Tuesday, January 31, 2012

game preview: Clemson

Date/Time: Tuesday, January 31; 7:00


Record against the Tigers: 67-50

Last matchup: UVA 49, Clemson 47; 2/2/11; Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 61, NCSt. 60 (1/28); Clemson 71, WF 60 (1/28)

Opposing blogs: Shakin' the Southland

KenPom breakdown:

UVA: 60.1 (#340)
CU: 64.9 (#254)

UVA: 104.9 (#99)
CU: 100.7 (#165)

UVA: 84.7 (#4)
CU: 93.3 (#52)

UVA: .8992 (#17)
CU: .6862 (#101)

Common opponents:

Winthrop: UVA won 69-48; Clemson won 60-40
Boston College: UVA won 66-49; Clemson lost 59-57
Duke: UVA lost 61-58; Clemson lost 73-66
Miami: UVA won 52-51; Clemson lost 76-73
Georgia Tech: UVA won 70-38; Clemson won 64-62

Projected starting lineups:


PG: Jontel Evans (6.1 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 3.5 apg)
SG: Sammy Zeglinski (9.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.6 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (12.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.6 apg)
PF: Mike Scott (16.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.6 apg)
F: Akil Mitchell (3.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 0.8 apg)


PG: Andre Young (13.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.5 apg)
SG: Tanner Smith (11.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4.1 apg)
G: T.J. Sapp (4.7 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 0.8 apg)
SF: Bryan Narcisse (3.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 0.5 apg)
PF: Devin Booker (10.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.2 apg)

Last year, UVA beat Clemson by two in a game so ugly I felt it necessary to apologize to the ghost of Naismith.  Our defense held Clemson to 13 points in the first half, and then hung on for dear life in giving up 34 in the second.  But the glacial pace that UVA favors is fine by Clemson, which exists in a group of three other ACC teams vying for the title of second-slowest in the conference.  Those other two: VT and Miami.  Recall the scores of this year's games against those two teams, and suddenly another 49-47 affair seems not just possible, but likely.

Clemson will go into this game without starting power forward Milton Jennings, suspended yesterday for academic suckitude.  This throws an ever-shifting lineup into further disarray; Clemson has started eight different players this year and only two have started every game.  Brad Brownell has continued to tweak through the ACC season.

Conventional wisdom would say that this is naturally a really bad development for a team already struggling to find an identity, and not a very good team at that, with losses to Boston College, Hawaii, and three mediocre-to-poor instate schools.  (And somehow they beat Florida State by 20.  Go figure.)  The closest player they have, size-wise, to Jennings is freshman Bernard Sullivan, who doesn't get much burn at all.  So it will be interesting to see whether they go big or small to adjust the rotation.  But I'm not convinced this isn't a case of addition by subtraction when all's said and done.

-- UVA on offense

This is where Clemson will probably miss Jennings.  Percentage-wise, he's the team's best rebounder and second-best shot-blocker.  Clemson has nobody as athletic as him to fill his spot.  However, they could probably make up for it by filling his minutes with 7'2" center Catalin Baciu.  Baciu is a senior who's frustrated Clemson fans by not living up to a lot of potential, but UVA would have no similarly-sized player and Baciu would be, at worst, a shot-blocking threat in the paint.

There's no doubt that defense is the strength of the Clemson team.  Even with a slightly poor showing against three-pointers (35.7% allowed) and an unlucky 70% free-throw shooting percentage by their opponents, Clemson has one of the better defenses in the country - just outside KenPom's top 50.  That's how you go from losing to Hawaii and Coastal Carolina to beating FSU by 20.

And even without Jennings, the Clemson guards are dangerous.  Their starters could not be more different in size - point guard Andre Young is 5'9" and shooting guard Tanner Smith is 6'5" - but both are equally tough, averaging nearly two steals per game apiece.  Given the Clemson pace, a solid number.  If Clemson goes small, Smith will certainly cross over and guard Joe Harris and let T.J. Sapp (or Rod Hall) take Sammy Zeglinski.  The awesomely-goggled Bryan Narcisse plays bigger than his 6'6", but he's too slow to check Harris on the perimeter.  If Clemson goes big and starts Baciu, then Narcisse will probably draw Harris, which is why the lineup above doesn't include Baciu.

As for who will guard Mike Scott, it will probably be Devin Booker regardless of starting lineup.  The advantage of starting Baciu is that it would provide a good hedge against the dangers of letting Scott work one-on-one, but Booker is solidly built and will at least occasionally be able to get the better of Scott.  Occasionally, I said.

Clemson presents a challenge here, because they're not on their third game in six days and their defense is generally good.  But the loss of Jennings means there will almost always be an exploitable mismatch somewhere.  If tired legs don't affect the shooting and the driving, UVA could hit 65 points, which would be quite a milestone in what's likely to not be a 60-possession game.

-- UVA on defense

This is the part where Clemson won't miss Jennings.  I mean this emphatically.  Despite having played just 60% of Clemson's minutes, Jennings was their highest-usage player and carried a pathetically dismal O-rating of 85.3.  He shouldn't have been hoisting threes, but he occasionally did; he couldn't shoot free throws; and he was a turnover machine.

The Tigers' offense will now run almost exclusively through three people: Smith, Young, and Booker.  All are quality players.  Young has an exceptional O-rating of 122.1, thanks in large part to a very good A/T ratio of almost 3-to-1 and a near-perfect FT%.  Both Young and Smith are good, if not amazing, three-point shooters at about 36% each.  And unlike your stereotypical 6'5" white guy shooting guard, Smith is a very good creater as well, with 4.1 assists per game and a 27.5% assist percentage (again, for the uninitiated, it means that 27.5% of the shots Clemson makes with Smith on the floor are assisted by him.)  These numbers are better even than point guard Young, though Young is better at taking care of the ball.  (In fact, Young is outstanding in this regard.)

When the ball goes inside, Booker is the guy who'll get it.  His shooting percentage is low for a forward, but the truth is Booker typically plays center and has to go against players much taller than he is.  Nobody else is a major threat, unless they start using the Romanian tree, Baciu, who might give us fits considering we don't have anyone that tall.  But essentially, the loss of Jennings means a lot more shots for the much more capable top three, and that's probably addition by subtraction.

That said, Clemson doesn't have anyone unstoppable.  Not by any stretch.  Young, Smith, and Booker are good players, but they'd be better if there was a real go-to guy who could take the emphasis off of them.  At any given time, Clemson will have at least two guys on the court who simply aren't a major threat.  Those guys will knock down a shot here and there, but the reason Clemson isn't going to even sniff the tournament bubble this year is because, in the end, they just don't have the horses.  It wouldn't surprise at all to hold yet another team under 50 points here.

-- Outlook

I'll keep this simple: Clemson is the second-worst team left on the schedule, ahead of only Wake Forest, and the only thing making me nervous about this game is the three-games-in-six-days thing.  In other words, fatigue is our worst enemy.  But that's the midwinter grind and it's a fact of life in basketball.  Gotta get over it.

-- Final score: UVA 61, Clemson 48

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