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Clemson’s attrition problem has the Tigers in line for a down season

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They can still play defense, though.

NCAA Basketball: Miami-Florida at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Brownell had himself a nice run the last four years, with four straight finishes in the KenPom top 50 and one in the top 15, but he only got one of those Clemson teams to the NCAA tournament. So he hasn’t built up much goodwill for a down year, which is a problem since that down year is this year.

The Tigers were hit hard by graduation after last season, and since then their luck with injuries has been terrible. Brownell brought in multiple transfers in an effort to apply a quick fix for the departing seniors, but it’s tough when injuries conspire against you.

Clemson lost point guard Clyde Trapp to an ACL injury over the summer, and he’s only just returned, and has played in three games. The Tigers are also without big man Jonathan Baehre, a UNC-Asheville transfer who was expected to be an important piece up front. Freshman guard Chase Hunter hasn’t played since mid-December and has been limited to six games total, while forward Khavon Moore missed the team’s last game thanks to a calf strain.

That’s left Clemson with severely limited depth, all while needing to replace Elijah Thomas, Marcquise Reed, and Shelton Mitchell, who accounted for the bulk of Clemson’s offense in 2019.

Clemson Offense

2020 Tigers Off_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
2020 Tigers Off_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
Offense 98.8 (206) 49.1 (177) 18.9 (134) 24.9 (266) 27.8 (273)

Not surprisingly, it’s the offense that’s been hit hardest. Clemson finished last season 106th in adjusted offensive efficiency, which ain’t so hot to begin with, and the Tigers have fallen farther down the hole in 2020. It’s hard to imagine this end of the floor as anything but a liability for the rest of the season.

Brownell lamented recently that the Tigers have little margin for error because they lack the sort of talent that can freelance effectively outside of the offense. Nor do the Tigers create a lot of obvious mismatches.

“It’s hard for us offensively at times because we just don’t have an easy advantage situation,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. “We’ve got to create and execute off of our offense really well and when we don’t, we have a hard time scoring. When we make mistakes in our execution it just puts too much pressure on our team and we’re not good enough to have someone really save us.”

The Tigers’ apparent solution to their problems is just to shoot threes—they shoot a ton of threes. But they’re also hitting only 31.7% of ‘em. Tough all around.

Starters

Al-Amir Dawes (6’2, 180) — Dawes doesn’t appear to be a major threat off the bounce, or he prefers not to bother, since he’s already attempted 69 three-pointers. I don’t know if he’s better than the 29% outside shooter he’s been up to this point but Clemson could sure use some improvement.

Curran Scott (6’4, 205) — He spent three seasons at Tulsa as a reliable perimeter scorer only to arrive at Clemson and get off to a 10-34 start from three. It’s been that kind of year for the team. His career 38.2 3FG% is a much more accurate representation of the type of shooter he is.

John Newman (6’5, 197) — Newman has been turnover-prone but is showing promise in his second season at Clemson—namely, he’s been much better inside the arc and at the free throw line. Consistency is an issue though.

Tevin Mack (6’6, 227) — One of the high-workload players on this Clemson team, since he knows no other setting. At Texas and Alabama before Clemson, he was always, for better or worse, a lead-dog type. And he has been a bright spot for the Tigers: 55% on twos, 34.9% on threes.

Aamir Simms (6’8, 240) — Here, finally, someone having a badly-needed breakout season. Simms’ shooting has held up despite an increase in workload, and he’s rebounding at career-best rates at both ends of the floor. He’s made 40 of 54 free throw attempts, and his ability to get to the line is extra important to the Tigers.

Bench

Hunter Tyson (6’8, 211), Trey Jemison (7’0, 256), Clyde Trapp (6’4, 194), Khavon Moore (6’8, 217). If Trapp is all the way back from the knee injury, he’ll probably log a lot of minutes. He’s one of the few guys who has been around Clemson for a few years and knows the ropes. But he also has plenty to prove since he’s yet to be a consistent perimeter scorer.

About three-quarters of Tyson’s career field goal attempts have come from three. Which would be fine if he weren’t shooting 25% out there.

Moore is an unknown quantity since he played in only one game for Texas Tech last year and hasn’t seen a ton of action at Clemson. I also don’t know if he’ll even be healthy enough to play on Saturday.

Clemson Defense

2020 Tigers Def_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
2020 Tigers Def_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
Defense 92.2 (47) 47.5 (118) 23.1 (37) 25.5 (76) 27.8 (273)

Brownell has done a good job at this end of the floor for most of his Clemson tenure, and while the Tigers aren’t quite as good here as they were in 2019, they still can create plenty of problems.

If they can turn the game Saturday into a rock fight, they probably will. Clemson has played seven teams in the KenPom top 100 and cracked 1.0 points per possession only once, and that just barely. So against the better teams on the slate, they most likely have to drag the opponent’s offense down to their own level in order to win.

The Pomeroy Predictor likes NC State by three.