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Clemson Drops Key Non-Conference Game to Nebraska

I’m AlphaTiger, sometimes TigerAlpha, and I’ll be contributing basketball analysis this season for CPaws. I recently posted in the CPaws b-ball forum a thread about how I think. I’m also looking for some help from you readers as to what you’d like to see from these basketball posts. I claim no special authority, though my secret weapon is that my wife is a better basketball player than most people any of us may know (her name is all over NCAA record books). She helped with this piece and will help all season, with disagreements between us noted. Please feel free to ask questions and be mean in the comments so we can continue to improve this part of Clemson Paws. Cheers! Apologies for the length of this post.


This was a disappointing loss. Clemson this year has too much experience to play a game like this. It’s too early to have called it a must-win, but it’s the kind of game you’d like to have on your resume if you’re a bubble team in February/March.


Nebraska is not a better team than Clemson. I don’t even think Nebraska played particularly well, as evidenced by the last 90 seconds where they let us back in it. But Clemson, despite its experience, lacks the talent to get away with lazy play and loose fundamentals.


Let’s start on offense.

Basketball, in its current state, is guard-dominated. I say that to acknowledge the value of 3-pointers and shooting and spacing. On the other hand, college basketball especially lends itself to physical mis-matches, and Eli Thomas is a grown man at this point. He has to get more touches. I’m not even saying more shots, simply more touches.


We run what looks like a lot of 4-out/1-in, meaning we have 4 players around the perimeter with Eli or Simms or White trying to get position inside. We wrinkle this up with ball screens set by big men, but we spend a lot of possessions passing the ball around the perimeter, trying to get the defense off balance where we can take advantage of either a lazy rotation that opens up a driving lane, or where we can get the ball deep down low. I think we have a tendency to ignore the post players, instead dribbling and passing without a real purpose. Thomas in particular was open A LOT tonight, and with great positioning, and we didn’t feed him. Thomas is a legitimately skilled post player. Good things happen when he can get the ball deep and act quickly; it usually leads to a soft lay-up.


Tonight we didn’t feed him deeply enough, and too often (especially in the last 5 minutes) when Eli did get the ball he wasn’t aggressive. I think he looks heavy and out of shape, and if you watch his play at the end of this game it shows. He dribbled needlessly on two critical possessions and turned the ball over when he had the space to simply drop step and lay it in. Nebraska isn’t a small team, but they couldn’t defend the rim when Thomas took it to them. He just didn’t do it enough.


That’s my biggest gripe with the offense tonight. I also don’t think Reed played very sharply tonight. If he doesn’t score, we’re going to miss the tournament by a wide margin because we don’t have enough reliable scorers to compensate for it. He’s a gifted scorer, but when they don’t come easy it’s very frustrating. I get it. But he’s a senior now, we need his leadership, and he has to give us more than he did tonight.


Which brings me to the last meaningful possession – we’re down by 2 with 20 seconds left, having just gotten the ball back. For full-court possessions with less time, I tend to favor not calling a time out and thus not letting the defense set up. The result is an offensive advantage. Given our more deliberate pace and that we already kind of slowed up to a half-court possession, I probably would’ve liked to have seen Brownell call a timeout and set something up that goes through Thomas down low. I like his chances against a defense that would probably not try to be too physical for fear of fouling (and potentially an and-one), and I also like the idea of feeding him low and then finding someone on the weak-side for a kick-out 3 point shot.


Instead, we let Reed try to go one-on-one, and he traveled. Reed is capable of that, but he’s not a great ball-handler and not a particularly explosive driver. If we’re going to take the ball to the hole, I think it should be Mitchell who does it. Spread Reed out and keep Thomas on the weak side for a dump off if the defense collapses on Mitchell. He’s a touch bigger than Reed (or at least plays like it), a better ball-handler, and an excellent finisher in his own right. I think he needs to have the ball on our last possession.


Note: Mrs. AlphaTiger disagrees with me about Mitchell/Reed. She thinks we have two good choices between the two of them, which is fair. I still prefer Mitchell be the straw that stirs the drink and creates in that situation instead of Reed, who I think most teams know is looking to be the one that shoots and scores. She also disagrees about working through Thomas because the previous 2-3 possessions he looked soft and scared. On Reed’s final drive, he was standing the corner sucking wind. She’s not wrong here either.


The defense tonight was probably about average.

I don’t think Nebraska is a particularly explosive team from what I could tell tonight. They have some size, and they had some guys who could finish well.  They also got a couple of easy fast breaks points that really hurt. They executed at a reasonably high level though – they did a lot of ball screens where a big would pick a small, we would switch, and then their small is guarded by our big and vice versa.

This is a problem throughout basketball (because it’s really hard to do), but our bigs had their hands down a lot on the perimeter players. There’s an old saying – hand down, man down. That means that if your defender has his arms low, you’re open, and Nebraska hit a couple of second half 3s on that. We did a good job denying post entries on these same plays, but our smalls got killed on the glass because we couldn’t box it. Overall I’d describe it as a pretty poor defensive rebounding effort.


One final, broader note I’d like to make is our conditioning. We looked very tired at the end. Around 3 minutes to go they got an offensive rebound and we switched to zone. They passed the ball around the perimeter, to the corner, and got a wide open 3. I don’t know if a single Tiger rotated or moved. Simms was playing what looked like 8-10 feet off the corner with his hands down. I could make that shot greater than 50% of the time. Hell, most people who aren’t KLV could’ve at least hit the rim.


Other general observations:

  • I like Simms’ hustle. He’s still a bit awkward out there, but his skills have developed and he plays hard. I would’ve liked to see him challenge the 3-on-1 dunk in the second half, but he’s a good asset for us right now.
  • Not sure why I allow myself to get upset over this anymore since it’s not going to change, but Eli’s fouls are incredible. He is good for at least 1 moving pick or charge and 1 foul 90+ feet from the hoop per game. It’s kind of impressive in its own, sad way.
  • I like the energy and spark Trapp gives us off the bench, but he got worked a few times in the second half. Looks like he’s swimming at times defensively on rotations.
  • For a team that doesn’t seem to shoot a lot of outside shots, Nebraska had a lot of long misses. I get frustrated giving up on offensive rebounds, but long misses are really hard on a defense. That said, I think our defensive rebounding effort was poor. Blocking out works; we should try it.
  • I know the tone of this article is pretty negative, but the box score is interesting. We shot better than them on 2s, 3s, and FTs, and had the same amount of offensive rebounds and one more defensive rebound. We had 11 turnovers, which is fine, vs. their 10. Definitely the type of game that leads to a 2 point differential. Based on the box score, we lost because they hit 3 more 3s than we did.


Shame that we couldn’t get a win against Creighton or Nebraska, two tournament-quality teams. We have a lot of work to do if we want to make the Dance this year because the ACC is going to be brutal. These last 2 losses remind me of the Clemson team two years ago (Blossomgame’s senior year) where our defense was sub-standard due to poor on-ball defense. That isn’t our issue this year, but our rotations to improve.

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