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Sweet 16 Preview: Clemson vs Kansas

This is a totally normal and expected thing for Clemson basketball. I’m actually bored with the Sweet 16 already.

Clemson v Auburn Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Guys, this is personal. This game provides me with both a chance at redemption and a delicious baked good.

As my ardent followers know, I also write for Hammer and Rails (the Purdue SB Nation blog). Last year, my Boilermakers met up with the Jayhawks in the Sweet 16. What started as a basketball game ended in a massacre of Clemson vs USCe proportions. Kansas simply couldn’t miss. They were hitting shots I would be embarrassed to try to pull off in a game of H-O-R-S-E. Frank Mason was open and firing away as soon he crossed half court, and if by some miracle of science, he missed, Josh Jackson was there to collect the offense board. It was ugly, it was frustrating, and to make matters worse, Kansas laid an absolute egg against Oregon in the Elite 8. After hitting blind folded, left handed three-pointers over Purdue’s 7’2 center in the Sweet 16, they couldn’t hit a layup in Elite 8.

I want revenge, and my Tigers (a real basketball school) are just the team to exact it in my honor.

To further raise the stakes, my neighbor is a Kansas grad (I live in Manhattan, KS), and she’s been talking smack all week. Granted, she’s a nice lady, and friends with Isaiah Simmons’s family (she claims she told Isaiah to go to Clemson, so she’s good in my book) but I couldn’t allow anyone to smack talk Clemson, especially someone who supports, what I can only consider, a lesser basketball school. We’ve got a baked good wager riding on this game, and her Christmas cookies were fire, so I really want this sweet, sweet, victory.

The Tigers need to pull this one out for Drewtigeralum.

Kansas So Far:

Kansas dominates the Big 12 in basketball, much like Clemson dominates the ACC in football. The regular season saw the Jayhawks struggle, but still manage to pull off their 14th straight regular season, Big 12 title.

They followed up their Big 12 regular season title with a leisurely stroll through the Big 12 tournament, en route to another Big 12 tournament title. Needless to say, Kansas is coming into this hot.

PPG: 81.4 (29th Nationally)

RPG: 35.3 (180th)

APG: 16.9 (14th)

PAPG: 70.9 (139th)

Just The Facts:

Who: Kansas Jayhawks

When: 3/23/2018 - 7:07 PM EST

Where: Omaha, Nebraska

What Channel: CBS

Kansas Offense:

Kansas runs a 4-out 1-in offense that relies on motion from the 4 perimeter players and either a post up or a high screen from the 1 interior player.

This set really is beautiful, as Kansas gets a wide open shot out of the pick and roll. Initially you see them run through their set with a weave look up top, with Graham eventually popping out to run the show at the top of the key. Kansas spaces the floor with 4 shooters and really puts your defense in a bind with the pick and roll.

Graham is excellent at attacking the basket off the pick, so you see Kansas State try and contain him with two players. The screener rolls hard, pulling a weak side defender with him, and leaving Newman wide open for 3. Granted, he misses this particular shot, but that’s going to drop more often than not.

Note: This is Kansas in the half court. Kansas is deadly in the full court and thrives on open 3’s either on the initial or secondary break. CLEMSON DOES NOT WANT TO RUN WITH KANSAS!

How Clemson Matches Up:

The above clip shows just how versatile Graham is for the Jayhawks. If you don’t contain him on the drive, he’ll blow by you and take it to the rim. If you contain him with two players, he’s going to find the open man.

It’s going to be interesting to see how Coach Brownell defends this particular high pick action, because it is a staple of the Kansas offense. I think we’ll initially try and have Shelton Mitchell contain Graham off the screen without any help from Eli, but that’s a dangerous proposition.

If Graham continually gets to the basket, look for Clemson to ice the pick and roll with Eli (like K. State does in the above clip) and attempt to recover to shooters and hope Kansas misses a few from the outside.

Kansas Defense:

Kansas doesn’t do anything too exotic on defense. They play man-to-man and switch most screens 1-4 because they play 1 guard and 3 wings around a center, so their perimeter players are interchangeable on defense.

In this clip, you see how Kansas deals with screens. Pay attention to #10 for Kansas, as he switches every perimeter screen. The only screen they don’t switch is the 1-5 screen. You see their center hedge and recover to the K. State center.

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How Clemson Matches Up:

It’s hard to get good perimeter looks against Kansas when they are engaged and playing good defense, because of the way they switch everything. The good news is that they haven’t been consistently engaged on defense this year.

Look for the Clemson ball handlers to drive any lazy switches. Clemson’s ability to get Kansas to back off and defend the drive is going to be crucial in this game.

The good news is, we have the ball handlers and shooters needed to attack Kansas, and Eli Thomas should be able to score on the interior, especially if Azubuike (Kansas’s starting center) isn’t 100% (he says he is almost 100%, but will wear a bulky knee brace).

Against Kansas, it really comes down to making somewhat contested shots. You’re not going to get a bunch of great looks, but you can get good looks, and you’ve got to knock them down.

Kansas Key Players:

Devonte’ Graham: 6’2, 185 - PPG: 17.4, ASTPG: 7.5

This is it, this is the player that will determine Clemson’s fate. Graham is the Big 12 player of the year, and he may be the most important player on any team in the tournament.

If Clemson can keep Graham at or below his average, we have a chance. If Graham gets cooking on offense, it’s all over, because he is more than capable of ripping your stomach open and showing you your guts.

You’ve got to make Graham a passer and not a scorer, even though he is excellent at distributing the basketball. Unlike Kansas teams in the past, there isn’t a glut of talent surrounding Graham. They’ve got guys that can score, but they tend to be hot and cold. Graham tends to be hot and hot on offense.

If Clemson is going to win, we’re going to need the Jayhawks to miss some shots, and those shots are probably going to be missed by not Devonte’ Graham.

I expect you’ll see Mitchell start on Graham and see what he can do to both him with his long arms. You’ll also see Devoe try and use his strength to muscle the slightly built Graham off the ball.

Graham really struggled against the physical Seton Hall defense, and that’s why Seton Hall was in it late. Expect Clemson to try the same tactic Friday night.

Udoka Azubuike: 7’0, 280 - PPG: 13.2 RPG: 6.9

Malik Newman and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk are both better scores than Azubuike, but the big man from Nigeria is the only real interior presence for Kansas. When Azubuike is right, he’s a dominating presence on the defense end and a load in the low post on offense and on the glass.

The interesting thing about Azubuike is that he’s been injured for more than a month (MCL), but according to Bill Self, he’s going to start tomorrow night. He played 22 minutes against Seton Hall and put up 10 and 7 with 2 blocks. It will be interesting to where his conditioning is, and Eli should absolutely run him up and down the court and try and wear him out. You saw Eli leak out on the fast break on numerous occasions against Auburn. Expect the same tomorrow night.

One glaring weakness for Azubuike is free throw shooting. If he has an open look, you’ve got to foul him, because he’s only a 40% free throw shooter. The only problem is that Eli can’t get in foul trouble, so the foul needs to either come from the 4 position or a guard digging down hard.

Keys For Victory:


Clemson has to get to 80 points to win this game. Kansas has lost 7 games this year, in 6 of those games, their opponent scored over 80 points. Kansas has won 29 games this season and in only 2 of those games, their opponent has reached 80 points.

If Clemson wins this game it’s because we managed to outscore a Kansas team that can be hot and cold on offense.

Mitchell, Devoe, Reed:

In a normal game, 1 of these 3 can be off, and the Tigers still have a chance to win the game. Against Kansas, this trio needs to go 3-3 if the Tigers want to win.

We don’t get much scoring from the 4, and Eli is going to be in a battle all night in the low post.

March is a guard dominated tournament, and Clemson has 3 good guards. All 3 are going to have to bring it against Kansas on Friday night.

They are more the capable of taking care of business.


I don’t wager baked goods unless I am confident, and I think we’re going to win this one. KenPom has this game as a virtual toss up (54%), with Kansas winning 72-71, but stats are for nerds, and plus, I’m an English major, so I’m more into narrative anyway.

Clemson 82 - Kansas 77

See you guys in the Elite 8.