Clemson Basketball Progress Report: 13-4 (4-2)

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

We check in to see how Clemson has done and what may lie ahead as the "Road to Perdition" has now begun.

Note: All statistics including advanced stats from KenPom were pulled before Tuesday's game at Pittsburgh.

Now that Clemson has begun the most challenging part of the schedule, let's jump into the numbers and look at what this team has done so far and where they are likely headed. Before I get into any of the numbers, I want to point you to the best explanation of some of the most important advanced stats in basketball. Our friends at Blogger So Dear did a great piece that breaks it down, so check it out if you're unfamiliar.

The table below shows the four most important advanced statistics. Team rank is in parentheses.

Category Offense Defense D-I Average

Effective FG%

48.3 (220)

40.0 (1)

49.4

Turnover %

17.8 (122)

17.5 (227)

18.5

Off. Rebounding %

36.7 (42)

30.4 (129)

31.7

FTA / FGA

35.6 (281)

28.0 (8)

40.9

The Numbers

Clemson is earning a reputation for salty defense, and rightfully so. Brad Brownell opts for a slower tempo (the 4th slowest in college basketball) which forces the opposition to beat us in the half court. He compares it to old school Danny Ford football--"three yards and a pile of dust." Because of tempo, our games include about seven fewer possessions per team than the D1-average. The effect of that is the exact opposite of the HUNH we run in football. Less possessions means fewer shots and thus closer games. Given the talent differential we face with many of our opponents this makes sense. As an example, look at our win over Duke. Jabari Parker is projected to be the first overall pick in the NBA draft, and Rodney Hood, who was even more impressive in our matchup is likely a lottery pick. All the more credit to Brownell for forcing talented opposition to play our game. Also credit to Jaron Blossomgame for outplaying a future NBA stud that particular day.

The top row of the table above shows eFG%. That up-weights three pointers by 50% (because 50% from three is equivalent to 75% from two). You see that Clemson's 40.0% eFG% defense is tops in the nation. That is no aberration. It is not due to tempo or weak opponents. That's a number Clemson can hang their hat on. The 48.3% eFG% from the offense is a bit below average. We simply don't have enough premier shooters right now. I believe this could change next year when Patrick Rooks returns from his hip injury and freshman Gabe DeVoe and Donte Grantham join the team.

The next row--turnover percentage--indicates the percentage of possessions that end in turnovers. Although we were unbearably careless in the FSU game, we are slightly above average in taking care of the ball. Surprisingly though, we don't force a whole lot of turnovers.

The next row is offensive rebounding percentage. This is a somewhat surprising number for us as everyone and their brother expected rebounding to be a huge problem when both of our starting post-players departed. Nevertheless, Clemson is raking in 36.7% of rebounding opportunities on offense, good for 42nd in the nation. Landry Nnoko leads the team in offensive rebounds with 41, all the more reason he needs to stay out of foul trouble. Josh Smith gets about half as many offensive rebounds on a per minute basis. On defense, we're allowing the opposition to grab 30.4% of offensive rebounds. This is a step down from our rebounding on the offensive end, but is right around the average. These numbers may be aided by our cake non-conference schedule and they'll likely come down a bit in the coming weeks (Pitt out-rebounded us by five). Sustaining this will be crucial as we start running into the big boys at Syracuse, FSU, UVA, etc.

Finally, we have free throw attempts per field goal attempt multiplied by 100. This is a measure of how good an offense is at getting to the line and how good a defense at preventing such. This is the only number that really irks me. 281st in the nation at getting to the line? Given we're not a great shooting team, I'd really like to see us attack the basket and get to the line more often. We've all seen how effective Rod Hall is when attacking the basket. He and K.J. lead the team in FT attempts. I'd like to see more of that. Harrision, who is fourth on the team in FT attempts, would also be well served to attack the basket more as his FG% of .333 is paltry. Among the eight Clemson players who've attempted at least 10 three pointers, his .317 3PT% is only better than that of Djambo and Blossomgame.

Finally, two more quick stats: Clemson's 3-point defense is tops in nation. Opponents are only shooting .249 from three against us. This may mean we're doing a great job closing out on shooters, but to some extent it is lucky. Clemson's FT "defense" is second best in the nation at .611. Opponents are missing FTs against us at a pretty outrageous level. This number is certainly lucky. Hopefully these numbers don't regress too much, but they may.

Looking Forward

According to KenPom, Clemson is the sixth highest ranked team in the ACC (even after the Pitt debacle) . Pittsburgh and Syracuse come in at one and two, respectively. They're followed by Virginia, FSU, and Duke. After that you have Clemson, and there aren't any other teams that are head and shoulders better than Clemson (though Duke can't make that claim anymore).

Obviously the blowout loss was discouraging, but Pitt is an elite team. They're top five according to KenPom (jumped Syracuse after the win) and it was our first game in a legitimate road environment. Hopefully it serves as motivation and not discouragement before the trip to Chapel Hill. UNC is not a good basketball team right now. Their offense in uncharacteristically bad. Their home losses to Belmont, Texas, and Miami give me hope. Had it just been a few road losses I wouldn't be so optimistic, but we found out they're not in the same tier as UVA when they played last week. UNC also lost at UAB and at Wake Forest. They're losing to teams that are worse than us. Of course, they beat Louisville and Michigan State, but the Cards and Spartans missed a combined 37 three-pointers in those games. If we come in and dictate the pace, we have a realistic shot to win in the Dean Dome. That would make the season for me.

Stepping back a minute and assessing our goals and projections from the season preview, we're one win (Duke) ahead of projections that had us at .500 by season's end. I'm not too confident we can win more than one in the next six games, though two is certainly possible. If we do finish finish this stretch with just the one win, that'd put us at 5-7 and quell any NCAA tournament hopes (which were never really there in the first place). The ACC schedule eases up again after this stretch, but winning one of these road games would help us find the postseason (NCAA or NIT). As odd as it sounds, winning at Chapel Hill may be our best chance to do that.

After this rough stretch we get five very winnable games before ending with Pittsburgh again. If we can win one in this stretch and three of those five, that puts us at 8-10 and on the NIT bubble (the ACC tournament would have a lot riding on it).

Notes
  • Last night's game versus Pittsburgh felt like it was over just six minutes into the game. Brownell called a timeout after four straight turnovers and they began attacking the basket more aggressively thereafter. That kept them in the game a bit longer, but Clemson really didn't have much of a shot in this one. This was the toughest matchup of the season for us with the possible exception of the upcoming game at Syracuse (which underscores why I dislike the new additions to the ACC). It probably wasn't really over until the 10 minute mark when Blossomgame threw away the ball after a rebound and let Pitt push their lead to 12. What an ugly play that was!

  • Pittsburgh plays a slow tempo (295th quickest) just like we do. I wasn't too excited to watch the game because it's just so hard to beat a team that plays the same style as us, but does it better. Syracuse will be the same story as they also play a relatively slow tempo.

  • After the Pitt game, Djambo is 5/25 from three. I'm not at practice so I can't say if he's a better shooter than that, but those are some brutal percentages. Harrison was also 0-fer from range with an 0/3 night highlighting the point I made earlier about him attacking the basket more and bricking from range less.

  • I don't think K.J. will go pro after this season. There is a scholarship crunch and someone else will have to leave, but I doubt it's him. He still needs to work on his passing to be a complete player. This is also a particularly strong draft class.

  • Clemson shot three measly free throws in the first half. They all came shortly after that early timeout that seemed to hold things together temporarily. What a perfect game to illustrate my point about FT / FG. The short span when we were attacking the basket things seemed to work (a little), but for the most part we don't get to the FT line enough, and that's a shame because we actually make our FTs these days. They shot a lot more in the second half, but that was all garbage time anyway.

  • Watching the first half of the Pitt game really made me look into the future and think, that's what we want. I was at the Wake Forest game last week and the turnout was decent, but the environment was nothing like it was back in the days of K.C. Rivers and Trevor Booker. Pitt's students were wrapped around the sideline like ours will be in the post-renovation LJC. They were jumping and screaming on about every Clemson possession of the first half. Pitt plays a slow, grind-it-out style, but their offensive execution is light years ahead of ours, as is their talent level. With our recruiting classes beginning to improve and the new arena coming, I'm hoping this is where we're headed, at least on a smaller scale.

  • One thing I've noticed about Brownell's coaching style is that he often yanks guys after boneheaded plays. Josh Smith got the hook after his missed layup in the Wake Forest game. Blossomgame got the same treatment after his careless turnover after a rebound vs Pitt. This really gets into some of our struggles last season, as Brownell said the lack of any reliable post-players behind Booker and Jennings made it near impossible to give them the hook. As a result, they were not very coachable.

  • Let me jump back and reassess some two past losses games. UMass is now 16-1. That loss won't hurt us much. Our bigs have improved a lot since that game too.

  • That Auburn loss is a complete joke. They're 0-4 so far in SEC play. They weren't even hot from three in that game. That one is going to be hard to explain on the resume come tournament time.

  • Landry Nnoko is a great player development story for Brad Brownell. He's becoming useful in the offense. He is a consistent rebounder, and is averaging nearly two blocks per game. Rod Hall is another great player development story. He's light years ahead of just last season. His numbers are up across the board: more points, more assists, better percentages, less turnovers. I'm not sure I can remember such positive player development in OP's days, with the exception of Demontez Stitt, who developed a jump shot and really became a star.

Finally, I want to ask you, our loyal readers how much you like these advanced stats. I'm a big fan of KenPom, but do you guys find them interesting? Please let us know in the comments. If we get a positive response, I'll start bringing them to you more often.

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