Better Know An Opponent: Clemson

The Gamecocks come home fresh off  a 25-point shellacking by St. John’s with an opportunity to cure what ails them against a team that every Gamecock would love to see them get right against – Clemson.  The Tigers are also entering the game off a non-conference loss.  Clemson suffered a 73-61 loss to Purdue on Wednesday night in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge.  On Sunday, both teams try to right their ships – Carolina looking to find its footing against better competition, Clemson looking to improve its resume for a potential NCAA bid, and both fighting for in-state bragging rights.

The Four Factors

Brought to you by KenPom.com (national ranking in parenthetical):

USC Offense Clem Defense Clem Offense USC Defense
eFG 101.7 (126) 92.9 (47) 50.2 (119) 51.9 (271)
Turnover % 27.2 (333) 21.1 (161) 14.6 (7) 19.8 (226)
OReb % 46.6 (4) 28.0 (64) 33.5 (131) 30.9 (140)
FTR 39.5 (123) 35.6 (163) 28.8 (287) 36.1 (173)
Adj. Pace 65.5 (239) 62.9 (320)

The Tigers approach offense in a way that reminds me a little bit of St. John’s – they get to the basket.  If you’re going to shoot a lot of 2s, you’re going to need to either shoot a lot of them, make a lot of them, or both.  Clemson manages to shoot a lot of them because it simply doesn’t turn the ball over.  Given the way St. John’s avoided turnovers the other evening against the Gamecocks, you worry that the game could start to take a similar shape unless South Carolina gets more comfortable both on offense and defense.  Though Clemson shouldn’t be able to rebound on the offensive end as well as St. John’s did, St. John’s also wasn’t supposed to be able to rebound that well.  If Carolina isn’t going to limit shots by forcing turnovers, they’re going to have to focus on making sure that Clemson doesn’t get a lot of second chances off the boards.  Unfortunately, signs seem to point to the idea that Clemson will get their fair share of rebounds as well.  Also like St. John’s, Clemson doesn’t seem to be particularly adept at getting to the line, though once again, that’s something we thought might be true of St. John’s that simply didn’t come to pass.  Some of these problems arise from small sample sizes, and some simply from Carolina not playing well or matching up well.  It’ll be interesting to see how the team progresses on each of these fronts.

One other note – don’t expect a lot of possessions in this game.  While Martin said earlier this year that he likes to play fast, that hasn’t translated to Carolina’s play this season.  Brownlee likes to play slow, and has every year since he’s been at Clemson (and before that at Wright State), so possessions will likely be at a premium tomorrow afternoon.

On the offensive end, South Carolina will try to recapture the shooting touch that failed them in Queens.  Martin said earlier in the season that the Gamecocks needed to get accustomed to the idea that they wouldn’t be able to shoot well every night, so they needed to develop the ability to win games other ways.  As of Thursday night, that ability hasn’t been displayed yet this season (with the potential exception of the UWM game, where USC shot 44.4% eFG but won thanks to hammering the offensive glass and getting to the line).  South Carolina did continue to show an ability to get second chances on the offensive end against St. John’s, and markedly improved its turnover percentage.  As frustrating as the offense was to watch at times, what destroyed them was a complete inability to stop St. John’s (when you score about a point a possession, that’s not so bad – when you give up 1.4 points a possession, you’re in big trouble).

Individuals

Clemson

Player
Min%
%Shots
eFG
OReb
DReb
ARate
TORate
3PA%
FTR
Booker
69.6
22.9
56.7
11.9
22.1
5.5
16.6
3.8
34.6
Hall
69.6
13.7
45.2
1.5
2.3
26.1
12.1
0.0
58.1
McDaniels
65.4
22.0
60.6
7.9
15.4
8.3
20.1
40.4
31.9
Jennings
54.6
20.8
60.8
6.6
20.4
18.0
12.3
40.5
29.7
Filer
51.2
25.7
44.2
6.0
14.5
16.9
9.1
37.2
30.2
Harrison
47.1
25.4
43.6
3.3
16.9
9.4
9.0
33.3
5.1
Sapp
41.2
18.6
40.0
0.0
10.3
13.3
12.1
68.0
24.0
Roper
37.5
21.3
53.8
4.1
5.6
4.6
19.7
46.2
7.7
Sullivan
30.4
12.1
33.3
6.8
10.4
2.5
7.7
0.0
41.7
Nnoko
22.5
15.0
27.3
18.3
9.4
0.0
14.7
0.0
3.4

As Ken Pomeroy requires, you are asked to take the following oath before fully relying on these statistics:

I, (state your name), understand that the player stats are based on extremely limited information in mid-November.  [Further,] I will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the responsible use of advanced stats for individuals in mid-November.

OK, now that we have that out of the way, let’s see what we can deduce from Clemson’s season thus far.

Clemson thus far has rotated its players rather heavily (they played 10-deep against Gonzaga), though only 8-deep against Purdue.  The primary reason for that was the absence of Milton Jennings, who will also not be playing against Carolina, a big loss for Clemson.  He was replaced by Bernard Sullivan, but his absence led to a lot more minutes for T.J. Sapp, who simply cannot bring all the things that Jennings has brought Clemson thus far.  How much of that would have lasted (going into this season, he has never shot over 50% eFG, so that 60.8% can be viewed with suspicion), but Jennings eats possessions for the Tigers and hammers the defensive glass.

As you can see from the above, the Tigers spread their minutes out rather democratically, though their shots less so (Sullivan and Hall never shot much last year either).  McDaniels is by far their most effective scorer from the field, and he takes plenty of 3PAs (the Tigers similarly separate themselves into two groups of guys who will shoot 3PAs and guys that will not).  Sapp is at the furthest extreme here, operating offensively primarily as a spot-up three-point shooter.  If his man leaves to help on a dribble-drive, Sapp can make the Gamecocks pay (albeit, he was 32% from 3PA last season, so he’s not deadly).

On both ends of the floor, Devin Booker is a monster rebounder.  He also takes and makes plenty of 2PAs, so whoever is charged with guarding the 6’8” senior will need to bring his best game to prevent him from taking the Gamecocks to task under the basket.

Otherwise on offense, it’s hard to find Clemson particularly interesting from a personnel perspective.  There’s simply no go to guy and not many players that excel at much, with one exception – turnovers.  As we saw in the Four Factors portion of this piece, Clemson as a team doesn’t turn the ball over very often, and that trickles through each of the individual statistics.  They do that well and aren’t inherently flawed in any other area (though they don’t get to the line often or make many shots while they’re there), which leads to a pretty damn decent offense.

South Carolina

Player
Min%
%Shots
eFG
Oreb
Dreb
Arate
TORate
3PA%
FTR
Jackson
80.0
17.0
64.2
12.0
17.8
14.3
27.3
0.0
28.3
Smith
66.6
17.3
37.8
2.1
6.1
19.8
32.9
33.3
46.7
Kacinas
65.2
13.4
61.8
14.0
13.7
7.1
33.0
17.6
70.6
Page
63.8
31.4
46.8
1.4
14.7
8.1
16.3
51.3
33.3
Richardson
57.6
19.1
53.5
4.8
10.6
18.4
26.9
55.8
16.3
Williams
51.7
26.3
64.2
1.8
11.0
15.4
24.9
41.5
49.1
Slawson
46.9
13.7
40.0
16.6
13.0
9.3
29.7
16.0
48.0
Carrera
29.3
24.5
55.4
21.8
26.4
5.2
25.3
3.6
67.9
Leonard
22.1
20.9
50.0
4.1
7.4
6.0
45.5
72.2
0.0

The Gamecocks continue to be a team that I’m struggling to completely figure out, but it seems safe to say at this point that there are three guys that really make the team tick – LaShay Page, Brenton Williams, and Michael Carrera.  I’m going to assume that Williams is playing tomorrow because I haven’t heard otherwise, but if he’s not, that’s obviously a massive loss for South Carolina.

He’s not listed in the chart above, but a brief look at Eric Smith’s line shows why Coach Martin wanted to get Bruce Ellington minutes – Eric Smith simply isn’t getting it done for the Gamecocks on the offensive end.  He doesn’t create enough offense either with his shooting (an eFG of 37.8%) or his passing (he assists on about 20% of the baskets Carolina makes while he’s playing).  Smith shot the ball better last season so there’s reason to think that can improve, but the turnovers and assists have been part of his game since he started at USC.  Simply put, he’s not giving the Gamecocks enough from the point right now, and so we’re looking to see if Bruce can provide what we need from that position.

As was evident from anyone watching the other evening, Bruce still doesn’t have his shot, which isn’t surprising given his day and a half worth of practice prior to the game.  The best case for Carolina this season is that Bruce can bring us the assist and turnover rates he brought us last year (25.9 and 19.0) without taking quite as many shots (29.2, which was 114th in the country).  That should help him increase his shooting efficiency and should increase the shooting of those he’s getting the ball to in scoring positions.

Elsewhere on the team, Brenton Williams and Michael Carrera continue to be two of the brightest spots on this team.  Brenton continued to get it done in his limited action against St. John’s the other evening, scoring 10 points on 7 field goals in 12 minutes.  Meanwhile, Michael Carrera delivered another double-double, crushing the glass on both sides of the court.  If each of these guys continues these levels of production, we’ve got two pieces that we can plug into a better roster that will be important contributors on better teams.

While LaShay Page continues to show the way to Carolina (both for good and ill at times), the key issue seems to be finding two other guys who can be on the floor and take enough shots to create points).  Kacinas scores the ball well when he shoots, but can’t seem to take enough shots to make that efficiency really shine through.  Lakeem Jackson is continuing to take (and make) more shots – and by shots, I mean 2PAs – but the depth drops off, especially when you talk about Eric Smith and RJ Slawson.  Increased production from each of those guys would be a big step forward for Carolina, though RJ continues to be an excellent contributor when it comes to rebounding the basketball on both ends of the floor.

On the defensive end of the ball, South Carolina simply could not and did not match up with St. John’s the other evening.  It’s easy to win the game when you outshoot a team in eFG by over 20%, and so the Gamecocks will need to make up that margin with an improved effort on both offense and defense.

Predictions

KenPom                       65-60 L (32% chance of victory)

TeamRankings           63-60 L (40% chance of victory)

Vegas                           64-61 L (44% chance of victory)

Home can cure a lot of ills, and the Gamecocks simply aren’t as bad as they played in New York on Thursday night (though their defensive issues that were on display in that game may persist a while longer).  Clemson is suffering from an important loss of a very good player on their team, and will be playing their first road game of the season that isn’t against Furman.  With losses to Purdue and Gonzaga, Clemson doesn’t have a good win to hang their hat on, so maybe they’re not as good as their ratings might make you think.  And, this is a game that bad Carolina teams have found a way to win in the past.

All true, but all probably not enough.  Right now, South Carolina simply isn’t a very good basketball team.  That said . . .

I’ll just go back to the Jennings thing.  He’s a senior on a team that has no other juniors or seniors absent Devin Booker.  He’s an important part of what they do, and they didn’t look very good doing it against Purdue in their first game without him.  And Carolina has Bruce, and . . .

To hell with it.  For whatever reason above you like to pick, I’m picking South Carolina, because we’re South Carolina and they’re Clemson, and while I pride myself on objectivity, every man has to have a line in the sand, and this is mine.  Carolina by 1 on a Bruce layup at the death because why the hell not, right?

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About marvinnedick

Blogging from the mid-Atlantic on Gamecock sports, as well as general musings on sports theory otherwise.
This entry was posted in 2012-13 Basketball, Better Know An Opponent, Clemson. Bookmark the permalink.

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