first test of Purnell's defensive adjustments this season; specifically, the willingness to frequently and unexpectedly throw different variations of full-court pressure at an opponent. We get to see if this is successful at slowing a high-octane offense that hung 103 points on us last season.
Of course, this isn't the same UNC team. I've watched them some and came to the obvious conclusion: the guard play just isn't the same as the last few years. When I delved into the statistics, though, I was surprised at what I found. They still play at a breakneck tempo (7th fastest in the country) and still score most of their points with the 2-point basket (5th in the country). But I was expecting to see a team struggling to make shots, but their effective field goal percentage is about as good as the 2008 and 2009 juggernauts. Instead, their biggest problem is a dramatic increase in turnovers on offense. Its not a product of bad luck either, they rank 317the in the country in having the ball stolen. This is great news for Clemson, since it plays right into our strengths: forcing turnovers and stealing the ball. They also don't force turnovers on defense, one of the worst in the league. One of their strengths on defense is not sending the other team to the line (best rate in the country), but this could also be construed as good news for the 63.5% shooting Tigers.
After looking at the stats, I'm a little more confident in Clemson's chances--but I have too strong a memory of UNC easily breaking the pressure last season that I still think this game could go relatively big either way. If Clemson can limit the amount of times the 'heels break the press and find an easy two-point basket, they could pretty easily win by ten points. If UNC unexpectedly holds onto the ball like BC managed to do last Saturday and finds some success in pushing the ball past the pressure, they could almost as easily win by ten points.
Monday, 11 January 2010
Clemson favored (6): @NC State, @BC, Maryland, Virginia, Miami, GT
Opponent favored (5): @GT, Duke, FSU, @FSU, @Wake
Toss-up (3): UNC, @VT, @Maryland
These are extremely broad categories that encompass a range of likelihoods for individual games within each category but I think these are generally pretty defensible. You might quibble with a game or two (you could move one or both GT games into the "toss-up" category, for example), but let's call it reasonable for now. Clemson can expect to win 4-6 from the first category, 1-2 from the second, and 1-2 from the final category (win one, lose one, and the last one is up for grabs). That leaves us with a realistic range of 6-10 additional wins for the season, with the most likely scenario at 9 total wins (8 + the already-notched BC win).
Two observations from this breakdown: 1) the toss-up games become "swing" games of a sort. The best way for Clemson to add "unexpected" wins to their ledger is by playing well, getting some bounces and key calls, and running the tables in these games. It's early in the season, but this is why next Wednesday's game is so critical for the Tigers. It's also worth noting that UNC is classified as a toss-up not because I think the game will be close, but because I don't have any idea how the two teams will really matchup with each other this year. I'll elaborate more later in the week in the UNC preview. 2) The bulk of the difficult matchups for Clemson come at the end of the schedule, 3 of the last 4 and 5 of the last 8 fall into the "toss-up" or "opponent-favored" categories. This has two general effects: 1) we need to rack up wins in the early going and 2) the setup of the schedule will feed the lazy "Clemson-falters-at-the-end-of-the-year" media narrative that the Tigers are apparently cursed with. It's a media narrative I tried to debunk at least for last season here, and I have a feeling I'll be trying to debunk it this year, as well.
Sunday, 10 January 2010
The first two ACC games for Clemson do a pretty good job of sketching out the basic structure of the conference this year: we were beaten soundly by a Duke team that appears to be alone at the top of the league and then our team, a leader amongst a glut of talented but flawed teams in the middle of the league, handled BC, which along with Virginia and possibly NC State bring up the rear of the league. Now, I know the GT just knocked off Duke at home, but I would put them with Clemson at the top of the middle pack; a great game at home for these teams will be enough to at least hang with Duke. (Clemson has the same shot at an upset in a couple of weeks). 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.)
Not much to say about this game, as it went more or less how I envisioned it (hey, there's a first time for everything...). The biggest surprise was probably that the Tigers only managed to "force" only 14 turnovers but still cruised. BC, one of the worst stealing teams in the nation, actually managed to ring up 9 steals to our 8. We countered this somewhat by blocking 8 shots (nice showing by Booker with 4). Most pleasant surprise of the game? Probably the play of Noel Johnson. Sure, he turned the ball over 3 times but he also was responsible for 3 steals, found himself a few rebounds, and generally looked pretty confident with his positioning on the court. Also a decent looking game for Jennings. Here's why I'm pleasantly surprised: if these guys can't give quality minutes against BC, then their seasons are pretty much finished.
Onwards to UNC on Wednesday. This is probably the most intriguing match-up of the season, because I have absolutely no idea what to expect. Clemson's made some adjustments should end up countering how Roy Williams' has been playing us the last couple of years, but I'm getting ahead of myself...that's for the next post.
Friday, 8 January 2010
Clemson hosts BC this weekend; along with the Virginia game at Littlejohn, this game represents probably the only two remaining games on the schedule where Clemson should be heavily favored. That's more a reflection of the strength of the ACC this season than any inherent weakness in the Clemson team.
Not to say BC is a complete pushover, while they sport a pretty dismal 10-5 record, they only have two really bad losses: at home against Maine and St. Joseph's. Losses to Northern Iowa, Harvard, and Rhode Island aren't as bad as they might seem; Northern Iowa is a bubble NCAA tournament team, Harvard should battle Cornell for the Ivy League title, and Rhode Island will get some NCAA consideration (although that's largely because they play in the overrated Atlantic 10). Meanwhile, BC already knocked off a talented albeit largely untested Miami squad in their ACC opener.
That being said, in general terms BC profiles as the kind of team that Clemson has played well against in recent years: decent to good offense packaged with a distinctly below average defense. If we dig into the stats a little deeper, it only gets better for the Tigers. On offense, BC doesn't shoot particularly well (a dismal 32.9% from long range) and they are at best league average in taking care of the ball. On defense, BC can't force turnovers at all, coming in at 302nd in Division I. Their steal percentage is 340th out of 347 teams. This obviously bodes well for Clemson, a team who's biggest weakness on offense is losing the ball.
Two possible problems to watch out for in the game: 1) BC defends the shot reasonably well so Clemson will have to work for good looks (hopefully without taking more than 35 seconds). 2) BC does a good job on the offensive glass. In part this can be attributed to their poor 3-pt shooting (bad 3 point shooting teams will grab long rebounds), but they also have some height which suggests some real ability.
All in all, it should more or less be a cakewalk. I expect Clemson to come out focused for their home ACC opener and put up some points early, hopefully giving the freshmen plenty of playing time tomorrow.
Tuesday, 5 January 2010
I'll break this up into discussions on defense and offense; talking mostly from a statistical perspective. But first, here's where we stand compared to years past on adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies which measure scoring efficiency per 100 possessions:
One thing to keep in mind efficiencies is that these numbers are adjusted for strength of the opponent, so in theory the above won't necessarily change even as the competition intensifies in ACC play. In practice, however, there still aren't enough data points to be really confident that significant fluctuations won't occur. There's also the effect of coaching adjustments; last year after the Maryland game Clemson's defensive efficiency started taking a nosedive, for reasons I documented previously.
Overall the defense looks tough, and has rebounded nicely from the disastrous tail-end of the '09 campaign. What's interesting is how this has happened--some of it is probably sustainable and some isn't (unlike the efficiencies above, these stats aren't necessarily adjusted for strength of opponent. I'll explain more below.) Take a look at the next two charts, one showing the "four factors" and the other showing miscellaneous components:
The four factors are revealing: Clemson's effective field goal percentage defense has rebounded to pre-'09 levels, and they are forcing turnovers at their best clip since 2005/2006. They are also keeping other teams off the offensive glass similar to the level they had 2007 and before. I've talked before about Purnell's seeming willingness to sacrifice offensive boards in the name of challenging the shot, as evidenced by the team consistently posting high block shot rates while giving up high offensive rebound percentages on defense, so this represents a bit of a shift from previous results. I'm a bit skeptical this is sustainable, however, because while Clemson has added some height, they also haven't played any particularly tall teams. Look for this stat to drop as the season goes on, but just keeping it around 200 in the nation could improve the defense slightly. On the other hand, this may be part of a conscientious adjustment by the coaching staff. For the first time in years, Clemson isn't an elite shot-blocking squad (see second chart above). If this is true, the numbers might be sustainable, but it seems to me that the end result won't really help (or hurt) the overall defensive numbers, as the two stats cancel each other out to some degree.
So despite the noticeable improvement in keeping other teams off the offensive glass, I think the real story behind the improved defense relates to the decrease in FG% against and to a lesser extent the increase in forcing turnovers. The second chart shows that the improvement in FG% defense stems primarily from a much better 3-point defense . I felt this was one of the keys going into the season, whether or not Clemson could stop the bleeding from behind the arc. We gave up too many open looks behind the arc after teams broke the press last season, to say nothing of our lax half-court three-point defense. I think this is a real improvement stemming from the different types of pressure Purnell has been throwing at teams, as well as his willingness to mix up the pressure looks throughout the game. This has made teams hesitant to push the ball up quickly, leading to fewer runouts and fewer wide-open looks. We'll see if this continues in ACC play, but for now Purnell and company deserve credit for effectively addressing what was possibly the biggest problem facing the defense coming into the season.
One other interesting stat is the FT% against. Clemson ranks 21st in the country in holding teams to 62.7% from the line. That's remarkable, but obviously sounds like dumb luck. Unless Clemson has managed to install some kind of unobtrusive but remarkably effective device to distract opposing shooters at Littlejohn, there's little likelihood of this continuing. On the other hand, last year Clemson posted the 53rd best FT rate against in the country. I'm still inclined to pass this off as a fluke, but I wonder if there is something else at work here. Are Purnell and staff coaching the players to specifically target poor free throw shooters for fouls? Seems like a pretty smart way to incrementally increase your odds of winning a game. At any rate, as the ACC season starts the free throw shooters should get better, so I don't see Clemson continuing to hold a ridiculous 63% against FT rate. But it will be interesting to see if we end up in the top 60 at the end of the season.
The offense is where we have struggled so far this season, with the team playing more like 2007 than 2008 or 2009. Terrence Oglesby!! If only we had T.O. to drain those clutch 3-pointers!!! Aaah, the lazy hack sportswriter explanation that will grace many a page printed or electronic before the season's over. Instead of taking the easy way out, let's take a look at the charts:
The problem with the Oglesby observation is that our effective FG% is actually better than recent years and the 3-point shooting is right about where its been lately (thank you Andre Young, and I believe I called that right after finding out about Oglesby). Now it is true that we are shooting the three less often, but I for one am happy to see us look to the inside game more. I think there's room to cut Young loose a little more, and I'd like to see Johnson take more opportunities to find his shot, but for the most part I'm happy to see more shots at the rim from this year's squad.
I think their are two major problems in addition to one minor issues with the offense. First, turnovers are up again from last season. This is a real problem: check out the rate of other teams stealing the ball from us. We just aren't protecting the ball, and teams are taking advantage. The second problem is our atrocious FT shooting, which has now officially sunk to 2008 levels and keeps getting worse as Trevor Booker continues his swoon at the line. The minor issue worth keeping an eye on is the small drop in offensive rebounding. At this point I'm not terribly concerned--we're still #30 in the country (and the drop could be related to our drop in overall 3-point shots), but since we have depended so much on this facet of the game in the past its worth keeping an eye on.
The last thing I want to draw attention to is that we haven't been tested by excellent defensive teams. Last year this was really our Achilles heel, we got bludgeoned by tall teams with excellent defenses in the Wake Forest and Florida State mode. (They rank #1 and #2 in overall effective height this year, by the way). We have added some height this year, but its still just slightly above the national average (which will rate out as below the ACC average):
It will be interesting to see how we handle the big ACC teams this year.
Right now, Kenpom.com has us pegged at 9 conference wins. I think that's about right, with 10 not being out of the question. I had much higher hopes coming into the season, but I qualified that by stating we needed freshmen to step up into regular, productive roles. Its still possible for this to happen, but it's asking a lot for unproductive freshmen to see playing time, much less improvement, while playing in one of the two best conferences in the country.
Monday, 4 January 2010
Duke 74, Clemson 53
(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 a disappointing, if not entirely unexpected result. The game wasn't really completely out of reach until the last three minutes, but I felt like the game was out of reach after Duke used a 6-0 run to push the lead to 61-44 with about 6:00 minutes left. That came after the final time Clemson threatened to cut the lead to single digits at 55-44 but couldn't take advantage of their chances.
Quick bullet points:
- The first half was an abject disaster on offense. I give Duke credit for playing some aggressive defense and really keeping us from getting good passing lanes in the halfcourt. But Clemson didn't help it's cause at all with poor spacing, poor ball-handling, poor decision-making around the basket, flat-shooting, bad bounces, and just about anything else they could possibly have screwed up. When you score 12 points in a half, I don't care how good the opposing defense is, you've done just about everything wrong.
- I give credit to the team for coming to life in the second half. Better execution in the halfcourt pushed up above 50 for the game. You can argue that Duke let up on defense, but I doubt they could have sustained the same pace for the entire game anyway.
- The offense found success against a tall team, which is encouraging. But even in the second half Clemson was plagued by poor-decision making and poor ball handling. Too many drives right into waiting Duke players, too many forced passes leading to turnovers.
- Only problem with the second half offensive output: the freshmen, aside from Devin Booker, were conspicuously absent despite foul trouble for Potter and Young. A pretty good indication of how Purnell feels about the play from Jennings, Johnson, and Hill, who all looked utterly lost in the first half and hurt the team with exceptionally bad shot selection and turnovers. On the other hand, Cameron Indoor is a pretty difficult place to expect a freshman to play his first conference game. Could spell trouble later in the season though if Purnell is forced to rotate through essentially seven guys: Smith, Young, Stitt, Potter, Grant, and the Bookers.
- The good news is I thought the defense did a good job throughout. They minimized the play of the Plumlee's underneath and made Duke beat them around the perimeter. Of course, with the improved play of Nolan Smith in addition to Scheyer and Singler they are perfectly capable of doing this, but I think it wasn't a bad strategy going in.
- We ended up losing by 20, but we essentially played them to a draw in the second half. I think this still gives us hope of pulling the upset in the friendlier confines of Littlejohn later in the month. Hopefully Johnson or Jennings start earning some playing time by then.
Tough way to start the ACC season. We get Boston College in the home opener this Saturday, though, so we shouldn't have to wait too long for our first ACC win.
Sunday, 3 January 2010
Still working on the midseason review, but its become more involving than I initially thought. I'll hopefully have it up after next week, but I wanted to focus on the Duke game first...
Years of underperformance, selection committee overseeding, and media adoration have etched the image of Duke as an over-rated squad in the minds of college basketball fans across the country. This is largely justified, Duke hasn't been an elite squad for several years. However, I think we may be at the point where the pendulum has swung the other way; Duke has been labeled as "overrated" for so long that this is the year they might actually be underrated. After reading some of the chatter 'round the Clemson blogosphere (although the OP notably voices some caution), I think there may be the mistaken impression that after last year's performance Clemson walks into Cameron Indoor as, if not the favorite, the unquestioned equal of the Blue Devils. I aim to show you in this post this viewpoint is diametrically opposed to reality.
How is this year's Duke team so much better than the team that was beaten down in Littlejohn last season? Two things stand out after looking over the stats and also based on what I've seen from them this year. First, they stopped turning the ball over. I think this stems from two primary developments: 1) the graduation of Greg Paulus, who was a graduate student quarterback for a crappy Big East team for a while under the tutelage of one Rob Spence and 2) the remarkable improvement of Nolan Smith. Smith has gone from a guy who turned the ball over a poor 25.3% of his personal possessions as a freshmen, a semi-respectable 20.8% of the time as a sophomore, and now as a junior he's turning over the ball a microscopic 12.6% of the time. Wouldn't that have been nice to see from Demontez Stitt?
The second thing is the increase in height at Duke. I'm not talking about Zoubek, although he's more useful as a senior, particularly on both glasses. I'm talking more about the emergence of 6'10" sophomore Miles Plumlee and the arrival of this 6'10" freshman brother, Mason. Miles has been a beast on the offensive and defensive boards this season and a potent shot-blocker. On top of this, they've been getting quality defensive bench minutes from 6'10" freshman Ryan Kelly. Put it all together and in one season Duke has gone from 62nd in the country in average effective height to 9th.
These two developments have given Duke reliable ball-handling and a strong inside presence, two features noticeably lacking from recent incarnations of the team. It also spells big trouble for the Tigers, because both of these improvements cut into what made last season's game such a success. We forced turnovers left and right last season with our press; that's not likely to be repeated now. Trevor Booker dominated Duke inside last season; again, that's not likely to happen this time around. Throw in Clemson's general struggles last season with tall teams that feature a good defense and things start looking a little bleak.
There's still hope, though. While Duke runs out a good defense, it's not elite, ours is still probably a little better, and it certainly isn't at the level of a Florida State or Wake Forest. The Duke big men have probably been more valuable on offense than defense. I hope this means we still get some points in our half-court offense. We can also hope for some regression from Nolan Smith, I can believe the jump from 25 to 20 after a year of getting used to the college game, but that's an awful big jump in the third year.
All in all though, we're looking at long odds here. If Clemson can hold the margin of victory to under 10 points, I think its a moral victory and we can build on that to try and score the upset back home at Littlejohn later in the month. Or we can hope Nolan Smith melts down again in the presence of the press. GO TIGERS!!!!
Saturday, 2 January 2010
What a boring game...UConn could barely complete a forward pass and they still blank USuCk. How did we lose to this team? If we could simply contained the zone read we would have gone undefeated this year. Really frustrating to think we lost to this inept team and a team like Maryland...
You have to think that the loss of Coach Wolford?? is going to be a bigger loss than Spurrier would like to admit. Got to think that one more season of this mediocrity 7-6, no nine or ten win seasons, will spell the end of the ol' ball coach. He is certainly over the hill in terms of adjustments and new strategies. His offensive fireworks have already retired themselves.