StLou's Previews: Clemson Tigers
The Tigers are the ACC's pleasant surprise of the season, rising from ACC-cellar expectations to enter this game ranked 18th (AP Poll). A key starter is lost for the year, however, so how will Clemson deal with adversity when traveling to the ACC's toughest venue?
Date/Time: Tuesday, Jan 23rd, 7:00 PM Eastern
Location: John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA
TV: WatchESPN / RSN
What 'They' Say
|Vegas:||UVA -8.5, O/U 118|
|TAPE:||Ranks CU #32, predicts a 70-55 UVA win, 90% confidence|
|KenPom:||Ranks CU #13, predicts a 60-52 UVA win, 77% confidence|
|PG||#4 Shelton Mitchell, 6-3 194, JR|
|32.8 mpg, 12.3 ppg, 4.3 apg, 32% 3P%|
|SG||#2 Marcquise Reed, 6-3 189, JR|
|34.1 mpg, 16 ppg, 2.9 apg, 41% 3P%|
|SF||#10 Gabe DeVoe, 6-3 207, SR|
|32.4 mpg, 11.7 ppg, 1.8 apg, 37% 3P%|
|PF||#24 David Skara, 6-8 208, JR|
|15.1 mpg, 2 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 39% FG%|
|C||#14 Elijah Thomas, 6-9 237, JR|
|24.1 mpg, 11.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 62% FG%|
|#25 Aamir Simms, 6-7 237, FR|
|9.8 mpg, 2.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 46% FG%|
|C||#5 Mark Donnal, 6-9 232, SR|
|12.4 mpg, 3.9 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 55% FG%|
The ABC's of CU:
A) They're adjusting to life without Donte Grantham. In a truly heartbreaking story to come out of Clemson over the weekend, senior forward Grantham saw his college career end with a torn ACL. Grantham is a really good player and by all accounts a really good kid, so this is a shame. He'd emerged from Jaron Blossomgame's shadow this year and was getting it done across the stat sheet, a true multifaceted threat. 32 minutes a game, 14.2 points, 6.9 rebounds, 0.9 blocks, 63% from 2 and 42% from 3. He was that inside/outside wing forward that's become such a difference maker in today's spacing-heavy game, and is essentially a veteran, fully developed version of the kind of forward we're anticipating Hunter becoming for us. The impact of his loss cannot be overstated. Trying to fill his huge shoes will be Donnal, Skara, and Simms (we're admittedly guessing on Skara getting the starting nod, could be any of the 3), but it remains to be seen how they'll fare in an expanded role.
B) Elijah Thomas is a future all-ACC big man. He's not getting a ton of pub right now, lost in the shadow of the more hyped big men in the RDU Triangle, but Thomas is a name to know. The RS Sophomore Texas A&M transfer showed well in bench minutes once he became eligible halfway through last year, but this year is truly excelling in his starting role, averaging 11 points on 62% shooting, 7.7 rebounds, and a crushing 2.5 blocks a game. On offense, I expect him to be slowed down by Salt and Wilkins; he's not a jump shooter so both should be able to body him up fairly well, and without the need to keep potential help defenders glued to Grantham, he'll be prime for the post-double. But when Clemson is on D, he's the nucleus in the paint that protects the rim (Clemson has the 2nd highest team block % in ACC play) and cleans up their guards' mistakes. He's a little foul prone, but given our complete inability to play downhill and draw fouls, I'm not expecting that to factor in here.
C) They've got a small but veteran back court. The 6'3" trio of PG Mitchell (RS Jr) and off guards Reed (RS Jr) and DeVoe (Sr) are in their second year together (Mitchell and Reed both transferred in after their freshmen years) and have really gelled. They start and will all play most of the game (even more likely with backup forward Skara forced to spend more time at the 4 in Grantham's role), and are combining for 40 points and 9 assists a night. Their efficiencies have dipped in ACC play, with none of them shooting 50%, and only Reed doing serious damage from 3 (43% in ACC play). We're going to have a distinct size advantage at the 2 and 3, so let's hope we find a way to put that to our advantage at both ends of the court.
Their season to date:
Clemson is 16-3 on the year, 5-2 in the ACC. They've scored good wins at Ohio State and athome vs Louisville and Miami. They've lost to Temple (neutral), at NC State, and at UNC. Most recently, they beat a short-handed Notre Dame 67-58 at home on Saturday.
Keys to getting the win:
1) Dial up the ball pressure. Clemson hasn't been consistent with ball protection this year; their offensive TO% of 18.2% (meaning they turn it over on just about 1 out of 5 possessions) is only 131st nationally, and 8th in the ACC so far. Reed and Mitchell have had some tough games the last couple of weeks, combining for 7 TOs in a loss to NC State, 7 in beating Miami, and 10 in a loss to UNC. As good as our defense has been this year forcing turnovers (tops in ACC play at almost 25%), there's a real opportunity to shut down Clemson's offense before it can ever find a rhythm by frustrating its ball movement.
2) Use our size advantage to get into the lane. Hall, Hunter, and Jerome all have the physicality to get into the lane on their undersized defenders. Nigel has the speed. We can use this to collapse the defense with paint touches and then (a) kick it to shooters (b) finish over the help defense when practical, such as when Thomas is out of position or catching his breath, or (c) capitalize on the post help by scoring off of drive-and-dishes or weak-side offensive rebounds. Thomas's shot-blocking aside (and it is relevant, no doubt), Clemson's paint defense in ACC play has been below average, giving up 47% shooting on 2's (9th in ACC play), and should be even more vulnerable without Grantham's length and experience coming in to help. Bottom line, if our guards can turn the corner and see one of Simms, Donnal, or Skara waiting, consider that a green light.
3) Make good use of our depth. This will be our 3rd game in 6 days, the first two of which were on the road, and given the 40 minute battles those two contests were, fatigue could be a factor. This game is a good matchup for everyone in our 8-deep, to include Mamadi matching up well with any forward other than Thomas (including his former Blue Ridge teammate Aamir Simms), and Nigel not at a significant size disadvantage against Clemson's trio of 6-3 guards. I'd love to see a good balance of minutes across our ACC rotation in this one, (a) to keep guys fresh for the last 10 minutes and (b) to allow some guys to work out of mini-slumps. Given the heavy minutes CU's starters should log in this one, it'll be good to be the fresher team for the closing stretch.
Press the Attack
Updated on January 22, 2018 by
The loss of Donte Grantham is devastating to Clemson. He was their best and most versatile player, making their three-guard offense work by tying together the post with the perimeter. They already were only getting 45 minutes per game out of their bench, with 37 of those coming from three forwards. Their three guards all play over 30 minutes and are stretched thin. Now one of those forwards will have to start.
Forward is the weakness of this Clemson team. Their three guards are playing much better basketball than last year, but they are prone to turning the ball over. They do not have one guard who is dominant, so don't look for Devon Hall to be assigned to any one guard. We will most likely hand them off freely, and when we go small - expect to see that a lot - we will likely just pass them off to all five players. Nigel Johnson's size is not much of an issue in this one, as all the Clemson guards are 6-3 and around 200 pounds, so he is at no appreciable disadvantage.
Defensively, Isaiah Wilkins will guard whichever forward replaces Grantham, unless we are small and Elijah Thomas is in. Thomas is a legit low post load, but Zay has been outstanding shutting them down. Look for Zay to be the dominant player on the floor on our defensive end.
Clemson on defense blocks a lot of shots, does not foul and does not give up offensive rebounds. They have the quickness at guard to give our perimeter players trouble at the arc. When the Hoos are on offense, we will need Zay to be efficient and both him and Hall to be aggressive. Devon's size and physicality will be difficult for Clemson to handle if he asserts himself. We could see some inverted sets with Devon posting up if we can pull Thomas away from the basket. One way to do that will be to have Hunter and Zay as the bigs, and have Zay setting high ball screens or side ball screens while Hunter works the weakside perimeter. He has to be honored as a shooter now. Do that and then have Hall work the paint. Nigel running pick and roll or pick and pop with Isaiah should be effective in this set.
If Clemson is pressuring the guards and laying off the posts, Zay has to think shot first and shoot them in rhythm. If he has Thomas on him, especially, he needs to operate in the mid-range or at the arc and really concentrate on shooting in rhythm early. If he can hit one or two and make Thomas honor it, he will have opportunities to fake-and-drive. His best way to serve is to take his own shot. We need more from him on offense than he gave against Wake.
Before Saturday, I actually had some concerns about this game, especially given the extra day and a half Clemson had to rest up and prepare. Grantham and Thomas made up a heck of a front court on both ends of the floor and really set the foundation for what Clemson has been able to accomplish this year. We're about to find out how big an absence was left by Grantham, though, and I suspect it's a difference maker. This is still a good Clemson team, and they'll probably claim a few more pelts at home this year and finally punch that elusive NCAA Tournament ticket, but I don't see them scoring the road upset tonight. This will start tight for the first 5-10 minutes or so. But when we can get Hunter into the game and Elijah Thomas starts going to the bench to catch his breath, the floor will open up for our offense to find a rhythm and we should open up a decent lead that we can build out and maintain in the second half.
Hoos Win - 66-51