When: Saturday Dec 4, 12pm
Where: Coral Gables
Ah, the never ending thrills of Clemson men’s basketball! Fans have been treated to glimpses, even long stretches, of some high level play from this year’s team, but we look up and find the Tigers are 5-3 and just 1-3 against high major division 1 competition. The Rutgers game was extremely disappointing on many fronts, but for me, the most disappointing was how much it exposed the weaknesses of this roster. Rutgers was simply longer and stronger at just about every position, including the bench, and size, length, and athleticism MATTER at this level of basketball even beyond skill.
I thought Clemson was more skilled overall and most definitely worked to get better quality shots as a whole, but it didn’t matter because the Scarlett Knights were not deterred in the least to attack the rim or shoot over smaller Tiger defenders with confidence. That led to every Rutgers starter but one posting an offensive rating of over 100 while Clemson’s top 6 guys produced just 1. The Rutgers players did a lot of things I don’t think are fundamentally sound, mostly leaving their feet to make passes, but when you are long and can hang, it affords the time to figure out where to go with it unless the defense is similarly long enough to eat up that space to see passing outlets. Oh yeah, it helps to have a 6’11” guy with 7’4” arms who can just go get it and finish with dunks routinely.
Bigger guards also get calls. It really isn’t a mystery as to why David Collins draws the most fouls on the team, especially shooting fouls. Rutgers got more calls because they have bigger guards and got the benefit of the calls as often happens in those cases. This is something I feel has to be addressed in recruiting philosophy and evaluation. The current roster is a team that simply can’t afford to not make 3-pointers at a good clip because they can’t really generate offense consistently other ways.
We all pretty much know Clemson has a very small chance of success without PJ Hall being a major factor. He brings the only legitimate size inside on the roster and he was saddled with foul trouble all night and fouled out with just over 4 minutes to go. I do think Ian Schieffelin is going to be a nice player in time, but he isn’t ready to do heavy lifting at this level just yet if Hall is riding pine for extended stretches.
Now Clemson turns to ACC play (with a few more non conference games remaining) with essentially a must-win game against a Miami team projected in the bottom third of the league. I said the Tigers needed to get through non conference with 3 or fewer losses and they are already at that number. That puts more pressure on league play to give the team a chance for the NCAA tournament. Another problem is the ACC is off to a poor start nationally and might be just a 4 bid league at the end unless things turn around for some teams. Simply put, I don’t see a 10-10 or 11-9 ACC team making it to the tournament which is right around where this Tigers squad is trending. Everything screams NIT to me at the moment.
Let’s take a look at the Hurricanes. I’ll start with the bad news. The bad news is they still have Isaiah Wong and Kameron McGusty who are just the type of longer, more athletic guards who have given the Tigers fits and combined for 34 points in eliminating Clemson from last year’s ACC tournament. Wong in particular can go get his own shot and score even over good defense. In fact, he is just the type of player I felt would have taken a team like Clemson had last year and vaulted it into the top 5 of the league and into Sweet 16/Elite 8 consideration. Unfortunately he is a Hurricane. David Collins can match up with one of these two, but the other will have a size advantage over either Al Amir Dawes or Nick Honor. You like Chase Hunter defensively but what can he do for you offensively if you give him bigger minutes?
The good news is Miami is not a very strong defensive team. All three losses for Clemson have been against teams in the top 65 defensively according to KenPom.com’s ratings. Miami sits at 136th at the moment despite having had five games against teams ranked outside of KenPom’s top 100 overall. Clemson should, in theory, have a much easier time operating offensively, and when they can do that, they can play with their defense set and be much tougher on people vs. having to guard out of transition constantly.
Miami’s best win was their last one which was on the road against Penn State this past Wednesday. They actually guarded well for a change and held PSU to just 6-24 from 3-point range while forcing 14 turnovers. Clemson certainly can’t afford to turn it over or shoot it that poorly. A close game favors Miami because this game is on the road AND they have the best offensive player on the court who can create for himself.
Clemson’s path to victory is to be efficient on offense, particularly at guard, and make open shots when they get them. Seems simple enough, right? In last year’s games against Miami, Honor and Dawes averaged an offensive rating of 141 in the regular season win (66-58) and averaged an 83 rating in the tournament loss (64-67). Simply put, Clemson has to have Dawes and Honor play at 100 or better offensively (or one of them to be really good to offset the other having a bad night). If they both struggle, Clemson can’t beat high major teams no matter how good an Amir Simms or a PJ Hall or a Hunter Tyson might be on a given night. For example, Simms, Tyson, Clyde Trapp, and Alex Hemenway all posted over 100 offensive ratings in 24 or more minutes against Miami in the ACC Tournament but the Tigers still lost. It’s all about guard play and guard efficiency with your lead guards!
History has shown that Clemson and Miami are going to have tight games no matter the venue. This isn’t very surprising because both teams are typically flawed, just in different areas usually, and those tend to even out. Clemson has to find a way to manage Wong and McGusty. One can go off only if the other players are essentially shut down, such as when Clemson beat Miami last year despite Wong going for 28 points. PJ Hall has to stay on the floor and win his matchup vs. Sam Waardenburg.
I always say first team to 60 is going to win games in the Brad Brownell era. I’m not sure of the actual metrics, but I know Clemson wins at a very high percentage when it scores 60 before its opponent and loses at a very high percentage when the reverse is true. KenPom likes Clemson 71-70. I just know Clemson needs to protect a lead late and not have to chase the game like they did against Rutgers. This is a pivotal moment even for a December game.