If you were to rewind to three weeks ago, Clemson was starting to look like one of the top all-around collegiate sports schools. They were preparing to play Ohio State in the College Football Playoffs (CFP) and were on a hot start in basketball with a 7-1 record after a big victory over No. 18 Florida State University (FSU). Now, let’s snap back to reality. Clemson got manhandled in the CFP semifinals against Ohio State, losing 49-28, and have lost three straight games in basketball to No. 18 Virginia, unranked Georgia Tech and unranked FSU. Unfortunately, the football season is over until September, but the basketball season is just getting started. Now it’s time to figure out what is going wrong with Clemson basketball.
For starters, Clemson needs to improve tremendously on the offensive side of the ball. Clemson currently ranks No. 273 in points per game with an average of 66.1. They are also averaging less than a point per possession at .965, placing them 200th in the nation for offensive efficiency. Some teams that rank higher in this category are Campbell, Pepperdine, UNC Greensboro and the entire Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) except for Miami (FL). One reason why Clemson has been struggling so mightily on offense is that they don’t have a star to carry the load. Although there are games where players like Nick Honor or Aamir Simms explode for 20 plus points, it isn’t a regular occurrence.
Clemson basketball Head Coach Brad Brownell said after the loss to Virginia at home, “We’re not one of the most talented teams. We can’t just show up and play. We don’t have a guy we throw the ball to, and he’s going to go make a bunch of plays.”
Unlike Clemson football, Clemson basketball survives on lockdown defense. In the 10 games leading up to Virginia, Clemson ranked No. 13 in opponent's points per game (57.60) and ninth in opponents turnovers per game (18.00). This means that Clemson was a top team defensively. However, during Clemson’s losing streak, they looked like they forgot the one thing that was carrying their team all season: disciplined defense. Virginia scored 85 points to pair with only seven turnovers, Georgia Tech scored 83 points and turned the ball over 10 times and FSU scored 80 points while having 14 turnovers. Thus, when Clemson can’t force turnovers and limit good shot opportunities, their chances to win a game are slim since their offense hasn’t shown that they can compete in a shootout. In the 13 games Clemson has played, they have only won two games when the opponent scored 70 or more points.
For Clemson to get back on track, they need to do three things: limit their opponent’s 3-point percentage, force turnovers and establish ball movement. In the past three games Clemson played, Virginia, Georgia Tech and Florida State have all shot 40% or better from 3-point range. In eight of Clemson’s first 10 games, they held their opponents to 35% or less from 3-point range. Therefore, they need to limit 3-point shooting to help keep them in the game with a, at times, lackluster offense. Clemson was a top 10 defense at forcing turnovers before their game against Virginia. This is important because forcing turnovers helps limit their opponent's points, and it allows them more opportunities to score.
Finally, Clemson needs to create ball movement and spacing since they lack a star offensive player. Creating ball movement will allow there to be more lanes and holes for players to have easy and open shots. It will also help free up shots for their best 3-point shooters, Alex Hemenway, Nick Honor, and Hunter Tyson.
Clemson has a date with No. 25 Louisville on Jan. 27 at 9 p.m. with hopes to end their three-game losing streak. Make sure to keep an eye on Clemson’s senior leaders, Aamir Simms and Clyde Trapp, as they hope to jumpstart Clemson’s defense against a talented Louisville team.
Edited on Jan. 26, 2020 to reflect change to Clemson's basketball schedule.