Thursday, February 16, 2006
I'm always fascinated how history repeats itself or, to be less cliched, how there are parallels across eras of human history. The last time Clemson basketball enjoyed a four game winning streak against Maryland the incumbent president was sinking in the polls prior to the election with many pollsters forecasted his defeat, but he won an unlikely victory. He had a folksy manner and was derided in some circles as an unsophisticated man who didn't possess the proper abilities to be President. American soldiers were still stationed as occupiers in various countries across the globe. An unpopular war that was seen as a waste of money and American lives was continuing with only the help of a few of allies of the United States, namely Great Britain. The conflict had started to turn into a stalemate that the electorate became increasingly weary about continuing.
That man was Harry Truman and those years were 1949-1951. I don't want to get too political since that isn't what this blog is supposed to be about, but regardless of your political leanings the similarities are striking.
That's enough grandiose musing for now. Now we turn to the unpleasant task of dissecting this rotted corpse of a game. There was nothing pretty about that game. At 5-6 Maryland blew a chance to set itself up nicely for a run at the NCAAs. Now they will have to kick off a winning streak and probably take at least 3, and more probably 4, of the last 5 games. I'm not sure this group has that kind of a turnaround in them. As with last year Clemson may have been this group's Waterloo.
Here are a few observations about the game:
Clearly the perimeter defense is a disaster. The two situations that this group struggles with are when to leave their man on the perimeter and defend when the opponent executes a high screen. All the wing players leave their man from time to time but Sterling Ledbetter and DJ Strawberry are the two main culprits. Strawberry does this because he often gets caught gambling for a steal when he shouldn't be while Ledbetter gets caught because he lacks the foot speed and defensive fundamentals. As a group this team doesn't have a clue how to defend the high screen. The frontcourt is totally inept at giving any help defense on screens and actually gets in the way of their teammate more often than not. Why do you suppose that a team like Duke, who is almost always far ahead of their opponents, is one of the best teams at defending the perimeter in the entire nation? Part of it is the discipline of their wing players, but it is also the excellent help defense by their big men, namely Sheldon Williams. Next time Duke is on TV, which should be within 30 minutes of whenever you turn it on, watch their big men play off the high screen and you'll see what I'm talking about.
So a scrub like Shawan Robinson scores a season high 24 points and nails 5/10 threes. Troy Mathis, whoever that is, also hit 2/3 and as a team Clemson hit 12/28 attempts from outside. I wasn't a math major but that is 36 points and just under half of all the shots they sunk. It was the eight time that Maryland had given up 10 or more 3-point baskets for the season and the sixth time in 11 ACC games. You can't win, no matter how good you are on offense, giving up that many 3-point baskets. It is simple math, my friends. Suppose each team takes 10 shots, Maryland only shoots traditional field goals and their opponent only takes 3-point shots. Now suppose the opponent hits 40% of those attempts, the Terps conference average in 3-point defense, that means they will score 12 points. Maryland now needs to his 6 of its 10 shots to match that total. Almost no team will shoot 60% over the course of a game. I'm not advocating that Maryland become a team like NC State, they don't have the personnel even if they wanted to, but I am pointing out that bad perimeter defense puts incredible pressure on the rest of your game. You have to be almost perfect to win.
As for the players here are some random thoughts:
DJ Strawberry is passionate and he certainly has heart but he also needs to channel his intensity in a productive way. His out of control play during Clemson's pivotal 19-1 run that started at just under 17 minutes to go in the game sealed the loss for Maryland.
I don't want to keep taking shots at Sterling Ledbetter but he was again atrocious. He had 5 fouls in just 7 minutes in the 2nd half, that about sums it up I think.
Mike Jones scored a bunch but also had lapses on defense and at time was sloppy with the ball. His cramping and minor knee injury really hampered Maryland in its comeback bid when they needed his outside shooting. Jones said he was fine after the game.
Parrish Brown played well for a kid who hasn't seen much of the floor in the last month. His size will always be a problem in the ACC and he got manhandled a few times by Clemson's physical and aggressive defense. He still managed to gather 6 assists though and is a better scoring option than Ledbetter. Look for him to get more minutes in the next few games.
Gist and Ibekwe both struggled against a mediocre Clemson frontcourt. Neither managed to get to the free throw line much, a consistent weakness for both, and would rush shots when they got the ball in the post. A lack a patience is an endemic problem with this club but none more than these two. Maryland needed one of them to elevate their play but neither could.
Travis Garrison seems to no longer care about his play, not that he really did before, and is consistently beat to rebounds and abused on defense. His performance against Akinbala was embarrassing even by his low standards.
Nik Caner-Medley was again the center of this team. He has the ability to take over a game and yet in crucial stretches of the 2nd half his teammates made little attempt to get him the ball. He posted his 3rd double-double of the season and was very aggressive in going after defensive rebounds. He seemed to get frustrated with his teammates and I think feels a certain disconnect with the younger players on the squad. He must feel immense pressure in these last few weeks since Chris McCray flunked off the team. It has to be wearing on him.
This loss is the low point of the last two years in my book. A terrible Clemson team that was short its best player, on a five game losing streak, with the worst offense in the ACC was able to put almost 90 points on the board. The most disheartening aspect was how many loose balls, rebounds and steals Clemson got against Maryland. Those things all are evidence of superior effort and I just can't fathom how Maryland's players, with a few exceptions, could be so apathetic in such a crucial game. This team is going to lose more games after this one but I tremble to think it's possible they will play more halfheartedly that they did at Clemson.