The beginning of each NCAA Basketball season is a time for reflection and a time for a team to develop a new identity, and this years young Clemson Tigers are no exception. This week we take a look at the white board and analyze the Tigers 58-37 win over the Delaware State Hornets.
The first thing that came to my mind after watching the first five minutes of this ball game was “Boy does Delaware State remind me of the 2012-2013 Tigers”. Starting every possession with the weave offense to run the shot clock down to at least 20 seconds before attacking slowed the tempo down considerably making each possession more valuable than the last. I was impressed with Clemson’s ability to switch defenders on the perimeter handoffs and the speed and defensive ability of the guards allowed the constant defensive changes not to create matchup problems. The communication between the guards was excellent which showed good coaching and poise from a very young Clemson Team.
Let’s take a look at the Tiger offense. Delaware State decided from the tip off that they were going to play a chess match to counteract the athleticism of Clemson. As a result, you saw the Hornets defend in a 2-3 zone, a compact 1-3-1, a match up zone, and press man in the first 10 minutes of the game. The rule changes in college basketball this year (specifically the change to zero tolerance on hand checking) will result in a drastic swing toward zone defenses throughout the NCAA. Clemson’s offense did not adapt well to the zone defense of the Hornets. The ball was moved well around the perimeter, but the key to breaking down a zone is penetration which the Tigers did not do well. The interior players did not flash to the elbow and look for the ball, while the Guards were hesitant to dribble penetrate to collapse the zone. The exception was Sophomore Jordan Roper who had early success early on in dribble penetration to the left baseline to look for jumpers. One adjustment that would have benefited the Tigers would have been to run off of missed baskets to not allow Delaware State to settle into their zone and force them to play man in transition.
Individually for the Tigers, I am going to do something that I feel I will be doing a lot this season, and that is pick on the big boys. Landry Nnoko and Josh Smith both seemed hesitant to demand the ball down low as their post games continue to develop. When the ball was fed to them in the low post, they tended to hang onto the ball too long which resulted in a double team and forced a bad pass or bail out shot. I was impressed with the basketball IQ’s of both newcomers Sidy Djitte (despite only seeing 3 minutes) and Ibrahim Djambo. Djitte showed me the flashing ability to the elbow against a zone defense, and Djambo showed awareness of his surroundings with clean distributions from the perimeter. Both players will have to toughen up on the boards (4 rebounds in 25 minutes) and could be a very nice compliment to the defensive minded Nnoko and Smith.
The game changer though was Damarcus Harrison. He showed me something that the Tigers have been looking for the past two or three seasons and that is someone who looks to shoot when the ball is distributed to him. Usually when a player takes this approach you will see forced and wild shots, but that was not the case tonight for Harrison. He took quality shots and moved well off the ball. I also could not be more impressed with the play of Redshirt Freshman Jaron Blossomgame. Blossomgame was in the hunt for every offensive and defensive rebound (leading the team with 8) and showed constant hustle. He showed flashes of his offensive game with a nice transition jumper, but the smaller Tiger lineups forced him into the post where he needs to demand the ball and look for midrange jumpers. The energizer bunny K.J. McDaniels was the MVP off the ball for Clemson tonight. Against the zone, he ran the baseline very well and was an excellent distributor from the wing. He was second on the team with 11 points despite an off shooting night. The guard play tonight was led by Rod Hall who was excellent in transition, but the guards did not shoot particularly well from behind the arc and did seem to settle for quick and unnecessary three pointers as opposed to looking to distribute into the paint.
Defensively, as always, I was impressed with the energy level and tenacity of the Tigers. The Guards pressured the ball well in the high post and did so without fouling on a whistle happy night. Leading the way defensively at the Guard position was Rod Hall and Adonis Filer. Both players were able to cut off dribble penetration into the lane with their quick feet. I did notice a strategy that Delaware State tried to enforce in the second half that could be used against the Tigers in the future. While Delaware State was running their weave offense and the Tiger Guards were using high pressure, it opened up the middle of the court. Look for teams to use this strategy to turn a half court set into a 2 on 2 battle of the bigs. Clemson’s big men were equally as aggressive as the guards. While I love the intensity and effort from the big men, this may not be the best strategy in the future. Nnoko picked up two quick fouls limiting his defensive presence for the rest of the game. Nnoko was well coached during his time on the bench as you saw his defensive approach change as he went from attempting to block shots to going straight up and altering them. Unfortunately, Landry’s footwork is not yet quick enough for this strategy as while his upper body is in position, his feet are still not quite there, so when contact is drawn, the foul will go against him regardless of whether he is straight up with his upper body or not. Smith had trouble switching off of screens up high as he quickly looked for the double team. While again, I love the high intensity and pressure, look for a pick and roll offense to exploit this potential strategy.
I look forward to the different lineups that the deep Tigers will run with this season. The Tigers prepare for the rival South Carolina Gamecocks on Sunday and I expect to see some different lineup combinations as the Tigers look to use their depth to tame the Gamecocks.