Thursday, December 8, 2011

season preview: Clemson

Clemson Tigers

Media prediction: 7th

Last season:

Record: 22-12 (9-7) - ACC 4th seed
Postseason: NCAA tournament 1st round
KenPom: 22nd of 345

Returning scoring: 56.1%
Returning rebounding: 54.5%
Returning assists: 55.2%

2010-11 All-ACC:

1st team: none
2nd team: none
3rd team: G Demontez Stitt
HM: F Jerai Grant
Defensive: F Jerai Grant

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Andre Young (Sr.)
SG: Rod Hall (Fr.)
SF: Tanner Smith (Sr.)
PF: Milton Jennings (Jr.)
C: Devin Booker (Jr.)


G T.J. Sapp (Fr.)
F Bryan Narcisse (Sr.)
C Catalin Baciu (Sr.)
F K.J. McDaniels (Fr.)

Coach: Brad Brownell (2nd year)

ACC schedule:

Twice: Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest
Once: Boston College, Duke, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina, NC State

This is what I was told when I tried to find info on Clemson's recruiting class last year. Rumors of a basketball team in Clemson, South Carolina have apparently been greatly exaggerated. 

Jokes and bugs on Rivals aside, Clemson is kind of picking itself up from the floor a little bit after the unexpected departure of Oliver Purnell to DePaul.  (There has got to be something we don't know about that whole thing.)  The coaching changed caused a little upheaval, and like Boston College only with about one-thousandth the magnitude, Clemson had a good season last year but needs to rebuild a little bit now.

The reason is that their top two scorers graduated and haven't been adequately replaced.  Clemson lost one each from the frontcourt and backcourt and guys who are best used as third or fourth options are now being asked to be go-to guys.  Andre Young is a weapon and the exception to this statement; Young has really stepped up his shot this year and does an excellent job of taking care of the ball.  He's a very efficient offensive player, and it might be in his team's best interest if he got a little more selfish.  However, Young is 5'9, 170, and obviously has quicks but no size, and can be posted up.

Clemson does rebound well and plays solid defense; despite a slow, Bennett-esque tempo to their games, both Tanner Smith and Devin Booker average better than 7 boards a game, and each is currently also averaging 9.7 points.  With those three plus Milton Jennings, there is a solid frontcourt here.

However, that's only in the starting lineup.  Take any one of them out of the game and Clemson has little better than replacement-level talent.  Romanian-born Catalin Baciu is a whopping 7-foot-2, but has never been able to translate that into gaudy stats.  The other hole in the lineup is at shooting guard; the one place where you ought to be able to find scoring, there is none.  Clemson brought in a five-man freshman class this year and they seem to be getting playing time in reverse order of recruiting ratings.  Rod Hall stepped into the starting lineup to replace T.J. Sapp; both were the lightly-recruited side of the class and they account for most of the minutes played by freshmen.  Neither is an integral part of the offense, though Sapp has shown a three-point touch.  Meanwhile, one-time UVA offeree Bernard Sullivan has not cracked the rotation.

So there are some pieces of a good team, most notably Young and a solid if not dominant starting frontcourt.  But it's been a rough go so far.  Other than Iowa in the Challenge (whom they beat), Clemson has yet to play an opponent outside the state of South Carolina, and they're not acquitting themselves well; they are just 3-3 in those games, with losses to College of Charleston, Coastal Carolina, and the very middling South Carolina.  And even though it's only the supposedly easy nonconference schedule so far, Clemson is averaging five fewer PPG than in all of last year.  Clemson will be a team that's difficult to score against, but not particularly hard to stop, once teams figure out how to keep Andre Young under wraps.  Playing FSU, UVA, and VT twice each could earn them six losses right there, and we haven't even gotten to Duke and UNC yet, so I don't see either a winning ACC season or a tournament berth in the cards for Clemson.  I think the most this year has to offer for the Tigers is a CBI invite or a first-round loss in the NIT.


Speaking of hooptyball, last night saw the final UVA contest of the preliminary section of the regular season; we now enter the dreaded finals week doldrums.  UVA finished up with a very strong homestand, with a win of course over Challenge opponent Michigan and three more of exactly the type you want to have over mid-majors; that is, bench-emptying.  And even though they struggled a bit early on, George Mason still looks like a decent bet to end up at or near the top of the CAA - though that may well be a one-bid league this year.

KenPomwise, UVA's performance in the first nine games have moved them as high as the third-best team in the ACC.  And sixth-best defense in the country.  After the Michigan game, MGoBlog employed the sentence "Tony Bennett is a war crime," which I take as high praise.  It is extremely frustrating to watch a suffocating defense at work if you are rooting for the team trying to score on it.  This defense caused U-M bloggers to use phrases to describe the U-M offense like "degraded to glorified isolations on far too many plays," "lackluster two point shooting was accompanied by first half turnover woes and little to no production on the offensive glass," "generated basically nothing," and "glarg glarg glarg glarg."  I made up none of those.  When the other team is reduced to gurgling in frustration - and here is the point we are building to: that is the team that has had the best offensive production against UVA all year! - you are playing some nice defense.

So we got that going for us.  I expect it to continue.  It is an evil, field-leveling system played by athletes who don't need the field leveled for them, and who are obviously very comfortable and instinctive in it.  You can see it running like clockwork every time.  Teams like UNC will find ways to score on it, but in general when we lose games this year it'll because the offense got stopped, not because the defense got beat.

After finals break, there is a two-game West Coast swing to Oregon and Seattle.  The former should be the toughest remaining test in the OOC, and a win there means UVA likely heads to the ACC schedule with a 13-1 record.  Is that good enough for the tournament, assuming business is reasonably well taken care of in the conference?  Probably.  If the teams we beat cooperate.  I'm still going to spend the next three months hoping we don't get Greenberged out.

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