2006-07 Basketball Game Preview: Virginia Tech vs. Clemson

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#21 Virginia Tech (20-9, 10-5 ACC) vs Clemson (20-9, 6-9)

Sunday, March 4, 2007, 1:00 p.m.

TV: RLF (click
here for stations
)


Special Preview Items:

Sunday afternoon will mark the final home game in the careers of five
Virginia Tech seniors, and this will be a big one for them. The Hokies still have a chance to
claim the #1 seed in the ACC tournament. Things are still so wide open at the
top that Tech could finish anywhere from tied for first to fourth place.
However, the only thing they can control is what they do on Sunday against the
Clemson Tigers.

Clemson is a struggling basketball team. They have lost nine of their last 12
games, and two of their three wins in that span came with special circumstances.
Back in January, they beat Boston College 74-54 at home in BC’s first game
without starting center Sean Williams. Their most recent win came on Wednesday.
They barely defeated Miami 74-70 in overtime. Miami was without most of their
frontcourt and starting guard Denis Clemente, yet still the Canes almost managed to beat
Clemson on the road.

Clemson is just 6-9 in ACC play, after starting the season 17-0 with a 3-0 mark
in conference play. The Tigers are reeling, and they aren’t playing with any
confidence. They’ll have to take on the Hokies on the road, a place they haven’t
fared well lately.

Clemson is winless in their last five ACC road games. Their last three road trips
have been especially bad. They were blown out 80-62 at Georgia Tech, got upset
67-65 by a bad Wake Forest team, and lost 59-54 to Boston College last weekend.
As you can see, they aren’t much of a scoring team on the road, or anywhere for
that matter. Here’s a look at the Clemson starting lineup.


Clemson Starting Lineup

Pos
Player
Ht

Wt

Year

Rebs

Pts

G

Vern Hamilton

6-0

195

Sr.

3.0

12.3

G

Cliff Hammonds

6-3

197

Jr.

3.3

11.2

F

Sam Perry

6-5

208

Jr.

2.9

4.2

F

Trevor Booker

6-7

215

Fr.

6.3

9.8

F

James Mays

6-9

225

Jr.

6.7

12.9

Clemson is a very experienced team, with one senior and three juniors in
their starting lineup. All four of those players have either been starting or
playing a lot since they were freshmen. Point guard Vern Hamilton, a Richmond,
VA native, is a four-year starter for the Tigers.

First let’s talk about a player who is not listed above. K.C. Rivers, a 6-5
wing guard, is Clemson’s leading scorer, despite having started just three games
this season. Rivers is averaging 13 points per game. The Tigers don’t have one
big scorer on their team, but they do have four players who average in double
figures, and another who scores 9.8.

Some basketball players are described as “shooters”. Clemson has no
one on their team that can accurately be described with that term. Rivers is
Clemson’s best shooter. He hits 39.1% of his outside shots, although that number
drops to 36.8% in ACC play. Rivers is the only Clemson regular to shoot better
than 68% from the free throw line, hitting 75% of his free throws this
year.

For part of the year, Clemson’s best player has been forward James Mays. Mays
is a very athletic player who finishes well down low. To give you an idea of his
talent and athleticism, he leads the team with 59 steals. Vern Hamilton
came into the season as Clemson’s all-time leader in steals, and for Mays to
outperform him this season says quite a bit.

Mays’ teammate on the inside is undersized freshman power forward Trevor
Booker. No one expected Booker to make this big of a contribution this year, but
he has played very well. He averages 9.8 points per game and shoots 60.4% from
the field. He leads the team in offensive rebounds with 84, and despite his 6-7
height, he has blocked 64 shots this season.

The backcourt of Vern Hamilton and Cliff Hammonds is dangerous. They aren’t
much of a shooting tandem, but they rely on their ability to force turnovers and
get easy baskets. Hamilton shoots 47.5% from the field, but just 31.4% from the
outside. He is good at getting to the glass and making baskets in transition. Hammonds is the taller, more rangy guard. He’s a better outside shooter
(36.2%), but doesn’t shoot as well overall (45.7%).

One of the factors that has held Clemson back this year is free throws. The
following players average 10 or more minutes per game, and their free throw
percentages are very low.


Clemson Free Throw Statistics
Player
Percentage

K.C. Rivers

75.0%

James Mays

56.9%

Vern Hamilton

49.3%

Cliff Hammonds

68.0%

Trevor Booker

64.1%

Sam Perry

47.8%

Julius Powell

57.1%

David Potter

61.9%

Raymond Sykes

44.4%

As a team, Clemson shoots 59% from the free throw line. In ACC play, that
number has dropped to 56.3%. Here’s a look at how the teams stack up in 10
important categories. Pay close attention to the shooting percentages.



Clemson vs. Virginia Tech (ACC Games Only)

Category


Clemson


Virginia Tech


Stat


ACC Rank


Stat


ACC Rank

FG %

44.9%

8

46.8%

6

FG % Defense

48.6%

11

43.5%

3

3-Pt. %

32.3%

12

35.5%

6

3-Pt. % Defense

34.8%

5

34.3%

3

FT %

56.3%

12

70.5%

7

Rebounding Margin

-5.1

11

-3.1

10

Turnover Margin

+3.53

1

+2.27

2

Assist/TO Ratio

1.03

4

1.17

2

Scoring Offense

68.9

10

71.9

6

Scoring Defense

70.5

4

71.1

5


Average


7.8


5.0

Clemson is dead last in the ACC in three-point shooting and free throw
shooting. They are in the bottom half of the conference in field goal
percentage. So how do they stay in games? One answer: turnover margin.

Clemson puts tremendous pressure on the basketball, and they have forced ACC
opponents into averaging 17 turnovers per game, by far the best in the
conference. Meanwhile, they only turn the ball over 13.5 times themselves.

That turnover margin could very well decide the game. Don’t expect Clemson to
shoot very well against Tech. The Tigers have one solid shooter on the team, and
everyone else is average to bad. The Hokies are #3 in ACC play in field goal
percentage defense and 3-point percentage defense. Clemson needs to turn the
Hokies over to have a chance to win.

That could play right into Virginia Tech’s hands. The Hokies average just
10.6 turnovers per game, by far the best mark in the ACC. Clemson has to have a
big advantage in turnover margin to win, and they aren’t likely to get that
advantage against the senior backcourt of Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon.

The best word to describe Clemson is “scrappy”. The Tigers will
fight. They go after loose balls, and they play very hard. They have to do that
to compete, because they don’t shoot the ball well enough or play good enough
team defense to win consistently. Opponents shoot 48.6% against Clemson, so they
have to force turnovers to compete. Ultimately, it’s that lack of shooting and
bad team defense that has led to their slump.

Don’t expect them to have a breakout game shooting on Sunday. Check out how
tough Virginia Tech’s defense has been at home in ACC games this year:


ACC Opponents in Cassell Coliseum

Made

Att.

Percentage

21

45

46.70%

32

73

43.80%

22

62

35.50%

26

49

53.10%

21

64

32.80%

21

55

38.20%

21

57

36.80%

164

405

40.50%

Only one team has topped 50% in Blacksburg, and only two have shot over 45%.
Even UNC with their outstanding offensive players only managed 43.8% in Cassell.
Four teams have shot less than 40%, including the last three to visit Cassell.
Virginia Tech has been dominant defensively over the last month at home. Against
possibly the worst offensive team in the ACC, that’s not likely to change.

Bourbonstreet’s View

#43 RPI Clemson
@ #23 RPI Virginia
Tech

After an unmentionable Thursday night, our Hokies return to the Cassell for
Senior Day in a game that is just riddled with sub-plots. It’s the home finale
for five different senior VT ballers, (and here’s hoping Chris Tucker gets the
farewell starting nod, along with Markus Sailes, because that’s what early
first-half timeouts are for). It’s a post-season fence-game (NCAA or NIT) for
the Clemson Tigers. It’s a major ACC tourney seeding game for our Hokies,
Virginia, Boston College, and UNC. And this could also end up being a game
for cementing some post-season all-ACC individual honors. But who will win?

When I studied the Tigers for this one a few things jumped right out at me.
Clemson is a little bit vertically challenged for playing in such a big-name D-1
hoops conference. But the kicker is that the Tigers can really climb the
offensive glass (36th in offensive rebounding in the NCAA), though they are
not missing a whole lot of shots (71st in offensive FG%). That’s a sure sign
of an athletically springy team. But Clemson’s athleticism is pretty juvenile,
as the Tigers only field one senior in their Top-10 rotation. Another major item
is this little nugget…only five teams in the whole NCAA shoot FT’s worse
than Clemson does, and the Tigers are worse from the charity stripe on the road
then they are at home.

The final thing that jumped out at me is the fact that this formerly 17-0
hoops team has been slumped since mid-January. The obvious first
thing to look at was the Clemson injury report, as hurts have a way of ill
affecting even 17-0 teams. Nada. Nothing. Zilch. In fact I could only find one
thing that has changed for the Tigers in my research. That would be when former
forward starter and true freshman Trevor Booker was benched for the B.C. game. I
don’t know this for certain, but that leaves me to wonder out loud if a bit of
an alchemy problem exists inside the Tiger locker-room? Because either Clemson
really wasn’t 17-0 great, or Clemson has underachieved more than a bit in
their last twelve games.

I view this Clemson game as inexorably linked with the Virginia outcome
on Saturday. With a Virginia win on Saturday, our Hokies will no longer be in a
position to clinch the ACC regular season hoops championship. If UVA wins I will
not be surprised to see the Hokies sleepy, disinterested, and therefore upset. However,
if Wake can pull the upset when they host the Hoos, I would then expect to see a
resolute and determined effort from our five seniors to leave the Cassell as
winners for the last time in their VT careers. So if Virginia wins, I gotta lean
towards the upset, as Clemson will have more to play for than VT. If Wake upsets
Virginia, I like the side that I consider to be the better overall basketball
team (VT) playing at home to win. So I’ll call for a 76-70
winning margin for the game for either side, pending the Virginia outcome on
Saturday.

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