Thursday, March 20, 2008

Preview -- Clemson Tigers

The #12 seeded Wildcats open against the #7 seeded Clemson Tigers on Good Friday (9:40pm or 30 minutes after the conclusion of the Vanderbilt-Siena game) at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Florida. Clemson (24-9, 10-6, RPI #19) finished 2nd in the regular season of the Atlantic Coast Conference. They ran to the Finals in the ACC Tournament, losing (for the 3rd time this season) to North Carolina. Clearly their body of work earned them an at-large bid to the NCAAs. For Coach Oliver Purnell and his squad this dance has been a long time coming...

Common Opponents, Good Wins, Bad Losses...
The 'Cats and Tigers shared two opponents this year:


As for wins, Clemson appears to have saved their best for (nearly) last, as they beat #6 Duke, 78-74, in the ACC semi-finals. And bad losses? Nothing the Tigers should be particularly embarrassed about this season. Their 82-72 loss to Charlotte (A10, 20-13, 9-7, RPI #69) culminated a 2 game losing streak (their longest this season) that spanned the first weekend in January. If streaks have been short this season, something of the same could be said for the Tiger's winning streaks. After stringing together 10 wins to open the season, Clemson has been unable to put more than 3 consecutive wins together since.

By the Numbers, Offense & Defense...
When Clemson has the ball:

CU's Off52.18419.89939.8819.0324
VU's Def51.323523.74331.611345.9321

Shooting and rebounding are Clemson's strongest elements on offense. The game may well hinge on how many FGAs Clemson will be able to take, and whether Villanova can continue to apply the tight 3 point shot defense they developed by the end of the season. The Tigers have been very good from the field (especially at Villanova's point of weakness -- the 3 point line...Clemson hit 38.0% of their 3s which ranks them #52 according to Ken Pomeroy's Clemson Scout Page). Clemson is one of the best at taking the second (and third?) shot via their offensive rebounding. But the 'Cats are no slouches on the boards either, and the battle for loose basketballs could get physical. Only 3 teams in the ACC -- UNC, VT and Virginia -- have better defensive rebounding numbers than Villanova and all three kept the Tigers below their average on the offensive boards. Clemson is 2-3 in those games, going 0-3 against UNC, blowing Virginia off the court and taking a 1 point decision against the Hokies. The Wildcats have improved on this over the past 7 or so games (with relapses against the Huskies...). Nova's ability to defend the field goal will be one of the critical factors in determining the outcome. Free throws have gotten almost a standard mention in most Villanova-Clemson previews. It may be one of the strongest candidates for this game's "irrelevant stat" award, but the polar opposition is worth a (very...) quick look and a few moments of thought. Clemson's team FTA/FGA is 27.8, the -8.8 difference between their FTA/FGA and FTM/FGA confirms they are not a particularly good (over the course of the season...) at free throws. The Tigers don't look to the charity stripe to provide more than a marginal portion of their final score. Their relatively low FTA/FGA also suggests that this Clemson team may not be especially agressive. Looking at the individual team members, of those who logged more than 35% of the playing time, only Demontez Stitt (51.9; 49.5), James Mays (56.4; 37.4) and Trevor Booker (65.6; 40.9) have FTA/FGA's over 30%. Demontez Stitt is the only backcourt player in the trio. Villanova by contrast has six players, three from the backcourt, who play > 35 & have FTA/FGAs > 30. The crew that referees this game will have two squads that may have very different expectations (and tolerances?) regarding physical contact.
When Villanova has the ball:

VU's Off49.020120.212436.74027.884
CU's Def47.87724.22935.728833.198

eFG (shooting) is the most critical aspect to offense and defense. Villanova has not been better than mediocre since the beginning of the Big East regular season. The Wildcats have logged 9 games where their eFG was > 49.0, four of those games coming in a single stretch (St. John's, West Virginia, Connecticut and Marquette) and their last was the first game in the BET. Turnover rate is a marker for Clemson. Their defense employs full court pressure to force turnovers (which yield easy transition baskets for their offense). Clemson's record is 5-7 when their opponent turns over 21.5% or fewer of their possessions. Villanova's turnover rate is is a disappointing (with 3 elite point guards one would expect it to be lower...) is 20.2, though it has been over 21.5 in each of the last three games. If Villanova can limit turnovers, the offensive prospects may be promising as the Tigers, while among the D1 elites on the offensive boards, are among the worst on defensive boards. Like Clemson (though not as strong #40 versus #8) Villanova can get after their misses. Villanova has come to rely on points from the free throw line. The Wildcats have an FTA/FGA of about 38.4, just a bit above the Tiger's season-long rate (from the table above -- 33.1).

..."Experience" is another contrasting element between the two teams. The Clemson squad will most likely start 3 seniors (All ACC #1/#2 Cliff Hammonds, #3 Sam Perry & #4 James Mays), a junior (#2/#3 KC Rivers) and a sophomore (#5 Trevor Booker). Pomeroy ranked this squad (1.6 years) as #185 (out of 341). But Hammonds, Perry & Mays are seniors and this is their first exposure to the NCAA (after 3 trips to the NIT). The Villanova squad will most likely start 2 juniors (#4/#5 Dante Cunningham & #3/#4 Dwayne Anderson), a sophomore (#1 Scottie Reynolds) and 2 freshmen (RS #4/#5 Antonio Pena & #2 Corey Stokes). Pomeroy ranks this Wildcat squad at #324 in D1 for experience, but all three of the non freshmen starters have played in at least one prior NCAA tournament. This will be the third trip for juniors Dante Cunningham (logged over 130 minutes of NCAA PT with one start), Shane Clark (> 60 minutes) and Dwayne Anderson (< 5 minutes) and the second trip for sophomore Scottie Reynolds (> 30 minutes, 1 start). Pomeroy calculates the game will be played for 71 possessions, the score 75-68 Clemson. With a 23% chance of an upset.

And the veteran blogger over at Villanova Viewpoint has interrupted his hiatus with a comprehensive game preview which covers the history of the series, an overview of Clemson and detailed information about the lineups and rotation.

2 comments: said...

That's an interesting point about Clemson's FTA/FGA & FTM/FGA and their aggressiveness.

Can someone forward that to Jay!

Great job as usual!

greyCat said...

Given the way things played out, I suspect the staff knew from game tapes. The fouls on those (attempted) breakout field goals in the second half seemed to really take them out of their mindset. They really looked distracted/frustrated by the time the refs T'ed up Coach Wright.