2008-2009 Season

An Early Look at Clemson

My mind went blank when I saw Michigan’s name on the board. After I finally settled down, I had to turn to my friend and ask who and where we were playing. Then once it set in that we were playing Clemson I realized that I really didn’t know much about them. So I threw together an early look at Clemson, a preview to the real preview, just to give everyone a sense of what they are about and what to expect. This includes a quick look at personnel, playing style, and coaching as well as some notes on Clemson’s program and a video interview with Oliver Purnell.


Clemson’s starting five accounts for 75% of their scoring and they don’t appear to be very deep. The “big three” are KC Rivers, Trevor Booker, and Terrence Oglesby. Rivers is a talented 6-foot-5 wing-guard who averages 14.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg, and 1.6 apg. Booker is a 6-foot-7 240 pound specimen down low; he averages nearly a double double with 15.3 ppg and 9.7 rpg. Oglesby is a former Michigan recruit and he is a stone cold shooter, the 6-foot-2 guard averages 13.5 ppg and shoots 39.6% from three point range. Point guard Demontez Stitt and 6-foot-9 center Raymond Sykes round out the starting lineup.

The biggest worry for me is Trevor Booker. Booker is only 6-foot-7 so it isn’t like we are playing Ohio State or Illinois but he plays the four which means that he will be a tough guard — if you put Sims on him you leave Novak guarding someone 6-foot-9 but he is an awful match up for Zack. Zone is appealing against an athletic team like Clemson but the worry is that Oglesby could get hot from the outside.


This is definitely a battle of contrasting styles. Clemson plays uptempo, averaging 69.1 possessions per game, compared to Michigan’s deliberate pace of 64.1 possessions per game. Despite their slow pace for the season Michigan is 6-0 in 70+ possession games and 8-2 in 65+ possession games. Clemson plays better at a slower pace despite their higher average. They are 8-7 when games run over 70 possessions compared to 15-1 when they are under 70.

Clemson lives on the full court press and they do a very good job. Clemson forces their opponents into turnovers, only two teams have posted turnover rates under 20% against the Tigers: UNC and Virignia Tech. Michigan has done a very good job holding onto the ball this year but this will be a big test. I’m sure we will hear about Kelvin Grady all week but I really don’t see him playing major minutes. The bottom line is that if Michigan wants to win this game they better hold onto the ball.

34.7% of Clemson’s field goal attempts are from long range and they only have assists on 52.1% of their field goals. This is a stark difference from Michigan who lives by the three (47% of FGA are 3PA; 6th nationally) and posts assists on 67.1% of their field goals (3rd nationally).

Beilein vs. Purnell

This is a match-up between a pair of program builders. John Beilein is one of seven coaches who has taken four teams (Canisius, Richmond, West Virginia, and Michigan) to the NCAA tournament while Oliver Purnell has taken three (Old Dominion, Dayton, and Clemson). Purnell turned Clemson into a perennial contender in the ACC to back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances and three straight seasons with twenty or more wins.

The difference between Beilein and Purnell is their success in the NCAA tournament. Pete Tiernan of Bracket Science uses a measure called PASE to determine how successful a coach is in the NCAA tournament. PASE is defined as “performance against seed expectations” and it is calculated by comparing a coach’s actual number of wins to the number he should’ve notched based on his seed position for each appearance. Beilein (6-4 all time) ranks first on Bracket Science’s list of top tourney coaches while Purnell (0-4) ranks last.

The two also met in the 2007 NIT Championship game, a 78-73 West Virginia victory. There were many of the same faces in that game including KC Rivers, Trevor Booker, and Raymond Sykes (barely). That game was dominated by Frank Young who hit six three pointers en route to 24 points. West Virginia as a team made 12 three pointers and shot an effective field goal percentage of 61.4%. Rivers had 18 points but only hit 3 of 11 three point attempts and Booker posted a solid 13 points, eight rebounds, and four blocks.

What does this mean for Thursday’s game? Probably very little besides the fact that Beilein and Purnell are both a little familiar with each other.

Late Season Collapses

Clemson has become known for their hot starts and disappointing finishes. Here are their results over the last four years (not including NCAA or NIT post-season).

Year Start Finish Final
2009 20-3 3-5 23-8
2008 12-1 12-8 24-9
2007 17-0 4-10 21-10
2006 11-0 7-12 18-12

Clemson will no doubt be out to prove this theory wrong but this year is eerily reminiscent of the past. Clemson has lost four of their last five games including a very disappointing loss at the ACC Tournament to Georgia Tech.

Clemson is clearly aware of the problem as they have held numerous team meetings that were filled with “constructive criticism” according to Terrence Oglesby. According to Oliver Purnell, the problems start on defense:

“We’re not playing at the level we need to play at,” he said. “You have to admit that, and step up and make plays on defense. If you don’t have the mindset to play good, hard defense (in the tournament), you’re going to go home.”

Michigan is dealing with the NCAA Tournament for the first time and while it’s nearly impossible to guess how they react to the situation I think we could see a very loose team. The pressure of getting to the tournament is off of their shoulders and they can just play.

Purnell on Michigan

Hat tip to a Clemson hoops blog, the OP. Here is a video of Oliver Purnell talking about Michigan, seeding, and what’s going on with Clemson.

Common Opponents

Comparing two teams by looking at how they performed against common opponents is clearly a flawed technique but in this case it at least is a bit interesting

Clemson and Michigan share four common opponents: Duke, Maryland, Illinois and Savannah State. The high point of both team’s seasons were their statement wins over Duke. Both the games were at home but Clemson demolished Duke to the tune of a 27 point victory. It is worth mentioning that Clemson’s win was right in the middle of the worst period of Duke’s season when they lost 4 of 6 games.

Clemson beat up on the same Savannah State just four days before they gave Michigan fits in the game we all wish that we could forget. Clemson also destroyed Maryland at home in a dominant offensive performance where they scored 1.38 points per possession and shot the lights out with an eFG% of 67.2%. Clemson also knocked off Illinois in Champaign in a game where Illinois inexplicably failed to get off a shot in the midst of a two point game as time expired.

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