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Basketball thoughts 5 Games into the ACC Schedule

With Clemson 5 games into the ACC schedule and coming up on a big game against Duke Saturday, I wanted to look at where the Tigers are and where they need to go to achieve our goal of 10 ACC wins this season.  So far the Tigers have been about average, scoring wins over Boston College, NC State, and UNC yet getting drilled by Duke and dropping a close one at Georgia Tech.

Clemson's play has been up and down to this point, hitting on all cylinders against an overrated UNC team, scoring a mere 12 points in a half against Duke, giving up a huge second half lead against the Wolfpack, and not being able to convert on opportunities in the GT game.  All in all, I think Clemson has some issues that definitely need to ironing out but still think double digit wins in-conference is attainable.

Clemson has been about who we thought they were...a team that is essentially propped up by its best player, Trevor Booker.  Clemson has gotten some quality production out of the PG, Demontez Stitt, and out of scrappy Tanner Smith.  While freshmen Noel Johnson, Devin Booker, and Milton Jennings won't leave for The League after this year, they have been utilized this season and appear to be improving as the season progresses, though not as quickly as we all would like.  Andre Young has been able to step in and give Clemson some quality minutes and gives Oliver Purnell some flexibility with Stitt if needed.

The Tigers have struggled in their usual areas (free throws) as well as in the spots we were concerned about entering the year--particularly perimeter shooting.  I really cannot explain our inability to shoot free throws at times (Ga Tech sticks out) and really cannot point a finger at a Clemson team in recent memory that has been decent at the stripe game in and game out. 

Clemson has also looked lackadaisical at times on both ends of the court.  I would like to see Trevor Booker and the boys get more aggressive under the boards and on the defensive end overall, as this team has a tendency of taking some defensive possessions off.  Clemson at times has been able to utilize pressure (full court) to create scenarios favorable to the Tigers.

Offensively, Clemson can be frustrating to watch.  Too frequently you look up and see a bunch of guys in orange shirts standing around with one person dribbling.  Shot selection has also frustrated me at times, as I think that Clemson forces bad shots and often does not try hard enough to get the ball inside when we are shooting poorly from outside.

CU's offense goes through one man, Trevor Booker.  Booker averages 15.6 PPG and has scored as needed this season.  Stitt has picked up some of the slack offensively and averages double figures on the season.  Tanner Smith plays extremely hard all game long, and has been able to help Clemson so far with points on the floor and from the charity stripe (particularly at NC State).  Like we have said all year, Tanner may not be the most talented player on the court but will bust his tail all game long and does everything that he can to help the Tigers become successful on the court.  Andre Young rounds out the other most reliable player that the Tigers have on this squad.  Young is a talented player who sometimes lacks confidence in his game, it appears.  He has the ability to get hot from downtown, which is something the Tigers will need to be a factor down deep into February.

There is a significant drop-off in production after Young.  We were hoping that Noel Johnson and Milton Jennings would be able to contribute significantly after coming into school with such high praise.  I was particularly wanting to see Noel Johnson establish a confident stroke outside to take some pressure off of T. Booker down low, which unfortunately has not (consistently) happened this season.  Jerai Grant  has not been a consistent threat and David Potter has been pretty much worthless to this point.

So, where are we at as a squad?  Duke pretty much took the Tigers to the woodshed, throttling us from the opening tip.  Clemson was able to bounce back against Boston College then killed North Carolina in a down year for the Tigers.  These results (well, probably not the absolute kill shot taken to Duke then given to UNC) did not really surprise me nor concerned me too much, as Cameron Indoor is a tough place to play and UNC is retooling from their great run last season and Clemson hosted the Heels at Littlejohn. 

The games against NC State and Georgia Tech were troubling for me as a fan.  The NC State game was one where Clemson had a chance to go for the jugular and could not put away the Pack despite a huge lead.  I really thought that Clemson learned from the Illinois game (but will concede that losing Stitt played a bigger factor than I will give credit to).  Instead, Clemson let up again and almost was the victim of another ridiculous comeback.  The Georgia Tech game was another one that makes you scratch your head.  Clemson was extremely sloppy throughout and shot a mere 37% from the floor.  Worse than the 37% effort was Clemson's 50% effort from the line.  This is pitiful and will not win many ACC basketball games.

Where do we need to go?  This team is at 3-2 right now, not exactly down and out but CU could/should have won Tuesday night against the Jackets.  Obviously, we need some consistent perimeter shooting.  While the Tigers did this well in the first half of the North Carolina game, we have not been able to effectively take as much pressure off of Trevor Booker as I would like.  Side note to Trevor--where is the beast we have grown to love over the past few years?  I know the NBA is exciting, but we miss the monster and specifically the shear aggression seen before. 

I think Clemson as a team lacks an overall killer instinct as shown in the Illinois and NCST games.  Clemson showed that they can battle back (Ga Tech) but need to learn how to finish.  This team has to learn how to make free throws.  Watching Clemson make a mere half their chances from the stripe against Tech made me want to puke.  You cannot win basketball games in the ACC without taking advantage of easy scoring opportunities, and free throws definitely fit into that category.

We are hoping that Stitt will be able to recover fully from the injury he suffered at NC State, as he has been a pleasant surprise for me this season providing an outside shot and creating opportunities off of dribble penetration.  Clemson will need more attempts from Andre Young as we move forward.  Young has been able to convert a fair amount of looks, shooting 44% from three point land in ACC play.  We will need to see more out of Noel Johnson and his touted perimeter touch.

As posted earlier, the Clemson defensive effort improves dramatically when we are able to score points due to the Tigers' ability to implement their full court pressure.  In half-court sets, CU does not appear as aggressive at times as it has in previous years.  I would really like to see the Tigers get after it a little better on the glass to avoid giving opponents multiple looks at the basket on a single possession.  So  far, Clemson has been out-rebounded by Duke, North Carolina, NC State, and Georgia Tech and will need to win more of these battles in the future.