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Scouting Clemson

The immense value of Clemson junior point guard Demontez Stitt (6 feet 2, 175 pounds) to his team has become blatantly evident over the past two weeks. No, Stitt is not an all-conference caliber player, but he makes the Tigers -- specifically on offense -- multidimensional. He is the team's primary ballhandler. He is the team's best penetrator. He is the one who makes the team's transition offense flow smoothly.

When Stitt is not in the lineup, Clemson is left essentially with one dependable option -- throw the ball in to senior forward Trevor Booker (6-7, 240 pounds) and hope for the best. As the Tigers have learned over the past three games, limited offensive options make winning ballgames significantly more difficult.

When Clemson hosts Maryland on Sunday, the Tigers will be looking to end a three-game losing streak. Clemson's recent skid has come while Stitt is dealing with a sprained left foot. He sat out the Tigers' loss Tuesday at Boston College and played through considerable discomfort during losses at Georgia Tech and against Duke. Stitt averages 11.2 points per game and is shooting 44.9 percent. He also owns a 1.4 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Stitt's foot is "better today than it was yesterday, and certainly better than what it was coming out of the Duke game, but right now, you know, he's not ready to go," seventh-year Clemson Coach Oliver Purnell said Thursday in a telephone interview. "Obviously, we're hoping it gets to the point where he's ready to go by Sunday. The real problem, of course, is practice time. He hasn't been able to practice since the N.C. State game. But we'll see what happens. If he's ready to go, he'll play, and if he's not, then we've got a week off after the Maryland game, and he certainly should be ready after that."

Sophomore guard Andre Young (5-9, 170 pounds) started in Stitt's place against Boston College. Young, whom Purnell called "probably the best outside threat that we have on our team," is shooting 40 percent from the field and 38.4 percent from the three-point line. He is averaging eight points and 2.1 rebounds per game.

Young does not drive to the basket as effectively as does Stitt, which enables opposing defenses to guard him more closely on the perimeter and limit open three-point looks.

"Andre has been playing an awful lot for us anyway," Purnell said. "He's been playing above 20 minutes a game for us anyway. He plays on the ball, and Demontez moves over. That's been a very productive lineup for us, not to mention when Demontez is out, he's in there. He's a solid player ... very good in our full-court pressure defense and gaining more experience all the time. That was a great learning experience the other night against Boston College where he had to go 39 minutes. So if Demontez is not ready, I'm certain Andre will be ready to go."

Against Boston College, Young finished with seven points, five assists and four turnovers. He shot 2 of 11 from the field and 1 of 7 from three-point range.

Sophomore guard Tanner Smith (6-5, 220 pounds) plays off the ball, but is not the offensive threat most would expect a shooting guard to be. He is averaging 10.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, while shooting 44.9 percent.

Neither Smith nor senior small forward David Potter (6-6, 215 pounds) are particularly adept three-point shooters. Smith is shooting 29.8 percent from beyond the arc, while Potter is shooting 37 percent from three-point range. Potter averages 6.5 points and 2.7 rebounds per game.

When Stitt plays, he can drive to the basket and create more open looks for Young, Smith and Potter. He also can score on his own, which takes some of the pressure of that trio to produce points.

With Stitt out, Clemson has to rely more heavily on its high-pressure defense. The Tigers rank No. 1 in steals (10.3 per game) among ACC teams. Young has tallied 35 steals, while Potter has 30, Smith has 26 and Booker has 34. The Tigers typically use their stingy perimeter defense to create transition scoring opportunities. Clemson owns a plus-3.5 turnover margin.

"A lot of it has to do with our scheme," Purnell said. "We're a team that likes to play a lot of pressure defense, and if you're playing it well it's going to produce some steals. A team that plays more of a sagging man-to-man scheme is not going to steal the ball as much as a team that's in full-court pressure, so that's a part of it. Obviously, we try to recruit to that scheme, and if we didn't have those kinds of players, we'd probably play defense a little bit differently."

The Tigers are an up-tempo squad that prefers to run up and down the floor and move the ball quickly from one player to the next. That style often translates into a high-possession game, primarily because it also often translates into abundant turnovers. Clemson averages 14.7 turnovers per game and owns a 1.0 assist-to-turnover ratio.

"Well, I think any time that you're pushing the ball and you're playing up-tempo you're going to have more turnovers by virtue of the fact that you're running faster," Purnell said. "When your players are moving and that sort of thing, that's a decision you have to make when you decide you're going to be a running team; you're going to have more turnovers. So there have been times this year where we've felt like we've had too many, but that's something that you learn to live with when you make that decision to play pressure offense and pressure defense."

The Tigers do shoot well from the field (47.3 percent), and Booker plays a large role in that regard. Booker is averaging 16 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, while shooting 55.6 percent. He also has tallied 28 blocks. Purnell said Booker has improved his ballhandling and perimeter shooting this season. Still, the Tigers need Booker to produce in the post on more than one level.

"He's a senior, he's a guy that our players look to for direction, not just verbally but emotionally and physically," Purnell said of Booker, one of the more excitable players in the ACC. "When Trevor turns it up, you have a tendency for your young guys to really see that and turn it up as well."

Some of the "young guys" to whom Purnell was referring: freshmen forwards Devin Booker (6-8, 235 pounds) and Milton Jennings (6-9, 225 pounds) and freshman guard Noel Johnson (6-6, 190 pounds).

Booker is averaging 4.9 points and 3.3 rebounds while shooting 62.0 percent. Jennings, who was the first McDonald's all-American ever recruited to play at Clemson, is averaging 3.6 points and 2.7 rebounds per game while shooting 40.5 percent. Johnson is averaging 5.3 points and 2.0 rebounds per game while shooting 38.2 percent.

Teaming up with Trevor Booker in Clemson's starting front court is junior forward Jerai Grant (6-8, 220 pounds). Grant is averaging 6.2 points and 3.8 rebounds while shooting 65.8 percent. He also has tallied 33 blocks.

"He understands that he has to defend in the post and he has to do a good job of boxing out the opposing center or big guy," Purnell said of Grant. "He understands that Trevor will get a lot of attention and if he's all over the offensive glass it can really help us."

The Tigers own a plus-2.4 rebounding margin, which ranks 10th among ACC squads. Maryland is 11th with a plus-2.0 rebounding margin.

Overall, Clemson is shooting 33.9 percent from three-point range and 64.5 percent from the free throw line.

By Steve Yanda  |  January 29, 2010; 8:50 AM ET
Categories:  Men's basketball  
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Next: Tracee Hamilton: Next four games will be key for the Terps

Comments

This game is all going to come down to whether or not Stitt plays. If he plays, I think Clemson has enough inside-out balance to give the Terps trouble. He has a knack of getting himself into good positions on the floor and opens up multiple options in their offense. Andre Young does not offer Clemson that luxury, and would likely get smothered by whichever guard is on him, particularly since the Terps have a lot of experience not taking on smaller guards. Clemson is going to have to work from the outside in, because the Terps are probably going to pull the same defensive philosophy that they have against NC State's Smith and Miami's Collins, and if Clemson cannot reliably hit 3's (currently one of the worst percentages in the ACC), Clemson may run into trouble.

Maryland needs to be careful handling Booker and use all 20 fouls they have to give down low. Vasquez needs to stay out of foul trouble early if he's doubling down, and play under control on the offensive end avoiding charges. He needs to play level-headed, and not let the raucus crowd get into his head. I think this might be a big Eric Hayes game, because this game is ultimately going to come down to 3-point shooting to determine a winner.

However, despite the roll this Maryland team is on, I think the Terps may have trouble in Littlejohn if Stitt plays.

72-68 Clemson (if Stitt plays)
75-66 Terps (if Stitt is still sidelined)

Posted by: Russtinator | January 29, 2010 9:52 AM | Report abuse

I expect that the Terps will continue their focus and execution, have had plenty of time to work on breaking the press (b/c they have a great pressing team themselves) and will show the consistency we have seen over the last few games. Lessons were learned against Wake, and I think this team will show the killer instinct to take what is a huge game dead seriously. IF GV plays like he has, patient and intelligently with a minimum of bad shots, and the team continues its commitment to hustle and rebounding, I suspect it will be another double digit win with EL & DP seeing a few minutes of action at the end. 87-72.

Regards -

-hgr

Posted by: HughGRection | January 29, 2010 9:54 AM | Report abuse

First, I think it would be beneficial for Clemson in the long run to rest Stitt. If you have a whole week off after Sunday then you rest your player to make sure he's 100% for the rest of the season. It just makes basketball sense. Saying that, I think he plays, albeit mostly ineffectively, and this injury lingers thru the rest of the season.

Regardless of whether Stitt plays or not the Terps will win this game. Stitt isn't close to 100% and we have enough down low (Gregory, Williams, Milbourne, Padgett) to keep a fresh body on Booker defensively.

Right place at the right time. We can only play the games on our schedule when they are scheduled. Chalk up a Terps win:

Terps 79 Clemson 61

Posted by: fushezzi | January 29, 2010 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Good comments by Russ and HughG.

I think we need to count on Stitt playing and playing well. In this case we need to protect the ball and not get into their game, which is racehorse basketball.

GV needs to take care of the ball and not take bad or quick shots. We do need to penetrate because Clemson is very good on perimeter defense.

On defense we need to be on our game and help out with Booker. We have been very good at this. My question: who will match up with Booker, Williams or Milbourne? My hope is Williams.

Bottom line for me is our poise will be tested if we let them control the pace and run too much. That will really bring the crowd into it. We need to play under control.

Posted by: petecard | January 29, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Given their recent (annual) swoon, Petecard is right on keeping the crowd out of it early. Look to GW to pull GV and LM early to coach them up and get CT, DG & AB involved. Agree that JW on Booker is likely the best approach. Saw Clemson play twice early in the season and they wer playing excellent bball at the time. Purnell is a very good coach (no GW by any means). The rebounding intensity needs to and I believe will continue. If the Terps execute early and force Clemson into catch up mode, I really don't think it will be close. I am assuming Stitt will play.

-hgr

Posted by: HughGRection | January 29, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

I'm surprised that so many people see this as a relatively easy win for MD, especially since the game is at Littlejohn. Clemson is one of the toughest places to play in the ACC and they are coming off a loss. I see them coming out strong whether or not Stitt plays, and I won't be surprised if either team wins. I think it'll be a close game, and as others have mentioned, I think 3 point shooting will make the difference. If Hayes is hitting his shots I think MD will win, if he's cold, I think Clemson will pull it out. I just hope GV continues to play well and under control.

Posted by: CYork1 | January 29, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

There are a lot of "ifs" on this board today. Maryland needs to play their game, keep the crowd out of it early, and make their shots so they can press. It is widely known that pressing teams do not like being pressed themselves and with how turnover prone Clemson can be that is our shot at some easy buckets. I do beleive it will be a close game because of Booker and his size. A victory in Clemson will send a national message that the Terps are here to play this year. What would be really dissapointing is a big win in Death Valley 2 (Little John) and then a letdown at FSU where their home crowd is non existent. Let's see how it all plays out. No "Ifs" needed. Just solid execution. GO TERPS!!

Posted by: terptilldeath | January 29, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Don't know CYork. I think this Terps team is turning into something special. Clemson could win, its true, which is why they play the game. Based on MD's play of late, I am confident that our guys will pull it out. I do think that the goal is to take the crowd out of it early, as you are correct that Clemson is a tough hous to play in. But it seems our seniors, indeed the whole team, gets it. No doubt Clemson is a very good team, but historically they always seem to hit a midseason swoon and I think it will continue through Sunday's game. We had some back and forth about confidence and expecting to win. I hae to admit, I did not expect the Terps to win as handily as they have during this last batch of games. I think playing from behind at WF has taught this team the value of coming out strong early. Its not going to be easy or a cakewalk, but I think that the Terps will set the tone early and render the last two minutes of the game irrelevant. But yeah, I'd be happy with a win in any case.

Regards -

-hgr

Posted by: HughGRection | January 29, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

"Maryland's very young, and the ACC is wide open," Miami Coach Frank Haith said Tuesday.

Very young? With 3 seniors in the starting lineup? Maryland is loaded with juniors and seniors. Of our top 8 players, 6 are upper classmen. If we're very young this year, what were we last year, a daycare center?

Posted by: Barno1 | January 29, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Petecard is a total fool, does anyone really think that the Terps not controlling the pace will be an issue. We will control the pace with some solid half court basketball, we will definitely throw them out of their game and the Terps will win big. One thing about Gary's teams is our style and tempo is very dictative to other teams, another team hijacking the tempo of the game from the Terps is something that rarely happens. Perhaps occasionally with a couple of N.C. Universities that I won't mention, but Clemson ? Now go sit in a corner Petecard!!

Posted by: barno-1 | January 29, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Got to win 2 of the next 3. That is all.

Posted by: jpfterps | January 29, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Petecard -

Do not think barno-1 is Barno1. Probably the same person as Poopy- as opposed to Poopy_. Nice try though.

Regards -

-hgr

Posted by: HughGRection | January 29, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

Hugh, the new fake barnos are clearly Poopy. The guy has stalked me from blog to blog for years on this site, making the most irrelevant comments and never at any point making any sense. When the fake poopy was around, he repeatedly accused me of being him. And then, this week he slipped up and admitted he had earlier handles like Os Executive, Chief Clancy Wiggum, etc.

Even if it weren't Poopy, which it is, it's pretty obvious that whoever it is can't debate any argument on the merits with me, so this is his acknowledgment of that... It's flattering really.

Posted by: Barno1 | January 29, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

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