This week, I had the pleasure of getting to know Clemson a little better by talking some roundball with DrB from our SB Nation sister site Shakin The Southland. When you're done with this piece, I HIGHLY recommend you read his breakdown of Clemson's 1-2-1-1 diamond press.
RMN: Can I ask you to do the impossible and summarize the highs and lows of an entire season in one paragraph? Better yet, can you do it in haiku form?
STS: Nah, I'm no poet, no chance for a haiku from me.
Clemson's low points have arisen from a lack of fundamentals and a lack of drive. Clemson seemed to play extremely uninspired basketball at times this year. This, coupled with the loss of Stitt during the heart of ACC play contributed to Clemson's mediocre (and unimpressive) record up until the 2nd week of February. Clemson's high point came after Stitt returned from injury to lead the Tigers to win five of their final seven ACC regular season games. In these games, the Tigers were able to help out from the outside by knocking down some shots and taking all of the scoring responsibility off of Trevor Booker.
RMN: Much of the buzz around this game is about the similarities Mizzou and Clemson, who I classified as "ACC us." I'm sure Clemson shares Mizzou's excitement to play at a high pace, but do you think we'll see the best from both Tigers as a result?
STS: Clemson has not had much success in half court sets all season. Clemson does best when its athletes go out and try to out-athlete the other team. Clemson also relies heavily on creating turnovers off of a full-court diamond pressure. Hence, Clemson should be a much better team if they can get out and run. This should give them a few easy baskets and avoid having to settle down into a half-court game.
It all depends on the mood of the team, specifically Booker in my opinion. Trevor has tons of talent, but we at STS are not tremendous fans of his game. The reason is that he tends to take days off, and his mental weakness infects the rest of the team. When shots stop falling, we lose our ability to play defense, and vice versa. We don't play hard on the road as a team, and sometimes its because he isn't playing hard. If he's having a good game inside, the rest of the offense will miraculously click. Long range shots can fall when the defenders are playing the same. It's inexplicable to me sometimes.
But I've never seen "the best" from a Purnell Clemson team unless we're at home.
RMN: Everybody's focus seems to be on Trevor Booker, who seems to present a matchup problem for any team he faces, much less Mizzou. First of all, is the big concern about Booker warranted, and secondly, if Mizzou is to contain him, how would they go about doing it?
STS: Booker, in my opinion, isn't contained unless he simply has a mental lapse. If he has the "want-to" on a given day, its pretty damn hard to handle him. If we're forced into a half-court offense though, he's the only hope.
Bigger, heavier interior teams do play better defense against him in that case, and he doesnt react well to shooting over taller guys inside. From watching Trevor play, anyone will see he prefers going to his left to the post -- his left hook shot is exceptional -- so I would tell any opponent to just overplay it and give him the right side because he struggles more there. I would also tell you to trap him in the post, because he loves to put the ball on the floor and dribble when he doesnt have to do it.
RMN: Since we've already asked about Booker and the rest of the media doesn't seem to care about the rest of the roster, can you give us a brief rundown about who else Mizzou fans need to keep an eye on?
STS: I think Demontez Stitt is the best player on the team, despite some carelessness with the ball. He has so much ability as a Guard that can dribble-drive to the rim that is still unharnessed. He occasionally hits a 3, but he's still learning that confidence it takes to really attack the basket every play. I wish he would attack more often, and he's really critical to Clemson's entire offense. He injured his foot midway through the season, and this team was not the same without him.
Andre Young is a guy that cannot create his own shot, but if he gets it he has the ability to shoot from long range. Our best team on the court is when Young and Stitt are both out there.
Tanner Smith is a scrappy player. What he lacks in true talent, he makes up for with hustle and effort. Along that note, Tanner needs to play within his ability to give Clemson a chance for a W. He will, though, impress you with his drive and desire to play the game hard.
Jerai Grant is really unheralded defensively. I think Grant should've been All-ACC defense.
RMN: It's somewhat of an exercise in futility trying to examine intangibles, but how do you evaluate Clemson's mindset at this point in time? Do the NC State loss (and, having lost to Nebraska, we feel you) and/or Purnell's postseason record matter at all, or are they just easy talking points?
STS: We can never tell. I'd be surprised if any Clemson fan would say they're supremely confident about our chances in any postseason, because we are so hit/miss. One day you would think we're world-beaters, and then we'd fall on our faces against an opponent we should defeat. Against NCST we hardly showed up, and WF was similar. Against Illinois we collapsed with a huge lead, and choked away big leads several times this year, so no game is ever sealed until the clock expires.
I think we can get the NCAAT monkey off Purnell's back and hopefully the loss to a weaker NC State team (that always seems to do well in the ACCT) will give them the jolt they need.
RMN: If we wake up Saturday morning to a Mizzou victory over Clemson, what will have been the story? What will have to unfold for Missouri to win?
STS: Clemson will have gotten hot shooting from outside and forced more turnovers. Trevor Booker put up 18 points and 10 boards and Jerai Grant pulls another double-double. Thats basically what I would expect to see if we win.
Missouri will need to mitigate Trevor Booker. If he can be held in check offensively and Clemson has to play out of half court sets and make perimeter shots, Missouri has an excellent chance of winning. Watch Clemson's fundamental play, as the Tigers have been sloppy at times this year and have not played inspired ball on many occasions.