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Clemson Basketball Preview: Wofford

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I hate it when this happens!

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Rutgers at Clemson Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, I hate it when this happens. My undergraduate alma mater, Wofford, is playing my graduate alma mater Clemson. I guess that makes me a bit of an “expert” on these teams but I’d rather not have the game of torn allegiances!

It is game 2 and Clemson will need to play A LOT better than it did in the Presbyterian game where they found themselves down double-figures for chunks of the first half. Wofford is definitely a step up from the Blue Hose and is fresh off dropping 115 points in their opener against Bob Jones. I don’t care who you play, that is filling it up.

Wofford has been one of the stronger mid-majors in the southeast since Mike Young began regularly winning Southern Conference championships before Virginia Tech hired him away. Young melded tough man to man defensive principals with some top shelf offensive actions featuring deadly 3 point shooters, and former assistant Jay McAuley has looked to keep that blueprint since taking over as head coach 2 seasons ago. The Terriers have more wins (2) in Chapel Hill than the Tigers (1). Clemson will have to lean on their signature defensive strengths to keep the game from becoming a shooting exhibition, which Wofford is more equipped to win.

The Terriers went a blistering 16-25 from 3-point range in their opener on Tuesday. Now, Bob Jones doesn’t offer nearly the length and athleticism that Clemson brings and those looks will not be as open, but it is imperative that the Tigers guard the 3-point line well and limit the Terriers from deep. Presbyterian hurt the Tigers with some backdoor cutting on Tuesday, so that will need to be cleaned up as well as the Terriers can definitely hurt teams that way when they over extend.

Wofford’s top player from last year, Storm Murphy, has gone to Virginia Tech as a graduate transfer to play for his former coach Mike Young. Now senior Ryan Larson steps in as the leader at point guard. Larson’s line from Tuesday? 20 minutes, 19 points, 5-5 on 3’s, 6 assists and no turnovers. I’m not sure I’ve seen a line like that from a Clemson point guard even against the weakest teams on a season’s schedule. Nick Honor and Al-Amir Dawes will need to make sure they keep Larson in check. Wofford runs a ton of double stagger screen actions and pin downs off the ball which requires a defense to communicate very well. This also “occupies the help” so that players who are able to beat their man off the dribble can get to the rim without additional defenders to worry about. It will be interesting to see what Brownell and his staff decide to do to counter this. Will they try a lot of switching off the ball? Might we see some zone looks from Clemson? Say what you will about Brad Brownell, but he is one of the better defensive game planners around.

The Tigers were not able to exploit PJ Hall’s size advantage against the Blue Hose nearly as well as you would have liked to have seen. 6-8 247 pound BJ Mack is really the only guy the Terriers have who should be able to hold up one on one with Hall. It would behoove the Tigers to get Mack into foul trouble and force the Terriers to be smaller on the front line. I was very concerned with how the Tigers rebounded the ball in the PC game. At one point, the smaller Blue Hose had a sizeable advantage on the boards. They finished with a 12-4 advantage on offensive rebounds, and that is simply unacceptable if you are Clemson. You can’t give a team with Wofford’s firepower extra cracks at scoring. The Tigers must hold Wofford to 1 shot and force them to shoot a really high percentage.

Obviously 4 offensive rebounds for Clemson is not good at all. When you struggle to make shots the way Clemson historically does, offensive rebounded becomes twice as important and can really help you stave off long scoring droughts. Clemson barely broke 20 points in the first half on Tuesday night and that won’t get it done on Friday.

Al-Amir Dawes caught fire in the second half and really pulled the Tigers to victory. David Collins had an impressive first outing as well, although his free throw shooting prevented what should have been a 20+ point night. However, you have to love seeing a Clemson guard who can be that type of attacking presence to draw fouls. That hasn’t been very common in the Brownell era. Collins had a down year shooting FT’s at South Florida last season, so hopefully he can turn that around because it can really be a weapon if he can make those FT’s consistently.

Clemson still needs to find ways to effectively feature PJ Hall inside to be a consistent team this season. Hunter Tyson gives you great energy and can make shots, but Hall is the guy who can force defenses to adjust in ways that frees up perimeter players. He can’t have just 4 shot attempts (2 from inside the arch).

KenPom gives Clemson a 79% chance to win, but this is in no way an easy game for this early in the season. You hope Clemson’s sluggish first half against PC was just first game nerves or the like. Several major teams had similar struggles on Tuesday and not all survived them for wins. The Tigers, at best, figure to be a bubble NCAA team this season and simply cannot afford to drop a home game even to a solid mid-major who could make the tournament themselves. It will come down to keeping the Terriers under 70 points.