Sunday, 28 February 2010

FSU Chokes, Tigers Pull One Out

I think that is the first time this year(maybe the Butler game) where I was about to give up hope and then Clemson delivered. It was the first time this year where I woke up my napping wife as I let out a yell and my fist shook when Andre Young hit that three after the steal.

Ok this was one ugly game. It was painful at times but a road win against FSU is everything our tournament resume needed and we hit the magic 20 win mark. A fourth straight 20 win season and 20-8 record.

Mid Blog Pro OP Rant
For all you OP haters out there, ponder this set of simple stats. Before OP took over, by my count, Clemson had only 7 twenty win seasons(it was possible to get to 20 wins consistently starting in about 1953 with 26 total regular season games, 28 started in 1974). So only 7 times before Ollie did Clemson achieve that goal. Now we have done it 4 straight times. Twice in the 70's, 3 times in the 80's, only twice in the 90's and now four times all with Purnell. Barnes is the only coach who took us to three straight tourneys, something hopefully Oliver will duplicate with this season.

We get frustrated with OP from time to time with lack of offensive sets, poor ft shooting, and an over reliance on the press from time to time but people don't mimic Gamecock fans and start thinking that we have arrived in bball. We aren't going to fire OP and bring in some power coach. Littlejohn and the general bball facilities need an upgrade and we don't have the recruiting budget of some schools. We are under .500 lifetime as a program for crying out loud. Let us just enjoy OP and win a game in the NCAA tourney!!

Speaking of making the tourney we are now 2-5 on the road which isn't good but its a lot better than the eyesore that was 1-5. We have no other major flaws in the resume and 8-6 in the conference isn't bad. I think if we split the next two we should be in. But that is still very debatable and dependent on other teams--what is really interesting is playing for the tournament bye. To have a shot at the ACC Champs you must have the first round bye and now FSU, Wake, VT, and Clemson are all even at 8-6. Duke and Maryland have all but wrapped up the first two slots.

We own the tiebreaker over FSU so our only game against Wake is all the more important since we lost to VT. TigerMax will have a more in-depth breakdown. But the way it is looking if we beat Wake we have a bye. FSU and Wake play on Wed. March 3rd.

Quick game notes--Tanner Smith continues to struggle but hit his first big shot of the season. Stitt had an ugly game and got frustrated with about six minutes to go, started turning the ball over left and right. We played good D and got some nice steals in key situations (obviously when down by one) but where we really struggled was getting the ball into the post when they were fronting Booker. Our offense consistently gets pushed off the ball and can't get into any rhythm so we end up making bad passes and taking bad shots bc we are always forced late into the 35 second count. We need a few different sets to mix it up and keep the D on their toes. Teams that pressure the ball well like Duke give us nightmares because we don't play strong enough with the ball.

Stitt needs to work on this the most. He couldn't drive at all today against not only the height but the ball pressure of FSU. Anyway, the season was slipping away but we held on and grasped a win out of the jaws of defeat. It was poetic to see their 81% FT shooter giant Alabi miss one and then watch Booker stroke 4 straight. Stitt also had two clutch FT's. Awesome win and maybe this is the momentum we need. We can beat Wake--it's Dino and besides they are overrated...

Update: Here is a video of FSU Coach Hamilton after the game, if you watch to the very end he gives this blank stare and little laugh. Must be a tough loss to stomach, glad to be on the winning end tonight.

More on "Collapses"; FSU Preview 2

Following up on yesterday's post wherein I tried to counter some of the prevailing wisdom out there in TigerLand, I decided to look at how many times Clemson has blown a "significant" lead this year, and compare that to the number of times they have overcome a "significant" lead. I set the threshold at 10 points. That's a completely arbitrary number, it would be better to look at total points scored and have some kind of sliding scale where less than 10 points might be significant in a low-scoring game and more than 10 points would be significant in a higher-scoring game. But I haven't got that kind of time right now and 10 points is useful as a quick proxy. I might have missed a game or two (let me know if you find one), but as you'll see, it doesn't matter much:

Number of games Clemson has led by 10 or more points and lost this season: 2 (Illinois, Maryland)

Number of games Clemson has trailed by 10 or more points and won this season: 1 (Butler)

Yep, that's a whole lot of collapsin' by the Tigers right there. Like I said yesterday, I'm not sure where this notion comes from, but there's no basis for it in the numbers. Looking back over the game logs, I was actually pretty surprised at how infrequently we've played games where there were a lot of lead changes--the times we've lost this year we've typically trailed throughout and the times we've won we've led more or less from start to finish. Of course, there are occasionally runs by the opposing team to make things closer, but that happens to every team in college basketball.

Now to the preview:

Clemson vs. Florida State, 02/28, 5:30, Donald L. Tucker Center

No one needs to be told how important this game is to the Tigers. I've become more and more convinced that Clemson is going to struggle mightily against Georgia Tech on Tuesday because 1) GT is, at this point, a seriously underrated team that's played a conference schedule with the same degree of difficulty as Clemson and 2) Clemson will be coming off a 2 days rest vs. three days for GT. As laughable as this might have sounded just a few weeks ago, Clemson's easiest path to 9 wins might be to win at both FSU and Wake Forest. Translation: we have our work cut out for us.

I don't have a lot to add to the last FSU preview. The short version: our defense matches up well with their offense because they feature one of the worst turnover rates in the entire country (not just the ACC) while we run out one of the best turnover-causing defenses in the country. On the other hand, FSU's defense is better than our offense, right now ranking #1 against the inside shot and #8 in the country in effective FG% against. Their weakness, however, is defending the three, in which they are markedly below ACC-average. Teams that have beaten them this year, including us, have made lots of three-pointers. FSU also struggles to keep other teams off the offensive glass, which, given their height, is kind of baffling.

This is a game where I would absolutely expect the Tigers to run the press all evening long. Don't give FSU any breathing room, because every possession is a turnover waiting to happen. One possible complication is whether Oliver Purnell wants to try and hold back some to ensure we have any energy on Tuesday night against a GT team that also frequently turns the ball over. Unless we're down by an absolutely unwinnable margin, I wouldn't recommend it, because this is the kind of game that could turn in our favor quickly even if we are trailing by double digits at some point. Against GT you just hope that Senior Night provides enough adrenaline to fuel our insanely energy-expensive defensive pressure.

I would look for FSU to try and limit Clemson's three point looks by leaving Alabi 1-on-1 against Booker. I was really surprised that FSU continually collapsed on Booker when he got the ball in game 1 at Littlejohn considering how Alabi manhandled Booker by his lonesome last year. I think that was a real key for Clemson, they got a lot of good three-point looks I wasn't counting on going into the game with the inside-out play of Booker. As far as adjustments go, this seems like a no-brainer for FSU to at least try at the beginning of the game.

If Clemson can shoot the three ball at a roughly a 35-40% clip, get a few easy putbacks from Booker/Grant, and force the expected amount turnovers, they can win the game. If not, its going to be a slog. GO TIGERS!!

Saturday, 27 February 2010

On the Clemson "Collapse" Meme

This isn't aimed at anyone in particular, it's just something I've noticed that seems to dominate every discussion board, comment thread, or blogpost, or newspaper article about a Clemson basketball game, regardless of the situation. Every time Clemson blows a lead, every time another team makes a run, even every time Clemson manages to build a lead, people either reflexively label it a "collapse" or they start talking about the coming collapse. To me, a "collapse" implies a series of inexplicable events wherein a big lead evaporates while the team looks on wide-eyed in disbelief. Like the Illinois game earlier this year. That was undoubtedly a "collapse".

But this past Maryland game was completely different, and in the name of reasoned analysis I think it's important to distinguish between collapses and non-collapses. We lost to a better team. We did a great job coming out and taking advantage of a what, in retrospect, was a bad opening strategy for Gary Williams as he tried to slow us down with some pressure defense similar to what other teams had been doing early in the year against us. But we turned the tables by attacking the press without turning the ball over (too many times, at least) and getting good looks at the other end underneath and from long range. But once Gary Williams called off the press, we struggled in the half-court set to get good looks. Meanwhile, we struggled to get any stops on defense throughout the entire game, even when we were leading by 15 points. The only time Maryland didn't score is when they stopped themselves by throwing the ball away or missing a layup. There was no way to watch that game and not realize with five minutes left in the first half that Maryland was going to close the gap, not for reasons inexplicable but because they made a adjustment to their strategy that played to their strengths and our weaknesses. The rest of the game was like watching a rising tide against the banks of that 15-point Clemson lead. Maryland overcoming the Tigers was inevitable unless a) we made some miraculous adjustment of our own, or b) the 15 point lead could somehow hold up through a series of stupid Maryland mistakes. Since Maryland doesn't make mistakes and Purnell isn't known for in-game adjustment, you could call the game for Maryland with Clemson leading by 12 with five minutes left in the half.

Moreover, and I hate to break it to people here, but a 15-point lead in a game with 167 total points ain't that much of lead, particularly when the lead comes at the 12/13 minute mark in the first half. If the final score ends up 65-60, then maybe its something of a lead. But we were on a near NBA pace in 40 minutes of basketball. That's too many points and too much time remaining to consider 15 points any kind of definitive lead--its completely within the realm of expected score deviation for two teams given the final result.

We were beaten by a better team that matches up particularly well with us in their home arena. Just because they essentially spotted us a fifteen point lead doesn't mean we collapsed. I, for one, am unconvinced that we are prone to collapse more than any other given team. For every Illinois game there are dozens of games when Clemson has held a 12+ point lead (Virginia, Miami, and Florida State are three games just in the last two weeks) and every team across college basketball inexplicably loses games from season to season. Maybe its the lack of outstanding successes punctuated by occasional heartbreaking losses, but for whatever reason the myth of the Clemson collapse has just lodged itself in the collective psyche of the Clemson basketball fanbase. I'm just trying to say that while some blown leads are collapses, others are a result of fundamental roster or coaching problems.

Ron Morris Is Barely a Journalist


Ron Morris produces another winner article today that needs a response. How this man is able to cover Clemson sports when he clearly can't be an objective journalist is beyond me. The State just loves its Gamecocks, if your listening editors--reel in all this constant cock loving. Maybe it is time for a letter writing campaign or something.

The article's title says Clemson is squarely on the bubble. This is true but with a couple weeks to go thats not such a bad place to be. Bracketology and all leading publications on the NCAA tourney have us in with a 9 or 10 seed. We are on the bubble, it's true, but if the season ends today we are in(unlike another team from this state).

Ron goes on to provide this rational, "Let's break it down and determine how many games Clemson needs to win. Clemson is 7-6 in the ACC and 19-8 overall. Its remaining games are at Florida State, at home against Georgia Tech and at Wake Forest. In all likelihood, Clemson will finish 8-8 in the league and 20-10 overall. That will not get Clemson in the tournament, unless the Tigers win at least two games in the ACC tournament." Ron I am still waiting for the breakdown--all you got is your measly opinion so far. How do you somehow predict that Clemson needs to win TWO games in the tourney if we go 8-8. I can understand ONE but TWO?? What is your rationale??

He stupidly says, "Clemson's resume is not the greatest. Its RPI is 36, and its strength of schedule is 34. Its best wins are against Butler on a neutral court and against Maryland and Florida State at home. Its only road win in the league is at last-place N.C. State." While its true we struggle on the road an RPI of 36 is golden and a SOS of 34 helps our cause. That Butler win really stands out and we have a chance to beat either FSU or Wake to improve our road record. Plus we only have one bad loss to BC and they just crawled into the top 100, meaning we have no really bad losses. Pomeroy has us at #17. Lets not forget the fact that we play one of the toughest ACC Conference schedules. With single games against NC, NC State, and Miami.

Oh but about that ACC?? "Breaking even in the ACC will not help Clemson's cause because the league is not considered among the elite this season. Only Duke is considered a national title contender, and no other team in the league has elevated itself from good to great." First relying solely on conference strength to gauge a teams probability for the NCAA tourney is shaky reasoning and its a big assumption to think that a .500 record is going to hurt your resume.

So the Big East is the best conference. Followed usually by the Big 12, Big 10 and then the ACC. (We don't need to get into a debate about whether or not the Atlantic 10 is better than the SEC) The problem with this is that the Big 12 is top heavy and has some really bad cellar dwellars, as well as the Big Ten. The ACC has ZERO teams under .500 and the team at .500 beat Michigan State. In our Big Ten match-up we basically split (not all teams played as well) and I am confident if we played that tourney challenge again we would win going away. Of the Big Ten's 11 teams 4 have losing records. The ACC has more parity than the Big 12 and certainly the Big 10. So I think 8-8 in conference isn't as bad as Ron Morris makes it out to be.

Another contributing factor to remember is never before in the history of the selection committee since I was alive has the Pac 10 only produced one team for the tourney, maybe two. Thats a good 3-4 slots automatically up for grabs. Not to mention that the SEC is pretty pathetic too. Now the Atlantic 10 will push for slots but they won't chose a 19-8 Charlotte or 18-9 Dayton over Clemson.

Then Ron Morris finishes by contradicting himself, "Purnell might also want to knock on wood that Clemson wins on Sunday at Florida State or the following Sunday at Wake Forest. A win in either game will propel Clemson into the NCAA tournament." Wait you said before that 8-8 requires TWO wins in the tourney. Oh so if we only win the home game we need two ACC tourney wins. I understand your opinion but it's just that Ron. Its like me saying we need one win in the tourney with an 8-8 record. Look your just like a blogger in pajamas...

Ultimately if Clemson goes 8-8 and flames out of the ACC tourney it will have more to do with how the rest of the teams on the bubble finish the regular season. If a Gonzaga were to lose its tourney and still get an at-large or another Big East team like Louisville or UConn keep winning. We are on the bubble but it's not time to panic, it is certainly not time to listen to Ron Morris.

UPDATE by TigerMax:

I'm glad ClemBen did the dirty work of actually reading a Ron Morris article, much less spending the time to take it apart. Look, it's no secret Clemson needs two wins to assure itself a spot in the tournament, but an 8-8 record absolutely should put us in. I'm getting real, real tired of this crazy national perception that the ACC is weak. Check out's conference rankings, which are based on the tempo-independent offensive and defensive numbers for all teams in the conference. The ACC tops the list, pretty much neck-and-neck with the Big12. There's a fairly sizeable gap between those two conferences and the Big East and Big10. (To its "credit", the SEC is up to #5 after two straight years at #6). (Also, if you took the top 8-10 teams in the Big East I have no doubt they would form the strongest conference, but that's not how objective rankings work, you play the teams in your conference--even the crappy ones at the bottom of the league, and that is reflected in the strength of your schedule.) Now, Kenpom rankings aren't the gospel, and they are subject to being skewed due to a small thirty game sample. But give me a break.

Make no mistake about it, 6 teams from the ACC will get in. As I mentioned a week or so ago (welcome to the party, Ron Morris!), Clemson can't afford to get into a tie with another team for sixth place. For instance, if GT and Clemson both end up at 8-8, GT gets the nod because of a much stronger SOS. But an 8-8 finish by Clemson and a 7-9 finish by GT (an outside possibility) gives us a slot.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Yah yah ya, haha, yuyuyu

This is my mood right now. Its bad lip singing but in Russian. Its like Clemson's season so far...somehow

Maryland Recap 2

Maryland 88, Clemson 79

I'm going to disagree a little with ClemBen here. I think we can say with some certainty now that Maryland is a good team. Not final-four caliber, but the sweet sixteen isn't a stretch this year for Gary Williams & Co. I think as a Clemson fan the game went about as well as you could hope for. We were aggressive in the beginning, particularly on offense. Gary Williams came out pressing us, probably hoping to slow our offense down like in the first meeting. I was impressed, Clemson showed a real ability to attack Maryland's pressure, getting down the court and finding open shots. With Maryland unable to get set in their defense, they were even worse than normal defending the offensive glass, leading to quite a few easy points. When Gary Williams dialed down the pressure and started setting his team back in the halfcourt, we stopped getting the open three-point looks. With Jerai Grant only playing 9 minutes, Trevor Booker looked really tired in the second half and wasn't able to fight for position on the blocks. Those two factors really combined to stunt the offense in the second half, and it slowly slipped away from Clemson. I really think Jerai Grant's fifth foul with about 11:00 minutes left was the death knell. Without an extra body to fight for the offensive rebounds and spell T. Booker, we were in deep trouble even if we were still clinging to a lead at the time.

On the other side of the ball, Maryland's offense really just overwhelmed us. If they hadn't missed so many point-blank shots in the first half they might have hung a hundred on us. Thinking back to the second half, it's hard to remember us getting any stops at all. I can remember Maryland throwing the ball away a couple of times, but we could not stop the sets Gary Williams was throwing at us. They had a great designed play where Vasquez gave the ball up at the three point line to Tucker who was running a curling around to shed his defender, and knowing that Smith would turn his back and follow Vasquez under the hoop, Tucker ran right behind Smith using him as shield to get three feet from the hoop. That's what you get from watching the tapes.

My only critique of Clemson's play is to wonder why we didn't abandon the press earlier in the first half--Maryland was really shredding the pressure from the opening tip. I can appreciate Purnell's desire to be aggressive and create some opportunities in a game we didn't have much of a chance to win, but I would have preferred to see Clemson concentrate on the half court after we built that big lead. That would have at least forced Maryland to fight for some of its points instead of allowing them to pretty effortlessly whittle down the lead in the waning minutes of the first half.

Now the pressure shifts back on us to win two of the last three. I wouldn't take this game as an indication of how we will perform the rest of the way; as I discussed in the preview Maryland really poses some matchup difficulties for us. They defend the shot well and don't turn the ball over, two traits that have bothered us a lot this season. We still have the ability to get into the NCAA tournament. Let's see if the team can bounce back in Tallahassee.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

A Tale of Two Halves: Rants and Raves

Well we started the game hot and shot lights out from three point land in the first half. Noel Johnson, Andre Young in particular. Grant got some bogus foul calls but Booker played really awful in the second half--why did he take 3, 3-pointers in the second half? I think our real problem in this game is the same problem we have had all year, mind numbing turnovers. How many times do I see Stitt dribble the ball off his own foot or try to split the D and lose his dribble. It is simple fundamentals. Smith had another awful game and we went away from the inside play too quickly in the second half. It is a shame to see what Clemson can be this year, their potential finally coming through, with the first half and then see what they really are in the second half.

Now playing at Maryland isn't easy but it is not like Maryland is this amazing team. The way the announcers on the Clemson network were calling it, Maryland was like a final four contender or something. We got burned on a ton of Maryland offensive sets, they caught us backdoor like eight times and let Vasquez become the assist man. Gary had a good game plan offensively. The press got shredded and in the span of four Maryland possessions we went from being tied to down by ten. I liked OP's use of the timeouts but once again we folded and didn't have the mental toughness. Disappointing loss and we now need to win 2/3 to feel good about an automatic NCAA bid.

The Ole Miss Rebel Alliance: May The Force Be With You

I love it when a student body can actually change something at a university. The Ole Miss student body voted to change from the Colonel Reb mascot by a 75% margin. What that stat doesn't say is that only 3,000 something students voted in a student body of over 10,000. I think its awesome when students can band together to usurp the apathetic, non-voting masses.

So Admiral Ackbar has taken the lead and I really love what students are doing to campaign. They have a website and Twitter feed, a bunch of facebook friends (14,000??) and printable flyers all over campus. Some sweet signs too. The twitter feed even read that the Admiral said "I am eagerly waiting on the forest moon of Endor for the results." That's good storytelling.

It even got on ESPN with 'Around the Horn'. Now I hope Lucas isn't a jerk and puts some copyright hold on this--it would be a shame. Makes me want to go to Ole Miss if the Admiral won--at least get a t-shirt....The force is strong in this university...

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

A Short Rant About Virginia Tech's Soft, Soft, Soft Schedule

I was browsing through Kenpom stats today when I noticed that the Hokies have a pitiful strength of schedule, ranking 91 for dead last in the ACC. Only Miami offers any competition, clocking in at 82. Virginia is next at 52 with the rest of the ACC teams cracking the top 40. NC State is at 39, Clemson is at 38.

I figured the disparity resulted from a weak non-conference schedule. Sure enough, VT ranks 327 in non-conference strength of schedule (out of 347 total teams). Truth be told, though, Clemson only ranks 249 this season and other ACC teams haven't exactly fielded a killer non-conference slate.

Then I looked at VT's in-conference schedule. Here's the list of teams they have played or will play twice this season:
NC State
North Carolina
Boston College

You know what else that's a list of? Yeah, its the five worst teams according to the current standings of ACC teams, listed with the worst team first. These teams have combined for an astonishingly bad 18-42 record in conference play. VT has gone 6-2 in games against those teams so far. All hail the mighty Hokies and their sparkling 8-4 record!

Just for comparison, here's the list of teams Clemson is playing twice this season:
Florida State
Georgia Tech
Boston College

All you would have to do is replace BC with Wake Forest and you'd have the exact inverse of VT's schedule.

Look, I understand that VT doesn't set the schedule and even if they did, there's no way anyone would have predicted the way the ACC would play out this season. But what I don't get is all the love VT is getting from everyone this year. They're still a fringe NCAA tournament-caliber team. I want another crack at them in the ACC tournament.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Maryland Preview

Clemson vs. Maryland, 02/24, 9:00pm, Comcast Center

A couple of days ago I outlined Clemson's needs approaching the final four games of the season. They probably need two wins to be absolutely sure of an NCAA tournament bid that will likely land them, assuming a single win in the ACC tournament, a 7 seed in the tournament. As an aside, most "bracketologists" I've seen are putting six ACC teams in the tournament, but only Duke is ranked higher than 6. It's absurd.

Perhaps no team is getting burned as badly by bracket gurus than Maryland. On paper, I see this as a 3/4 team right now. Not much room to improve nor much of a threat to reach the elite eight, but still a lot better than the present perception. On the other hand, Clemson fans can be forgiven for doubting my assessment given Maryland's absolutely pathetic performance at Littlejohn a scant 3 1/2 weeks ago. Normally I would try to point out the kind of adjustments I would expect the two teams to make based on their first meeting, but since both teams played well beneath their abilities I have a feeling both coaches will more or less throw the tape in the garbage and draw a plan for this game based on an updated version of the first game.

In other words, I feel the same way I did before the last game--Maryland is a good team that poses matchup problems for us. In addition, it's going to be difficult to go into one of the more hostile environments in the league in front of re-energized fanbase and pull off the upset. Maryland is a team with a balanced offensive approach. They particularly excel at shooting the three and not turning the ball over. There only weakness is an inability to get to the line, but when they do get there they shoot at a 71% clip. Their defense, while not among the ACC elites, is still ranked 25th in the country by Most of their strength on defense is derived from holding opponents to a 40% 2-point FG%. Clemson can score points against Maryland by doing two things: 1) knock down some three pointers (Maryland is about league-average in defending the three) and 2) crashing the offensive boards. I talked about this before the last game, but Gary Williams has never been too concerned with giving up the occasional offensive rebound. Jerai Grant, we'll need you tonight.

The good news is that because we are clearly the underdog tonight, there's not a whole lot on the line for Clemson. We have to get a road win at some point, but we'll have better chances later on at both FSU and Wake Forest. I expect Purnell to instruct his players to be a little more aggressive in the early going, overplay on defense by trying to jump passes in the half-court while trying to get Tanner Smith to knock Vasquez off his game again. On offense, we might see a barrage of early three pointers if we're getting even semi-open looks. If we create a few breaks, it could keep us in the game going into the final five minutes. If we don't we'll be down 15 points in a game we were supposed to lose and the freshmen will get some valuable playing time. Either way, GO TIGERS!!!!!

A Little More on Virgina; Assorted Thoughts

I don't have anything to add to ClemBen's succinct take below, but I just wanted to show the game chart from Saturday afternoon:
(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.)

That's beautiful domination right there--the game was unofficially over at 9:38 to go in the game when Clemson jumped up 60-30. When I'm watching a game with two non-Clemson teams, I often find myself rooting for the team that falls behind just 'cause I want to see a close game. But when it comes to Clemson, I want every game to be like last Saturday's game. (Just to be clear, the converse is true for any game involving USuCk. I quite enjoy rooting for the other team to pile on the points...)

A few bullet points touching on Virginia and beyond:

  • I want to take a second and recognize a trying week of basketball for Virginia. They really got burned by the weather: the cancellation of the Maryland game leaving them in the undesirable position of playing 4 games over a span of 8 days. Not that I think that playing one less game would have made enough of a difference on Saturday, but Virginia was hanging by the end of the first ten minutes. Tough to blame them for a lack of endurance, no team should have to prepare for that kind of brutal schedule. At any rate, on normal rest I suspect Virginia would have come a lot closer to the 60+ points I thought they would in the preview.
  • Lots of people have commented on the improved play underneath. I would agree to an extent--we haven't seen the bad finishes on easy shots in the three game win streak that we saw when during the three game losing streak. I'm not sold on any increased ability to create points underneath, however. Virginia and Miami are average-to-middling at defending the 2-point shot, so we should be expecting Trevor Booker to put up some big numbers.
  • On that note, mea culpa Jerai Grant, again. I should make disparaging remarks about him before every game, because he always makes me look stupid when I write something snide about him in the preview. It was really a pretty impressive performance--Grant wasn't just cleaning up the garbage on the offensive board (as I noted, Virginia is good at keeping teams off the offensive glass and true to form, we only picked up 5 offensive rebounds in the game. Helps that we shot 58% from the floor, of course), he was finding open spaces underneath and finishing at the rim. If he keeps things up, I may have to re-evaluate my opinion of him as an athletic role player that contributes a little on defense, a little on offense. He's not going to be a guy to build an offense or defense around, but he's turning into a valuable supporting player that complements well better players on the floor.
  • Again, back to point #2. I know its exciting to watch Clemson actually make some shots inside, but let's keep in mind that Virginia and Miami aren't great teams at defending the shot. Its worth noting that while Grant had a good game (in which he did manage a lot of garbage buckets), FSU managed to shut down Booker pretty effectively. I still feel the FSU game was won on the strength of our outside shooting. While FSU defends the inside shot well, they have struggled quite a bit against the outside shot. I'm not going to get excited about an offensive resurgence until we look better against a team that typically holds their opponents to a low effective field goal percentage, the kind of team that we seem to have struggled against the most this season (think Duke, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech). Maryland on the road should be a good test, while they do show something of a split by defending quite a bit better against the 2-point shot relative to the 3-point shot, it's not as dramatic as the difference in Florida State's defense.
  • Let me hand out some credit to the offense in addition to throwing out some caution, though. Others have pointed out Clemson's better long-range shooting, but I would also point out that we've incrementally cut down on our stupid turnovers, gotten to the line a little more often, and shot better from the free throw line. Going from 64% to almost 68% since the beginning of February might not sound like much, but for this late in the season its an accomplishment.
  • I think 8-8 should get any ACC team into the tournament this year, but for whatever reason the national perception of the ACC is at odds with reality. I think that means a maximum of six teams from the ACC, and I'm worried if there are multiple 8-8 teams at the end of the year, the #7 team gets the shaft. For that reason, Clemson needs to aim for a 9-7 finish just to be safe, which means stealing one on the road in addition to beating a tough (and at this point, significantly underrated) GT team at home on two days' rest. While things look better than they did a couple of weeks ago, nothing is assured at this point.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Moving Right Along: Post game Virginia

This was a great win for us. We easily handled a much improved Virginia Cavaliers team and beat them by a large margin--no playing down to our competition. I like Bennett as a coach and think Virginia will be a formidable foe in the near future, they were just gassed for this game and didn't expect TBooker and JGrant to have 14 and 18 points respectively. We dominated inside and got some great minutes from Milton Jennings (thank you!!). Purnell is starting to use the freshman more and more which really bodes well for next season, Noel Johnson continues to struggle however which is disappointing. I was also really disappointed with some bonehead turnovers in this game, many of which involved Tanner and some from Stitt. Its those unforced turnovers that kill us against better teams.

If our inside guys can keep playing at a high level, Booker had some sweet pure post moves today, and we knock down 35% from three point range--we can hang with anyone in the country. I think that the week long break was really helpful--we had fresher legs and we need it for these upcoming road games. Looking back at our predictions early on--9-7 is still within our grasp as well as making it to the tourney and winning at least one game. That would be an improvement from last year. What we really need is to peak at the right time--that means the time to finally gel as a team has come. Milt is showing life, the inside game is solid, we play pretty good D, the FT shooting has improved--all key things to continue on the road. What we need to see a little more improvement on to push us into that upper echelon is decreased turnovers, better 3pt shooting, and toughness on the road.

Right now I think we can go 9-7, win one game in the ACC and NCAA tournaments. Lets make it happen Tigers!!

Friday, 19 February 2010

Virginia Preview

Virginia vs. Clemson, 02/20, 4:00pm, Littlejohn

Virginia has come crashing back to earth after a flukish 5-2 start that saw them beating up on the likes of N.C State, UNC, and Miami. All in all, take away a home win over Georgia Tech and I suppose the home victory over UAB and Virginia has beaten bad teams while managing to lose to some bad teams in the process (Penn State, Auburn, Stanford). They have now lost four straight, the last a 69-50 stomping at the hands of Florida St. at home. On top of all this, it will be Virginia's fourth game in the last eight days. Virginia will likely come into Clemson demoralized and tired, which should make for a relatively easy seventh conference win for the Tigers.

That being said, our defensive strength should be largely ineffective against the Cavalier offense tomorrow afternoon. This year our defense has been powered almost exclusively by an ability to force turnovers, and the Cavs have been the tenth least likely team to turn the ball over in the country. On the other hand, the Cavs have not shot the ball well this season, particularly from inside the arc and they also do a poor job of getting on the offensive boards or getting to the FT line. They do shoot the ball well from the FT line; as such, Clemson would be well-advised to staunch their recent trend of sending teams to the line frequently over the course of a game.

The good news is Clemson's halfcourt defense should be able to at least keep the Cavalier offense in check without the typical batch of turnovers caused by pressure defense. Clemson has defended the three extremely well this season, which should blunt the best weapon Virginia has and look for them to play a little less aggressively inside to force Virginia to make their field goals instead of risking the foul.

Ultimately, though, Clemson will have to win this game with their offense. I think this will not be much of a problem. Virginia's strengths on defense come from limiting second-chance opportunities and keeping teams off the foul line; they struggle considerably in defending the shot, particularly the three. Clemson should more or less have its way inside and outside, although we shouldn't count on Jerai Grant adding ten points on clean-up duty.

As an interesting side note, Virginia has been the beneficiary of the best FT% against rate in the country. Teams are averaging less than 60% from the line when they play Virginia, suggesting that their defensive numbers are actually even worse than they appear and they still have more room for regression.

A well-played game by Clemson should result in a easy victory. I don't expect us to hold Virginia below 60 points, but look for us to push 75. GO TIGERS!!!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Miami Recap

Clemson 74, Miami 66

I thought the intensity was there, which was probably my biggest concern given the weather conditions dampening attendance, the win over FSU, the two-and-a-half day turnaround, desperation from Miami, and did I mention there was snow on the ground? I guess we have to give credit to the coaching staff, 'cause we need something to blame when the team comes out and inexplicably plays flat. To the chart:

The game was close throughout, even though I felt strangely confident that Clemson was going to win. Despite some (jarring) lapses, they just seemed to have the advantage on both sides of the court, particularly having a better defense. I don't need to tell you that the best team doesn't always win a college basketball game, but for some reason I wasn't worried even when Miami fought back to tie the game at 40/43 or when they trimmed the lead to 67-63 with 47 seconds remaining.

I don't usually show the following kind of chart, because it's usually not that informative when viewed in the context of a single game, but it really tells the story of yesterday's game:
(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.)

This plots the "four factors", which have been established as the statistics that contribute most strongly to determining victory. Clemson has the slight edge in offensive rebounding and turnovers, while Miami has a small edge in FG% (remember, this is effective FG%, which gives extra weight to making a three point shot relative to a two point shot. It also perfectly demonstrates why focusing on simple FG% is misleading, because while Miami has a more decisive 52%-45% advantage for simple FG%, the advantage shrinks to 59%-57% when you account for Clemson's extra two three-point shots on three extra attempts) (as a side note, it turns out both teams shot the ball pretty well yesterday). The real story is in the final column, where Clemson absolutely killed Miami in FT rate. Even though FT rate is the least important of the four factors, when you see one bar favoring a team by that much, its a good bet they've put themselves in a position to win. I went back and checked the same chart from the Virginia Tech game and it's actually really similar. The advantages for the first three bars are narrow and divided between the teams, but VT has an astounding advantage in FT rate.

So I guess in a way Clemson got one back from the refs. The game would have been a lot closer without the 31-17 advantage in FT attempts, not to mention Clemson unexpectedly sinking 25 of their attempts. At the same time, this is latest in a series of decent to above-average performances from the line for Clemson. A lot of this is driven by T. Booker finding his shot, picking up some of the slack he let was responsible for by missing so many shots from the stripe at the beginning of the season. In addition, I like seeing this result because it makes sense: Clemson had an advantage underneath, so they attacked inside and ended up picking up a lot of fouls and subsequent points from the line.

This won't happen in every game because the inside advantage won't be there. But it's good to see Clemson conscientiously playing to the weaknesses of their opponents. One more win next Saturday against Virginia and Clemson will be back playing in a position of strength at least for one game, trying to steal an upset on the road at Maryland.

**One quick note: it was good to see Tanner Smith playing after what looked like a potentially serious injury in the first half. We don't hide our contempt for Tanner Smith much on this blog, but at the same time we probably don't give him enough credit for his improvement in defense. I think at this point the gap in performance on defense between him and a freshmen like Johnson or Hill is large enough to more than negate any difference in offensive performance. Moreover, Smith at the very least provides some decent-quality depth, something the team is not exactly brimming with right now. None of this may be true by next season, but for now Clemson couldn't really afford an injury to Tanner Smith.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Miami Preview

Miami vs. Clemson, 2/13, 12:00pm, Littlejohn

Stop me if you've heard this before, but Miami is struggling to live up to expectations. They got off to a good start with victories over Minnesota and Wake Forest en route to a 15-1 record, but ACC play has exposed their mostly soft early schedule. Outside of the those two teams, the next highest rated team they played according to Kenpom was USuCk, with the #189-ranked Florida Atlantic as the next strongest team.

I think Miami expected more from their offense this season, which has ended up really in the middle of the ACC pack. They still shoot the ball reasonably well, equally dangerous from inside and outside. They have three legitimate three-point threats in James Dews, Adrian Thomas, and Malcolm Grant. They are also good on the offensive glass; good shooting + good offensive rebounding is normally a pretty potent combination for an offense. However, they have struggled mightily in two areas offense this season: FT shooting and turnovers. The gameplan on defense practically writes itself for the Tigers, pressure defense early and often and put Dwayne Collins (Miami's primary inside force this season) on the line whenever he gets the ball inside for a shot. Collins has shot by far the most FTs for Miami but sports a miserable 53.1% mark.

On top of their offensive struggles, Miami's defense has arguably taken a step down from last season. While they have been decent at limiting opposing team's FG percentage, they haven't been able to come up with much in the way of turnovers and have also sent opposing teams to the line at a pretty high rate relative to other ACC teams. They have been better at stopping the three than the two, which I expect will lead to a greater emphasis on the inside game for the Booker brothers on Saturday. Miami does have an inside presence and manages to block quite a few shots, but at the same time they struggle at bit controlling the offensive glass. This will hopefully lead to some easy putbacks for the Tigers, even if they are (as usual) having trouble shooting from point-blank range. And hey, we might see yet another "breakout game" from Jerai Grant.

All in all, this is a pretty good matchup for Clemson and we should really expect a margin of victory of around 7-12 points. But I have a bad feeling about this game. Its a short turnaround for a noon game on a Saturday. I don't expect to see a lot of energy from Clemson tomorrow in Littlejohn, with or without a decent student turnout. Purnell played his regulars hard on Wednesday night, likely a tacit admission of how much was at stake against FSU and how we should be able to win against Miami even if we're a little winded. Let's hope Trevor Booker is back to 100%, Demontez Stitt starts to approach 100%, and the coaching staff is willing to stick with Devin Booker, who should have about the freshest legs on the court. 'Cause I suspect we're going to have to press Miami all game long to keep them from mounting a comeback. GO TIGERS!!

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Cheese Me Please

So its official, Charlie Harbison is staying for next year after being courted by the Florida Gators. Pretty big news actually since Harbison was our best recruiter last year and is part of the big 2011 recruiting class we got brewing. Not a bad DB coach either. See what he can do with the young talent coming in...Good news.

FSU Recap

Clemson 77, FSU 67

Renewed hope! Not because I think last night was a "turning point" or some other sports journalism buzzword, but because we gave ourselves a nice postseason boost literally providing relief and hope for the fanbase.

I'll wouldn't call the Tigers performance dominant last night, even if they clearly gave the appearance of being the better team. I think they were still pretty much the same Tigers team we've seen--struggling with turnovers and relying heavily on their opponent to be sloppy with the ball. The primary difference tonight? The three pointers were falling, and they were falling early (decent FT shooting didn't hurt, either). That coupled with the 3-point assisted run at the end of the first half put the Seminoles in a difficult position; FSU is not a team well-designed for mounting a double digit comeback. Their lack of outside shooting and their relatively slow tempo had them pressing in their play from the outset of the second half. To the chart:
(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.)

Clemson was comfortably ahead through most of the second half, handily fighting off a couple of mini-runs the 'Noles made.

The overall gameplan was relatively simple from Clemson's perspective, they looked for the three early and often to try and counter the FSU's tough inside defense. I don't think it's a coincidence that many of the first threes were fired up by Potter, Booker, and Jennings; all tall guys that could see over FSU's perimeter height. When they started falling, that opened up the inside a little bit, and I'll take this opportunity to thank Devin Booker for putting up 14 points in 17 (!) minutes (c'mon coaching staff--give this guy some more minutes...) The offense even showed good discipline when dealing with the FSU zone, I think it made it even easier for Clemson to execute their gameplan with Young and Stitt patiently searching for seams to penetrate halfway before kicking out for decent three-point looks when the defense collapsed on them. I'm not sure why Leonard Hamilton stuck with the zone for so long in the second half when it was pretty clear it was working in the Tigers advantage. On defense Clemson kept the press on most of the game, aware of FSU's proclivity for turnovers. I think this was a shrewd coaching move, it made it even more difficult for FSU to mount a comeback when they kept giving up the occasional possession.

As I mentioned in the preview, this game was important because it gives us our first real indication of how well Clemson will play against tall teams with exceptionally good defenses, the general profile of teams that gave us fits last year. I think Clemson showed it could handle a lot of the fundamental problems that bothered them last year, including finding clean passing lanes and shooting over the perimeter defense. Additionally, this was the first time Clemson performed well against a team that excels at limiting the opposing teams FG%. All in all, a very good sign as we move into the last six games of the season.

As a cautionary note, though, Clemson can't rely on David Potter to go 4-5 from three point land and also I thought the FSU didn't play with a lot of intensity, particularly in the second half. It still won't be easy to knock off FSU on the road or to beat another similar team, Wake Forest, on the road. But at least for now Clemson is back on track for an 8-8 ACC record, trending towards a 9-7 finish.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

FSU Preview

Florida St. vs. Clemson, 02/10, 7:00pm, Littlejohn

I've been battling computer problems at my home, so I don't have much time. I just wanted to point out that in all likelihood a birth in the NCAA tournament is riding on tonight's game. A loss and we have to go at least 4-2 the rest of the way, 5-1 if we want to remove any doubts come selection Sunday.

Moreover, tonight's game will tell us a lot about how the rest of the season should swing. When looking at general team profiles, FSU, GT, and Wake Forest all share a lot of similarities and we play these teams four times in the last seven games. Lose tonight and I wouldn't be surprised to end up 1-3 in those four games, instead of the 3-1 mark we probably need to post.

Like GT and Wake Forest, FSU is an extremely tall team that plays fantastic defense that focuses on lowering an opponent's field goal percentage. Last season, Clemson had trouble getting passes into the post due to FSU's average effective height blocking passing lanes on the perimeter. On the rare occasion when we did get the ball inside, Trevor Booker was manhandled by Solomon Alabi and crew. This season is no different, FSU is outstanding against the 2pt shot. To beat FSU, you have to stick some three-pointers, which is the only semi-weakness in their defense. Only problem is, they do a good job of limiting the number of open looks so teams don't put up a lot of shots. We better hope Potter has some semblance of a stroke, because he's the guy that could possibly see over the FSU defense.

The good news is that FSU still isn't producing much on offense. They struggle in turning the ball over, which plays right into our strength. Of course, this was also true last year and we managed to lose twice with the game in Tallahassee not even being particulalry close. Season's effectively on the line boys, let's see what we Clemson can do with their backs against the wall. GO TIGERS!!!

Monday, 8 February 2010

Virginia Tech Recap Part 2: Quick Thoughts on the Game

Virginia Tech 70, Clemson 59

I was actually pretty happy with the gameplan that Oliver Purnell assembled for Saturday. Clemson came out and used the press sparingly, a wise move since the Hokies protect the ball well and have historically shredded our press for easy points. Instead, we focused on playing aggressive half-court defense, trying to force the Hokies to beat us with their awful field goal percentage. On offense, we still looked pretty terrible but at least we looked for the three point shot early to try and soften up the inside for Booker. The main problem was that Oliver Purnell rightfully assumed the officiating would be the same that it's been all season, and Clemson would be able to throw some weight around inside the arc. Instead, we got the tightest-called game in recent memory and Clemson was essentially out of fouls to give on the inside by the ten minute mark. Coincidentally enough, that's about the point that VT started seizing control of the game as Clemson was forced to play tentatively underneath. Take a look at the chart:(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.)

Clemson's back was finally broken by the possession where we had three good looks at the basket to trim the lead to four but ended up instead fouling Delaney (surprise, surprise) after VT managed to tip the ball out to midcourt. Delaney promptly sank two more free throws, effectively a four point swing that stretched the VT lead to 8 with 3:39 to go. This set up the three point shot on the next possession that lifted VT's win probability over 30%. Clemson didn't look the same again and VT never looked back. If Potter goes up and dunks one of those shots instead of flailing away from the basket and missing a three foot fadeaway maybe I'm talking about a much different result.

Anyways, I'm finding it hard to fault the coaching staff here, unless the refs decided to call a tighter game because of all the talk about "physical play", which I commented on in part one of the recap below. They came out with a good gameplan which kept them in the game up until the point the referees, really an unforeseeable factor, whistled away any chance of victory.

I'm not ready to declare Clemson's NCAA candidacy dead. They still have time to turn it around but two things are clear now: 1) we have to win all four remaining home games (literally a tall task with FSU and GT yet to come to Littlejohn) and 2) there's probably no road game left on the schedule that will be easier than the trip we just made to Blacksburg. Given our relatively weak tournament resume, we really need to steal one of the final three road games to ensure a winning record in the ACC and an invite. I've been lobbying hard all season that the back half of our schedule is just as hard, if not harder than the front half because we struggled so badly last year against teams that share a general profile like FSU, GT, and Wake Forest. Our first game against GT this season was encouraging enough to give me some hope. But if we get shoved around by FSU and lose by five, its time to start the NIT countdown.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Virginia Tech Recap Part 1: Purnell and Physical Play

I'll do a more standard look at the game hopefully tomorrow, but first I want to talk about something that's been bothering me since about halftime.

I know I'm late to the party when talking about this article that appeared in the State--it's about a week old now. When I first read it I was bothered but couldn't quite put my finger on why. While I was watching the VT game, however, it all kind of crystallized.

First of all, let's be clear that the article's lede oversells Purnell's comments. If you read what Purnell says, he very cautiously tiptoes around the lack of tightly-called games this season in ACC play. But from the given quotes I'm still compelled to agree with Travis Sawchik's interpretation of Purnell's frame of mind: Clemson would do better if the games were called more tightly.

This is absolute hogwash. Clemson benefits very, very strongly from physical play for two reasons: first, their defense under Purnell has relied on being able to aggressively defend the ball-handler in the press in order to force turnovers. I talked about it a few days ago but this team, even more than previous years under Purnell, forces turnovers to get stops. They are decent at defending the shot in the halfcourt, but where they shine relative to other teams in the NCAA is their ability to pressure the ball, force mistakes, and end possessions. Second, on offense Clemson does an extremely poor job for an ACC team at getting to the line (only FSU and Boston College perform about as badly), and its been that way for about five years now. This probably has something to do with the fact we have historically shot so poorly from the free throw line, but irregardless a tighter-called game stands to substantially benefit the opposing team by sending them to the line a disproportionately larger amount of times than Clemson.

As I watched Virginia Tech step to the line 46 times, I realized why Purnell's comments were so off-putting in the first place. Let's be clear, it was absolutely pathetic and ridiculous to see VT get such a lopsided number of calls. If I was some kind of an irresponsible blogger, I might suggest that the refs were providing some payback for Purnell's comments last week. But the real problem is this: Clemson players suck at drawing fouls. Think back to yesterday afternoon, on almost every play when the Virginia Tech player got a call, he was leaning towards the basket or at least twisting his body towards the hoop. Contrast that with Trevor Booker or (shudder) David Potter, who were constantly falling away from the hoop even when they managed to get in close. Clemson doesn't pick up fouls because that's either not how the coaching staff wants them to play (doubtful) or they just haven't been properly coached.

So its extremely disturbing to hear Purnell say something like the sport would benefit from less physical play. Depending on your personal feelings about the game of basketball, this might be true. But its impossible to argue that this would put the Tigers in a better position to win a basketball game. And as the head coach of the Tigers, it therefore doesn't make any sense for Purnell to say it. This leaves me with two explanations: 1) Purnell said something off the cuff that a sportswriter picked up and ran with, forcing it into the pre-existing narrative he had planned for his next story or 2) Purnell honestly thinks the Tigers have a better chance of winning when the game is tightly-called. If this is true, Oliver Purnell has completely lost touch with the composition of his team and fails to understand the impact his statements could have on the game strategy he implements.

I want to believe #1, but this is a coach who tightly controls his relation to the media, even to the point of embracing newmedia like Twitter to help control the narrative on his team (think back to Booker's injury first showing up on Twitter) without subjecting it any media filters. I'm still inclined to believe #1, but the fact that I'm even contemplating #2 seriously scares me. I'd love to hear any competing explanations...

Saturday, 6 February 2010

VT at the Half: The Delaney Flop Show

What a mixed bag at the half. First, Malcolm Delaney is like Reggie Miller. No FG's in the first half but 14-16 from the FT line. They are giving him every single little tick or tack foul. Which would be fine but Stitt gets hacked going to the basket and nothing, or breaking the double team and nothing. We played well defensively in the first ten minutes, really well in fact, and I liked what a few of our bench players did when they came in. We got a little tired but were blocking a ton of shots in the beginning--that's a motivated Booker. Jennings is having his best game to date. Young needs to knock down a three. Tanner made one and then clanked a couple, and Potter made his first and then took some poor shots.

When we commit to passing the ball to Booker, good things happen(except when he goes to the line). I think it helps us when they double team him. We are on the road and should be winning so it is disappointing to be down by 2 but every time Delaney goes to the line its 2 free ones. Take notes tigers, Jennings, Stitt--you can't miss the front end of the one and one. Stitt looks ok but not 100% on defense I would like to see him not re-injure himself and set himself back but this is a critical game to win, on the road for Selection Sunday. We should let more students in too!! So much better crowd that way...


Well, well, well, look what we have here...Coots of a feather flock together. We are less than a week removed from signing day and the rotten apples start to smell funky. When even Florida stops recruiting a player because of character questions then you know something is up. You also know that such a recruit will always find a home on the USC roster(due to potential copyright infringement, I must state that this is the fake USC not the real one but with Lane at the reins the same argument does apply). This time it is one of the prize recruits for the coots 4* Victor Hampton.

USuCk fans, its just too easy. 4 schools in 4 years? Sure you could make a lame McDaniel reference(whom I could totally defend) but the simple fact of the matter is that other than that incident all other Clemson players have been dismissed who caused trouble--even when it meant seriously hurting the team. I'm thinking Duane Coleman and the linebacker who was suspended as the last cases of even that. South Carolina has a tried and true record of not only tolerating these actions but going out and actively courting them.

If you have no problem with this mentality that's fine, but don't get upset when I say you Coots have no class, moral compass, or semblance of certainly don't deserve to represent the great state of South Carolina.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Virginia Tech Preview

Clemson vs. Virginia Tech, 02/06, 4:00pm, Cassell Coliseum

Sorry for the lack of comment on National Signing Day, definitely not my area of expertise, however. I know ClemBen had an opinion or two, but it looks like he's fallen off the grid again. My relatively uninformed perspective is that we did a good job overcoming a shaky start to the recruiting season, at least in part validating one of the primary reasons Swinney was hired.

Anyways, back to the basketball season. This time last season, VT was just kicking off a disastrous second half ACC schedule, which saw the team revert to 2006 form after two straight years of being fringe NCAA tourney contenders. The main culprit for their collapse last year was the absence of defense, specifically the complete inability to force any turnovers. This year, however, the Hokies appear to have transformed the defense, reaching back to the lofty heights achieved in 2007/2008. And yes, they are once again fringe-NCAA contenders. I actually like this this year's VT defense better than the 2007-2008 versions, its more balanced. They don't do anything particularly well, but they don't have any exploitable weaknesses, either. They do tend to send teams to the line a little too often, but if anything this should help them against Clemson.

The good news about this balance is that VT doesn't excel at limiting the opposing team's FG%, which seems to be something we have really struggled with this year. They aren't bad at defending the shot (and notably, they are about as good outside as inside), but this isn't like playing Duke. Unfortunately, they are also reasonably good at inducing turnovers, which is bad news for Clemson. I would caution that while VT is getting turnovers, they aren't getting too many steals. This could indicate that they've been getting a little lucky and will see some regression as the season goes along. Frankly, given VT's track record of not forcing many turnovers, I would weight this possiblity rather heavily. Also bad news for Clemson: VT can keep opposing teams off the offensive glass. Look for Jerai Grant to vanish again after two consecutive "breakout" games.

So why isn't VT a shoe-in for the NCAA tournament? Well, that's the good news for the Tigers--on offense, VT is a markedly below average ACC team. They have Malcolm Delaney and, well...that's about it. They simply cannot shoot the ball and have a worse three-point percentage than Clemson. The bad news for Clemson, though, is VT doesn't like to turn the ball over and also pounds the offensive glass, two factors that will work strongly against our defense.

Before I really sat down to think about this game, I like Clemson's chances quite a bit. I was anticipating a Maryland-like game where both defenses try their hardest to keep the other offense from finding a rhythmn and we end up with a close, low-scoring affair. But now I am much less confident of Clemson's chances. We just don't match up well with the Hokies, particularly their strength in offensive rebounding. Additionally, we won't have any stupid turnovers from VT to help bail us out of the times we lose possession after throwing the ball away. In order to win, I think Clemson will need to slacken the press and concentrate on shutting down their offense in the half-court. We have the capacity to limit their point total by playing hard in the half-court. In fact, we've often gotten into trouble against VT because we play the press for too long. Let's see how Purnell plays this, but if VT is scoring early and often after breaking the press Clemson will find itself in quite the early hole and without the proper offensive tools to find a way back into the game.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

State of Clemson Basketball: 2010 mid-ACC update

With National Signing Day out of the way and Clemson basketball in the middle of a 6 day break, its a good time to reflect on the team's performance halfway through ACC play. Again, the point of these posts is just to try and discern any interesting statistical trends, taking advantage of the statistics over at

I don't think it's any secret that Clemson is underperforming this season. The obvious culprit is the offense, which has struggled in just about every imaginable way to put points on the board. The statistics agree with this sentiment pretty strongly. First I'm going to show charts that are slightly different from previous charts I've shown, these track differences in offensive/defensive efficiencies across the last two years:

I don't have the data from midseason 2009, so that point is interpolated by averaging the bookending points. Clearly, we are struggling on offense this year. But what's I really find interesting is the relationship between offense and defense over the past two years. In 2009, the defense steadily declined while the offense steadily improved. This year, the defense has steadily improved while the offense has steadily declined. Last year, the defense fell apart largely because Clemson became too predictable in their pressure defense over the course of a game, allowing teams to routinely break the press and score. Often teams weren't settling for a drive to the basket, either, but were looking for (and making) wide-open threes. This year, Purnell came out with a clear plan to counter the defensive struggles of last year by mixing up pressure looks not just during blocks of possessions but even from individual possession to individual possession. The results have been fantastic and are clearly evident from the forced turnover rates--Clemson's defense ranks 4th in the country in opposition turnovers and 5th in steals. Make no mistake, rate of forced turnovers is driving the defense--our effective FG% defense is a respectable 50th in the country, but that lags well behind the other strong defenses in the ACC.

On the other hand, I imagine Oliver Purnell was not counting on the complete implosion of the offense. I'm not showing the overall efficiency data relative to recent years, but we are currently as bad as we've been since 2006. Let's look at the four factors the offense to try and get some answers:

It looks all four factors have gotten slightly worse across the board. I would wager the fluctuations in FT attempts/FG attempts and offensive rebounding percentage are little more than noise and not much to be concerned about. However, the turnover% and FG% (the two most important factors), while up only slightly, still look troublesome. Here are the component offensive factors:

Now we see something emerge. Our drop in effective FG% appears to be directly related to our struggles from behind the arc since the start of ACC play. Also, our rate of having the ball stolen has gone up slightly, although I doubt that alone explains the increase in turnovers. The other factors don't worry me too much, and unbelievably our FT% has actually gotten better since the start of ACC play (must be that flukish 18-20 UNC performance).

I think our offensive troubles since the start of ACC play can be traced primarily to 3-point problems and to a lesser extent, an increase in both forced and unforced turnovers. I've been pretty adamant since the start of the year that our three-point shooting would be fine, but I can't ignore the data any longer--we need more threes to start falling. I didn't anticipate Young's struggles. He's not missing shots, but he's having a hard time getting open looks against the taller ACC competition. Potter has regressed substantially, and while Johnson hasn't been a disaster as a freshman (35%), I was hoping (probably too much) for more. Stitt has improved from around a 30% shooter in his first two years to 35% this year, but his injury has left him out or hobbled through most of ACC play. Tanner Smith has been a catastrophe, shooting below 30% now on just 61 shots. All of this adds up to a markedly below-average three-point shooting team for the ACC.

Meanwhile, on the turnover front, while Stitt has actually marginally improved a couple of percentage points, overall he still sports an ugly turnover rate of 23.1 (meaning he turns the ball over 23.1% of the time he is involved in a possession). This gain has been offset, however, by Young's increase from 16.9 a year ago to 21.9 this year. With our two primary ball-handlers giving the ball back in one out of five personal possessions, Clemson's having a tough time just letting plays develop long enough to get looks at the basket.

There's not much I can see Clemson doing to improve their problems behind the arc. Minor tweaking is probably all Purnell has at his disposal now, something along the lines of 1) letting Johnson shoot as much as possible hoping he develops into a more reliable shot by the end of the season, 2) relegating Tanner Smith to defensive specialist, and 3) figuring out ways of ensuring Andre Young is open at least a few times a game. The turnover problems are even worse. While I believe Andre Young's true turnover rate lies closer to 16.9 than 21.9, he's done little since Stitt's injury to support this. Its a difficult problem to solve midseason.

The most frustrating aspect of these offensive struggles is that we could be better now with a little more emphasis on fundamentals. We have the shooting skills to be better than 64.2% from the line. While our 2P FG% is keeping us afloat, everyone knows from watching the games that we could be even better. And of course, if we could just stop dribbling the ball off our legs, we'd cut a good 5% off our turnover rate. All of these little things would add up to at least a respectable ACC-level offense.

You would think Purnell might turn his attention to these offensive fundamentals. However, watching the team (particularly since Stitt went down) and listening to Purnell's recent statements to the media, its pretty clear Purnell has gone in the opposite direction: he's looking to further improve the defense. I think this also explains the increase in defensive efficiency since the start of ACC play (second chart above).

If true, it's an interesting gambit and I actually kind of like it. The key selling point for me is Stitt's injury. While Young has filled in reasonably well in his absence, without Stitt we almost entirely lose the ability to penetrate on offense. Given Stitt's poor all around play after returning from injury last year, its difficult to count on him being the same player when he finally does return. With that in mind, if our half-court offense is going to essentially consist of Trevor Booker underneath and Grant cleaning up on misses, we might as well focus on defense to keep the other team's points down and try to score some easy points off turnovers.

There's been a lot of chatter around the blogosphere about discontent with Purnell. This puts me in a rather odd position where I feel compelled to defend Oliver Purnell; long-time readers will know we've been critical of Purnell when the situation warrants. I don't feel like this is the time. To me, the first two charts indicate that the program is not necessarily plateauing, we just haven't been able to combine excellent offense and defense at the same time since the end of 2008. Right now, we have room to grow on the offense (even in the remainder of this season) until we get closer to previous seasons. Its tough to fault Purnell for the perfect storm of 1) Booker taking small steps back in productivity both at the FT line and in 2-pt shooting, 2) the failure of Jennings and Johnson to develop into useful players, 3) Andre Young's battle with turnovers, and 4) Stitt's injury. Even with only one or two of these, the offense is good enough to win a couple of the close games we've already lost.

Purnell did a good job of adjusting to our problems in the offseason, I suspect he'll do the same in offense in the coming months, spilling into next season. I can easily see this group of players providing equally efficient offensive and defensive production, even though it is taking longer than any of us would have liked.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Maryland Recap

I'm going to do these recaps as often as possible during the ACC season, similar to what I was doing last year...

Good ugly game for Clemson. I think there will be a lot of talk about how neither Clemson or Maryland played well. While I agree to a certain extent (Clemson has not played well on offense for more than 10 minutes at a time for three games running...), I would point out that while there was an abundant amount of sloppy play, part of this can be explained by both teams having excellent defenses. Both teams played to there strengths on defense, Clemson forcing turnovers against a normally surehanded Maryland team (it looked like the press really rattled a few of their younger players) while Maryland held us to 31% from the field. I thought one difference on defense was the job Clemson did in limiting Maryland's easy opportunities after breaking the press and also defending the shot well in the halfcourt set. I don't care how bad the other team looked, holding a good shooting team like Maryland to 36%is something to be happy about. To the chart:

(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.)

Clemson also won because they took advantage of the primary weakness in Maryland's defense I pointed out in the preview: their inability to keep teams off the offensive glass. Clemson racked up enough boards to keep possessions alive and give us second chances, helping to compensate for the low low field goal percentage. Gary Williams' team have never been great on keeping teams off the offensive glass and from watching them its easy to see why: Maryland likes to challenge shots with two or three guys while treating the rebounds as secondary. Its not necessarily a bad strategy, heck, Purnell employs the same strategy, albeit to a possibly lesser degree, for Clemson. But tonight Maryland ran into Jerai Grant. I don't talk about Grant a lot, and even take a few not-so-subtle jabs at him from time to time, but I give him credit for seizing an opportunity to perform last night. Grant's best skill is probably picking up offensive boards (and points resulting from these boards), but he often gets overpowered or outjumped when playing against a team with considerable inside size and/or heft. Last night, though, he was playing a team that struggles to stop his best attribute as a player, and he made them pay. It will be interesting to see if Maryland goes after Grant next time we play to try and put him in some early foul trouble and take him out of the game.

It was a must win situation and despite the generally close score throughout, I was never too worried about the final result. Good, physical performance by the Tigers. Virginia Tech is actually a team with a somewhat similar defensive profile to Maryland, but lacks the good offense. Based on last night's performance, I think we've got a good chance of winning on the road this weekend and getting back on the right side of .500 in ACC play.
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