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What is going on with this confusing Clemson basketball team?

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NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Clemson Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson basketball has been impossible to get a read on this year. According to KenPom, the Tigers are the 72nd best team in the country, but that doesn’t really tell the story. KenPom tiers games as “A games” (the toughest), “B games” (the next toughest), and all others. Here’s how Clemson has done done in each tier:

A Games: 2-6
B Games: 5-2
Others: 6-4
Overall: 13-12

The record in A and B games makes sense, but how are they worse in “Others” than B games? If Clemson had beaten Virginia Tech, South Carolina, Miami, and Notre Dame, four home games against teams ranked 60th or worse, they’d be 17-8 and well on their way to an NCAA tournament bid. So what explains this?

The Tigers are 230th in 3P%, but 19th in the proportion of shots they take that are three pointers. In those four bad losses, they chucked up a whopping 117 3-pointers or 28.5 per game. They shot a measly .265 on those shots. In the Tigers next two worst losses Yale and at Wake Forest, they shot 45 3-pointers (22.5 per game) and made a pitiful 24.4%.

Overall, the Tigers effective points per 3-point attempt this season has netted out to 0.963 while their effective points per 2-point shot attempt has been 1.026. It would be too simplistic to say the Tigers just need to shoot fewer 3-pointers though. Instead, we dig deeper and see that they just need the right players shooting 3-pointers. Tevin Mack (.291) and Al-Amir Dawes (.302) have attempted 134 and 116 3-pointers, respectively. Meanwhile, Alex Hemenway (.556) and Aamir Simms (.386) have only attempted 27 and 70 3-pointers, respectively. Part of that is the early season ankle injury Hemenway endured, but part of it is also shot selection and strategy. The Tigers need the right players shooting 3-pointers.

So if relying too heavily on unreliable 3-point shooters is the culprit, what’s the solution. It is three-fold: (1) less settling and more attacking the paint, (2) growth from current players, (3) arrival of new talent.

The Tigers are 2-3 in ACC games in which they attempt more 3-pointers than 2-pointers (wins over NC State and Syracuse). Unlike years past, the Tigers do not have a Landy Nnoko type post-player they can go to when shots from the outside aren’t falling.

The maturation of Aamir Simms and Trey Jemison will go a long way to help remedy this next year. Getting Jonathan Baehre back fully healthy could go a long way to creating a legitimate post-presence too. Incoming freshman PJ Hall, a 6’9” player from Dorman, could also help the cause. John Newman’s willingness to use his athleticism to attack the basket in traffic, something he has only recently started doing with persistence, is another reason to believe Clemson will be better here moving forward.

When the offense is stagnant, they settle for bad 3-pointers from unreliable shooters. Better point guard play will help avoid that. Al-Amir Dawes and Clyde Trapp have struggled at times this year. Their offensive efficiency ratings are woeful -- 85.2 and 86.1, respectively (for a reference point, Tevin Mack is 101.8). Dawes has shown marked improved in recent weeks though as the game seems to be slowing down for the freshman PG. Trapp has also looked a bit better as he is hopefully getting more comfortable post-knee surgery. Next year they’ll also add Nick Honor to the depth chart at PG. On top of that, the recent emergence of Alex Hemenway, not a point guard but a legitimate 3-point threat, will go a long way in spacing the court and opening up other players.

Nobody knows what the next month of this season will hold, but it will most likely include a few more inexplicable ups and a few more inexplicable downs. Next season though, there’s a lot of reason for optimism and very little reason for excuse.