Clemson Basketball's Reward For Offensive Struggles—A Trip to Virginia
The Clemson Tigers reeled off back-to-back historic wins in early January, as they won at North Carolina for the first time in school history and followed the win three days later with a win over No. 3 Duke.
However, since those potentially changing wins, the Tigers have been consistently inconsistent, unable to maintain the success. In fact, the Tigers last five games have consisted of a loss on the road at NC State, a win at home against Wake Forest, a loss on the road against Louisville, a win at home against Syracuse and finally a loss at Wake Forest.
"I think, you know, we played better, especially here in the month of January at home, had electric atmosphere, great crowds," Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. "I think it's energized our players. Probably giving them some confidence and then, you know, unfortunately we've gone on the road and, and some of the games, we haven't played quite as well. We didn't play very well offensively against Wake. I thought defensively we were, we were pretty good. We did not play very well against Louisville for much of the game. So no, I mean... I don't have, you know, any direct answer. Certainly some of it is being at home and you know, playing off of feeding off your home crowd and being a little more consistent that way."
It may have been the last loss at Wake Forest that proved to be the most disappointing, as the Tigers managed only 44 points in a 56-44 loss that saw the Tigers shoot just 30% from the field (18-of-59) and 19% from the 3-point line (4-of-21).
As a somewhat sadistic reward for their offensive woes, the Tigers now head back on the road to take on the Virginia Cavaliers who rank first in the ACC in scoring defense (50.7 points per game).
"Coming off a tough game against Wake. Didn't play very well. Especially offensively in the game," Brownell said. "And I guess the remedy for that is to go to Charlottesville, which doesn't seem like a good idea. But that's what they have scheduled, so we're going to be there."
As much as the Tigers have struggled this season offensively, ranking 12th in the ACC (67.2 points per game), the Cavaliers have been the worst team in the league this season, as they average a meager 56.3 points per game. But, as Brownell understands, defense can cause even the best offense troubles–especially defenses like Virginia.
"Some of (the struggles) is, you know, defenses in, in certain games. And certainly there's...defenses bother you more than others and you know, throw you off rhythm and you don't make a shot early. And now maybe some confidence issues creep into certain guys," Brownell added. "You know, as coaches, I think we're trying to look at shot quality, shot selection, shot quality. You know, and if you feel like you're getting good shots, you know, then you've got to keep encouraging your players.And if you're not getting good shots then you've got to, you got to get your guys to execute better and make them understand the difference. And you know, sometimes that, that's much more difficult"
The Cavaliers have been one of the top defenses in the ACC, as well as the nation, since the arrival of head coach Tony Bennett
Bennett is the architect with of the vaunted pack-line defense, which marries tough on-ball defense with the other four defenders all having at least one foot in the paint—making post entry passes extremely difficult.
"They're terrific. You know, the first thing I think sometimes, you know... Especially as you talk to other coaches and people, "Why is Virginia's defense so good? Number one is, they have very athletic competitive players and obviously Tony demands. That he recruits it. But I mean Braxton Key, Diakite, Kihei Clark on the ball... Casey Morsell," Brownell said. "I mean those guys are as good athletes as there are, you know, in the league. At those positions, they can move their feet, they're strong, they're physical, they're tough, tough minded. I would say Tony expects that out of them. And then he coaches them to great detail. And you know, and, and so because of that, yeah... they're outstanding defensively again."