2008-2009 Season

NCAA First Round: Michigan vs. Clemson Preview

si-coverWhere’s Manny?

: Michigan (20-13) vs. Clemson (23-8)
Where: Sprint Center, Kansas City, MO
When: Thursday, March 19th, 7:10 PM
Spread: Clemson by 5
Preview: Stat Sheet, U-M KenPom Profile, Clemson KenPom Profile
: MGoBlue

Throw out all the celebrations, it’s time to play ball. This is the big stage and there is really no telling how Michigan will react. I could see them playing their best or worst game of the year or anything in between — that’s part of the beauty of this tournament.

While I’m sure there are a couple believers, most people firmly expect Clemson to win this game, not just President Obama. As Brian points out they have good reason to side with Clemson because statistically they appear to be the better team.

I’ve already looked at Clemson a little bit here and here including a look at Clemson’s press, the head coaches, Clemson’s tendency to collapse down the stretch, and personnel. So what does that leave for the preview? Let’s start with the strengths and weaknesses.

I am a firm believer that this game is going to come down to turnovers. Michigan doesn’t turn the ball over and Clemson forces turnovers as well as anyone in the country, who’s going to break? Beyond the turnovers here is a look at some other factors:

Clemson’s Strengths

  • Offensive Rebounding. Clemson rebounds 38.8% of their misses (22nd) while Michigan only rebounds 67% of their opponents’ misses (188th). Clemson doesn’t have imposing size (their effective height is also below the college average) but they have a good core of athletes led by Trevor Booker.
  • Shooting. Clemson s a very good shooting team and their 2 point, 3 point, and effective shooting percentages all fall in the top 55 nationally. They don’t attempt a particularly high number of three pointers but they have two very capable shooters in Terrence Oglesby and KC Rivers.
  • Turnovers, blocks, and steals. As previously mentioned, Clemson excels at forcing turnovers. They rank in the top 16 nationally in turnover, steals, and block percentages. Michigan has played three schools that force more turnovers than Clemson (Savannah State (9th), Northwestern (12th), and UCLA (15th)) with about a 50% success rate. Savannah State and Northwestern (round 2) were nightmares while UCLA and Northwestern (round 1) were solid performances.

Clemson’s Weaknesses

  • Defensive Rebounding. Clemson rebounds only 63.5% of their opponents’ misses (302nd). Michigan isn’t a good enough offensive rebounding team to really punish them in my estimation. I also think that when a team blocks (and attempts to block) so many shots they are more likely to give up offensive rebounds.
  • Getting to the line. Clemson doesn’t get to the line much at all, just a little more than Michigan. Both teams do a good job of keeping opponents off of the line and neither team can get there. Will there even be a free throw attempt?
  • Three point defense. Clemson has a solid 2-point defense but they allow their opponents to shoot 35.8% from behind the arc, well above the national average. This is worse than every Big Ten team besides Indiana.


  • Pace. I pointed out that Clemson tends to play at a faster pace and Michigan tends to play at a slower pace. However Michigan plays better at a faster pace while Clemson plays better at a slower pace. Judging by Ken Pomeroy’s correlation data (which I believe I am reading correctly), Michigan’s offensive efficiency increases and their defensive efficiency decreases the faster the pace of the game. Clemson’s data shows the exactly opposite effect.
  • Coaches. Beilein has overachieved just about every time he is in the tournament (4-1 in the first round, 6-4 overall) and Purnell is the exact opposite (0-5 all time). Will the trend hold or is regression toward the mean likely?
  • The Collapse. I also talked about this early in the week but Clemson looks to be in the midst of their patented mid-season collapse. Will they be able to break the curse with a tourney win this year?
  • Conferences. The Big Ten has been getting destroyed for the last two weeks or so in the media. The last time Michigan played an out of conference game they hung with a #1 seed that they matched up terribly with on their floor. The most surprising aspect of the UConn game was that at times Michigan looked more physical than UConn. I will be keeping a keen eye on the officiating. I think Michigan fares better in a tightly called game but maybe they are more prepared than we think for a more physical game because of the physical nature of the Big Ten?
  • Rest. This was originally pointed out in the comments (sorry I don’t remember by who) and brought up again in an MGoBlue diary along with some fancy tables and graphs. The bottom line: Michigan plays much better with rest and this should be a good sign for the first round but not so much the second.

The ChartI arrived in Kansas City tonight so I’ll be at Sprint Center all day tomorrow. Seeing Michigan run on the court in Kansas City will be a treat in itself, especially in a year I only dreamed about making the tournament. It’s win or go home but I am proud of this team regardless. As a fan all I can hope to see is that all-out nothing to lose attitude that we saw against UCLA, Duke, and Purdue. Pomeroy and Vegas both like Clemson by 5 but it’s hard to go against John Beilein in the NCAA tournament.

Hopefully there is a good crowd of Michigan fans at the game but after seeing the turn out in Indianapolis I’m not expecting much. I’ll be posting comments throughout the day so stay tuned. Let’s hear your thoughts, predictions and Kelvin Grady talk in the comments.

Go Blue.

Pre-Game Reading:

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