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Clemson Basketball Mid-Season Assessment

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The Tigers have exceeded expectations so far and will look to continue their hot start to ACC play.

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Clemson
Marcquise Reed’s scoring (15.9 ppg) has been a huge part of Clemson’s success so far this season.
Bart Boatwright-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson has completed the first half of the regular season with a 14-1 record and a 3-0 mark to open ACC play. It’s safe to say the Tigers have outperformed most prognostications thus far. Let’s take a look at where this team stands with 15 down and 15 to go.

Team Profile:

Record: 14-1 (3-0 ACC, T-1st)
AP poll: 19
USA Today/Coaches poll: 17
KenPom: 15
RPI: 5

Strengths:

Efficiency at both ends - The Tigers rank 47th nationally in adjusted offense and a very impressive 10th nationally in adjusted defense. We knew this team would be potent offensively, but defense was a major concern coming off an underwhelming 2016-2017 campaign at the end of the floor. A trimmed down Elijah Thomas has provided an unexpected rim protector, while Clemson’s switchability on the perimeter prevents the opposition from exploiting advantageous matchups. Additionally, Brad Brownell seems to have tapped into a renewed vigor and desire that wasn’t present defensively a season ago. Add in a bench that possesses several capable defenders, and the Tigers have been able to defend aggressively and consistently.

2-point and free-throw shooting - Clemson has been impressive in both of these areas, ranking 37th nationally with a 55.5% rate on 2-points shots and 41st from the charity stripe at 75.6%. Thomas and Donte Grantham are spending a lot of time near the rim, which is paying off for this offense, and Shelton Mitchell is perhaps the only starter that could be labeled as inefficient inside the arc so far. With their 1-4 spots shooting at least 79% apiece on free throws and Thomas improving nearly 19% from last season, the starting lineup can make serious hay when they are put on the line. They have also been great from the free-throw line in the closing minutes of several wins. The Tigers have also been above average in 3-point shooting, which altogether makes them a team that has scored the ball well.

Defensive rebounding - This is the statistic where Clemson has improved most drastically from a season ago. The Tigers ranked an abysmal 295th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage last year but have incredibly made a full turnaround - ranking 28th in the country - after losing their starting frontcourt. Thomas and Grantham are combining for nearly 16 rebounds per game, and Clemson’s guards are crashing the glass aggressively despite being relatively undersized. The Tigers also bring capable rebounders off the bench to avoid any large drop-off in production. A huge part of Clemson’s defensive success this season has been their ability to limit second chances for the opposition.

Scoring balance - With every member of its starting five averaging between 11.6 and 15.9 points per game, the Tigers have a plethora of scoring options at their disposal and can stress opposing defenses with multiple threats to drive and shoot from distance. Combining play-making guards with an elite post scorer like Thomas gives defenses plenty to account for.

Weaknesses:

Offensive rebounding - The Tigers have been largely great statistically at both ends of the court, but this is the one area where they are lagging behind (256th nationally). It’s not necessarily a surprising statistic, given that Clemson utilizes an undersized lineup the majority of the time and lost the nation’s No. 1 per-possession offensive rebounder in Sidy Djitte. It’s hard to see the Tigers improving much in this area, especially considering opposing lineups won’t be getting any smaller as they progress through conference play.

Bench scoring - While Clemson’s versatile and high-scoring starting five is certainly a positive, it’s worth noting that the scoring pretty much begins and ends with that group of players. The Tigers have defined roles for their bench guys, and all have done what has been asked of them in various facets of the game. But no player outside the starting lineup is scoring more than three points per game, meaning this team is heavily reliant on that first five for any and all of its scoring punch the vast majority of the time. Again, they have been more than capable of shouldering the load to this point, but there is no Marcquise Reed or Gabe DeVoe coming off the bench to bail them out if the offense falters any time the latter half of the season.

There are, of course, other relative strengths and weaknesses with this team (mostly strengths, so far), but above are the most important facets of the game that will effect how the rest of the season goes for the Tigers. They have been impressive so far and hopefully will continue to perform at a high level in conference play and qualify for their first NCAA Tournament since 2011.