2007-2008 Clemson Tigers
Record: 22-8 (10-6, 3rd place ACC)
Quality Wins: @ Mississippi St, Purdue, Miami, Virginia Tech
Key Losses: Charlotte, @ FSU, @ Georgia Tech, UNC (2)
NCAA Tournament Status: LOCK
Strengths: Clemson is a very athletic, active team. They play great defense as a team, constantly pressing and recovering to stop any fastbreaks that might occur after the opponent breaks their press. Clemson’s press is a diamond trap, a version of a traditional 1-2-1-1 press. A big man, usually James Mays, pressures the inbounder after a made Clemson basket. Once the ball is inbounded, he and a wing player trap the ball depending on which side of the court its on. Passing lanes are covered by the other wing player who rotates on the weak side and the point guard who is playing “center field” at midcourt. Finally, a big man, usually Trevor Booker is back under the Clemson basket to help erase any fastbreak opportunities. The point of this detailed description is that unless you have faced this press before, it will be a tough adjustment. Clemson certainly would have a huge advantage if an opponent has a short time to prepare for this pressure (i.e. two days between the first and second round). Clemson is also very deep, as nine guys average at least ten minutes per game. Each player comes in a plays extremely hard, active on defense, and attacking on offense.
Weaknesses: Free throw shooting. To put it nicely, Clemson is absolutely atrocious from the charity stripe. Ok, maybe that was not so nice. Nonetheless, Clemson really struggles down the stretch of close games to close out opponents when nursing a lead. Twice this season, they lead North Carolina late but 1. stopped pressing in order to not give up potentially easy buckets; and 2. missed a number of foul shots that would have iced the game. To be honest, what is frequently missed about this team is that they are not good shooters from anywhere, not just the foul line. With the exception of Terrence Oglesby and KC Rivers, no one else on this team can be called a good shooter. However, Oglesby is a freshman and incredibly streaky while Rivers seems to struggle late in games as the defense tightens. Finally, Clemson lacks experience at point guard and in the NCAA Tournament. Freshman Demontez Stitt is usually at the point for the Tigers and has played well. However, he still has a lot to learn. And, as a team, no one has played in the Big Dance on the grandest stage. How Clemson reacts to the intensity turning up a notch or two will be very indicative of their potential success.
Key Player: KC Rivers leads the team in scoring, but Cliff Hammonds is the most valuable player on the Tigers. The senior academic All-American is a terrific defender and versatile guard, with the ability to play three spots on the floor. He always draws the other team’s best offensive player, yet is still counted on to provide nearly twelve points per contest.
X-Factor: Freshman guard Terrence Oglesby is the definition of an X-Factor. Multiple times this season, he has come off the bench to instantly provide long-range shooting for Clemson. He will be vital to their post-season success, as Clemson must have someone to stretch the opposing defense from beyond the arc. Oglesby is, again, streaky, but can really impact a game for brief stretches of time.
Style of Play: The Tigers’ pressure makes the game nearly out-of-control at times. The Tigers remain in their press for the majority of ballgames. However, this press requires made baskets to set up. On the offensive end, Clemson thrives on easy buckets caused by turnovers and solid post play/second-chance points from Booker and Mays. Everything is very cyclical for Clemson: play great defense, cause turnovers, score easy buckets so they can set up their press.
Why Clemson Will Win: Unfamiliarity of teams with their defensive pressure, depth
Why Clemson Will Lose: Inability to consistently score in the halfcourt, inexperience, free-throw shooting
Tournament Prediction: Clemson has waited a long time to return to the NCAA Tournament (1998). If they can relax and play up to their ability, the Tigers should win at least one game and potentially give a higher seed a great game in the 2nd round.
Editor’s Note: Depending on the draw, Clemson could go down in the first round or make it to the Elite Eight. If you can play Carolina as close as they have on both regular-season occasions this year, you can play with anybody. My concern with Clemson has been their inability to close out close games, but the win over Maryland dispelled that somewhat. They have power inside with Mays and others, and some of their three-point shooters need to be guarded as soon as they reach half court. Stay tuned for their draw, though, as excellent defensive teams like Arizona State, Washington State, or Pittsburgh could give them trouble.