clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Carlos on Clemson

H-S | W-S
| N-R |
| Greenville
| Beaufort
New Clemson coach
Oliver Purnell had to take one look at the state of the Tiger
basketball program and feel like he had just stepped in a big pile of
Shyatt. Purnell originally turned down an opportunity to coach the
Tigers when Rick Barnes left after the 1998 season, leaving Clemson
with their second choice, Larry Shyatt. Under Shyatt, the Tigers who
were coming off three straight NCAA Tournament appearances and were
just two years removed from a Sweet 16 appearance, fell to an NIT
team and then to three straight years of last place in the ACC. Last
year’s rally to 8th place was not enough to save
Shyatt’s job but then, taking a team from NCAA Tournament games
to National Invitational Tournament games then to the Les Robinson
Invitational games is not good for job security.

Enter Purnell who had
established Dayton as one of the nation’s best mid-major
programs in his 8 years with the Flyers. On the surface, the
Purnell’s task this year might not look so daunting. The
Tigers return 4 starters from last year’s team three of whom
are juniors and the other a senior. But it’s the one that’s
gone that stands out. Edward Scott led the team in points, assists,
three-pointers made, and minutes played. Scott played over 38
minutes a night and for all of those minutes he was the guy with the
ball in his hands for Clemson. His departure leaves Purnell with no
experienced guards to handle the point and without the guy who
created almost all of offense for the Tigers over the last 2 years.

Purnell has also been
handicapped by something else missing from the Barnes and Shatt eras
– the lightweight early season schedule. The Tigers’
schedule still features Gardner Webb, High Point, and Wofford, but
they’ve also been joined by the likes of Purdue, Georgia,
Cincinnati, and Boston College. Clemson has come through that
schedule much as you would expect – winning against the
lesser-quality opponents and struggling against the better teams.
The one exception to that is their last game, a 10-point win over
Boston College in Littlejohn Coliseum, but the jury is still out on
just how good the BC Eagles are this year.


Scott’s extended
minutes last year were the product of necessity as he was the team’s
only true point guard. In the wake of his departure, the point
duties fall to 5-11 freshman Vernon Hamilton – more by default
than by design. In time, Hamilton may turn out to be the type of
unheralded recruit that turns into an All-ACC player like former
Tiger guards Terrell McIntyre, Will Solomon, and Scott. But for now,
he looks more like a cubic zirconium in the rough than a diamond.

indoctrination into college basketball has been like learning to
drink from a fire hydrant. He was given the point guard spot as a
true freshman and the result has been inconsistent play, ranging from
finishing just one assist shy of a triple-double against Boston
college to a pair of 7 turnover performances against Cincinnati and
South Carolina. At 190 lbs., Hamilton is a strong guard and has
decent quickness with the ball but has a strong tendency to go to his
right with the ball. He’s also a poor shooter. Defensively he
has quick hands and does a good job disrupting the passing lanes.

Joining Hamilton in the
backcourt is the team’s leading scorer, Chey Christie. The 6-4
junior still looks too young to drive and despite adding several
pounds since enrolling at Clemson he may be the lightest guard in the
league. In addition to the extra strength he’s added, Christie
has also added an outside shot. Since shooting just 18% from the
three-point line as a freshman Christie has improved to the point
where he’s hitting almost 38% this year. That improvement is
significant in that it adds another weapon for a player who has
always had a strong mid-range game. Interestingly, Christie has been
much more effective against Duke in Cameron than he has in
Littlejohn. He averages 19 ppg for games played in Durham and just 3
ppg for games played at home.

Backcourt depth comes
from 6-2 Shawan Robinson, a 6-2 sophomore who played high school
basketball in Raleigh with current Florida State player Anthony
Richardson. Robinson is a combo guard who is more comfortable at the
off-guard spot. As is the case with the other Tiger guards, Robinson
is not strong with the basketball. In fact, the three guards combine
for nearly 9 turnovers per game. Robinson may be weakest of the
three in terms of ball handling, but he’s also the best shooter
of the group, hitting on over 40% of his three-point shots and 87% of
his free throws.


In typical Clemson
style, there is plenty of bulk in the frontcourt. Somewhat atypical
though is the fact that a chunk of it comes from the small forward
spot. That chunk is Olu Babalola who at 6-6 and 242 lbs. has
actually slimmed down since he arrived at Clemson. Olu Babalola
sounds like a guy who should be backing up Ricky down at the
Tropicana Club but instead he is the most athletic and high-energy
player on the Tigers’ roster. As a bonus, he’s likely to
be guarded by Deng so you’ll get an Olu-Luol matchup which is
just fun to say. Babalola is surprisingly agile for his size,
allowing him to play a perimeter role for the team. He can get out
of control, trying to do too much on occasion and like the backcourt
players, is turnover prone.

The other bulk in the
frontcourt comes from 6-7 / 260 lbs. veteran Chris Hobbs who returns
to Clemson for what seems like his 28th season. Hobbs is
the only member of a recruiting class from four years ago that was
supposed to be the cornerstone for Shyatt’s future teams. But
Dwon Clifton transferred to nowhere in particular (High Point College
to be exact) and Tony Stockman took his great talent for both scoring
and turnovers off to Ohio State.

It probably just seems
like Hobbs has been there for so long because he’s been a key
player on the Tigers since the day he arrived on campus. He’s
also been in foul trouble since the day he arrived on campus with a
playing style that’s considerably short on finesse. This year
he’s trying to bounce back from a junior season when his
starting job meant he just had a better view of Scott doing
everything for the Tigers. His junior year numbers at Clemson were
the worst of his three seasons. He’s a bull in the paint,
aggressively attacking the glass and battling for position down low.
The key to stopping Hobbs will be to push him out of the paint as he
has limited range and doesn’t handle the ball well. His
effectiveness may be limited against Duke as he’s coming off a
sprained ankle in the team’s last game.

The third starter in
the frontcourt is Sharrod Ford, a 6-9 / 223 lbs. junior who is one of
the best shot-blockers in the ACC not named Shelden Williams. Ford
plays a fluid game around the basket which complements the power of
Hobbs. Both players are averaging 11.5 points and over 7 rebounds
per game.

Providing frontcourt
depth are reserves Akin Akingbala and Lamar Rice who was apparently
named after a pair of small, private universities in Texas. No word
on if his middle name is Baylor. Akingbala is a 6-9 / 230 lbs.
sophomore from Nigeria who played sparingly last season. He’s
still very raw offensively but can be effective on the glass and
playing defense. He’s most productive when he is close enough
to dunk, anything other than that may be outside of his range. Rice
is a junior college transfer from Flint, Michigan who somehow escaped
Tom Izzo’s attention. The 6-7 junior sat out last season to
focus on academics. He should have also tried to focus some on
shooting the ball as he’s struggling from the outside.


To quote Chris Hobbs
when asked if he thought the Tigers would see a lot of presses this
year, “If teams don’t do it, they’re stupid.”
With the struggles of their backcourt, and with Babalola chipping in
at a magnanimous 3.8 turnovers per game, the Tigers are extremely
vulnerable to pressure defense – something Duke has been doing
pretty well as of late. The key to that is how much pressure Duhon
and Dockery can bring against Hamilton and the other Tiger point

If the Duke guards are
able to disrupt the Tiger offense this game might not be the close
contest the Devils have usually seen in Littlejohn. The difference
in performance when Clemson can limit their turnovers is immense. In
the team’s best win of the season, the 10 point victory over
BC, the team still committed 19 turnovers, but only one of them came
from Hamilton in his 35 minutes at the point guard. In that game,
the Tigers were up by 22 points before BC went to a full court press
and closed the gap.

The other advantage of
pressuring the Tigers is that it keeps the ball away from their
interior players, particularly Hobbs and Ford, who are two of the
team’s leading scorers. In games of consequence (Purdue, S.
Carolina, Georgia, Cincinnati, and Boston College) the interior trio
of Ford, Hobbs, and Akingbala has averaged nearly 20 fewer points as
a group than they have against the other teams on the schedule. That
drop in production comes from limiting their touches which in turn
doesn’t allow them to develop a rhythm, resulting in more bad
shots when they do get the ball.

Littlejohn Coliseum is an unforgiving place to visit. Only two ACC
schools have a winning record on the Tigers’ home court. One
of those teams is Duke who has run off 6 straight wins in Littlejohn,
the last loss being the 1997 overtime game when Greg Newton fumbled
away a pass that would have led to a sure dunk to win the game in
regulation. Since that time, the Devils have fared very well in a
tough environment, winning on average by 17 points a game.

If the Devils are able
to successfully harass the Tiger guards they should be able to
continue that trend for another year. Which, if Purnell is able to
replicate the success he has had at every other stop in his coaching
career, would be the last time Duke will be able to win big in