The Wichita State men’s basketball team will return to the state of South Carolina this weekend to play its second game in the National Invitational Tournament.
The sixth-seeded Shockers (20-14) will face second-seeded Clemson (20-13) at 1 p.m. Central time on Sunday with the game broadcast on ESPN.
Here are five things to know about the Clemson Tigers:
1. Clemson is an elite defensive team with length
Clemson has one of the best defenses in the country, evident by top-15 adjusted defensive efficiency ratings on KenPom.com (12) and T-Rank (8). The Tigers have held their opponents to 0.93 points per possession this season, which becomes even more impressive when you factor in the strength of schedule playing in the ACC.
The Tigers have length at point guard with 6-foot-3 senior Marcquise Reed and on the wing with Clyde Trapp (6-4) and David Skara (6-8). Down low, Clemson has a pair of big bodies in sophomore Aamir Simms (6-7, 248 pounds) and senior Elijah Thomas (6-9, 245).
Reed can make opposing guards uncomfortable with his pressure and his anticipation in the passing lanes; he averages 2.1 steals and owns a top-50 steal rate in the country. Skara is an even better defender on the perimeter, as he uses his lanky 6-8 frame to bottle up smaller wings. And then Thomas is the last line of defense, a top-rate rim protector who averages 2.2 blocks with the 22nd-best block rate in the country.
Add it all up and Clemson is one of the best defensive teams inside the perimeter. Clemson has the 11th-best two-point defense, as opponents have made just 44.2 percent of two-pointers, six points below the national average. Opponents make just under 55 percent of their shots at the rim, which ranks Clemson 34th in the country, per Hoop-Math.com.
WSU has been a below-average offensive team during the majority of its 12-3 close to the season. The Shockers are shooting just 31.8 percent on three-pointers during that span and that’s including the 15-for-33 performance at Tulsa. The Shockers will again have a size advantage with centers Jaime Echenique and Asbjorn Midtgaard, but not nearly as much as they did against Furman when WSU made 57.8 percent of its two-pointers and outrebounded Furman by 17.
Another strength-vs.-strength battle will be WSU’s offensive rebounding (the Shockers rebound 33 percent of their misses for the 41st-best rate) against Clemson’s defensive rebounding (the Tigers limit opponents to collecting 24.4 percent of their own misses for the 21st-best rate). Thomas sucks up nearly every defensive rebound and Reed helps being a plus rebounder at guard.
WSU’s offense has scored at least 1 point per possession in 14 of its last 15 games. That will be a challenge against a Clemson defense that’s only allowed that to happen four times in its last 13 games.
2. Clemson’s offense runs through guard Marcquise Reed
Reed is a 6-3, 188-pound guard who averages 19.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.1 steals and was chosen third-team all-ACC. He’s a high-usage player, but fairly efficient, ranking ninth among high-usage players in the ACC this season with an offensive rating of 108.5. He is one of just two players in the country to average at least 19 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals.
But Reed’s shot distribution is somewhat curious in today’s modern game. He’s a good three-point shooter, making 1.6 per game and shooting 37 percent, but Reed’s game is dominated by pull-up two-point jump shots.
According to Hoop-Math.com, nearly half of Reed’s shots (48.5 percent) are two-point jumpers. Regardless of what analytics say, it’s clearly worked for Reed, who makes 42.7 percent of those jumpers. He’s a good finisher around the rim and he excels at manufacturing points at the free throw line, where he visits nearly six times per game and shoots 84.5 percent.
WSU will have to figure out a coverage for Clemson’s pick-and-roll game. Reed can hurt defenses that over-help by kicking out to three-point shooters, none more dangerous than Skara, who is shooting 48.7 percent and scoring 1.20 points per possession on spot-up looks, per Synergy.
The Shockers are likely to start senior Samajae Haynes-Jones on Reed to match quickness with quickness. But WSU is sure to rotate a bigger defender like Jamarius Burton and maybe even use the length of Dexter Dennis for stretches.
WSU will need a disciplined effort on defense to ensure Reed doesn’t live at the foul line.
3. Tigers lost their senior point guard
Clemson learned earlier this week that 6-4 senior point guard Shelton Mitchell (11.5 points, 2.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals) was “basically done” for the rest of the season, according to coach Brad Brownell.
Mitchell was playing 33 minutes per game for Clemson, but on an injured knee for much of the season. After a MRI on Monday revealed meniscus damage, Clemson shut Mitchell down. Brownell said Mitchell might have tried to play if Clemson was in the NCAA Tournament.
“I hate it for Shelton because he wants to keep playing, but it’s tough right now,” Brownell told the Clemson media. “It was really bothering him down the stretch. He wasn’t moving very well (last) Saturday. So they kinda looked at it and he’s going to have to have another surgery, so we just decided that it’s probably in all of our best interests for him to take some time and sort through some things.”
Mitchell’s absence means the ball will be in Reed’s hands even more now. He’s Clemson’s best player, so that could be a good thing; but piling on an already-heavy workload could see Reed’s efficiency drop. Against Wright State, in the first game without Mitchell, Reed logged his second-highest usage rate of the season, but responded with 24 points on 9-of-19 shooting.
Mitchell was Clemson’s third-leading scorer and main target on the perimeter spotting up when Reed drove to kick. Mitchell attempted the most three-pointers on the team (4.6 per game), although he only made 32.4 percent. Clyde Trapp (0.8 three-point makes on 31.7 percent), a 6-4 sophomore, has replaced Mitchell in the lineup.
Clemson was already a team short on depth, as it played a core of seven players this season. Losing Mitchell bumps that down to six, as freshman wing John Newman was the only reserve to play more than six minutes against Wright State.
4. Clemson is a veteran, senior-laden team
Clemson returned five of its top eight players from last season’s team that matched the school-record of 25 wins and reached the NCAA Sweet 16. Reed led the team in scoring last season as well, while Thomas (13.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.2 blocks) has blossomed in an expanded role this season.
According to KenPom.com, Clemson has the 31st-most experienced roster in the country. Losing Mitchell certainly affects that, but Clemson still starts three seniors in Reed, Thomas and stretch forward Skara (7.6 points, 4.2 rebounds). Seniors played more than 64 percent of the team’s minutes this season to help the Tigers reach the postseason.
That experience hasn’t translated to success down the stretch of close games, however. Clemson is 3-7 in games decided by five points or fewer this season and 0-7 against teams that were in KenPom’s top-90.
It is interesting to note that all five of Clemson’s scholarship seniors on the roster this season started their college careers elsewhere: Reed (Robert Morris), Thomas (Texas A&M), Mitchell (Vanderbilt), Skara (Valparaiso) and senior reserve Javan White (Oral Roberts).
Fans of Clemson don’t seem to be excited about the Tigers playing in the NIT. For Clemson’s opening-round game on Tuesday against Wright State, Clemson only sold 1,718 tickets in 9,000-seat Littlejohn Coliseum.
5. Clemson’s offense deteriorates the longer you guard them
According to StatHouse Analytics, Clemson’s offense peaks at 1.21 points per possession when it shoots in the first five seconds of the shot clock. Synergy’s logs back up this claim with Clemson in the 79th percentile in the country for transition offense.
But keep the Tigers in the halfcourt and it’s a different story.
When Clemson’s offense doesn’t find anything in the first 10 seconds of a possession, its offensive efficiency craters. StatHouse Analytics shows Clemson’s points per possession goes from 1.06 in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock to 0.86 in the final 20 seconds of the shot clock.
Despite this advantage, Clemson doesn’t fully capitalize on it because it only generates an average amount of transition offense. According to KenPom.com, Clemson plays at the 255th-slowest pace in the country and its average possession length is nearly 18 seconds.
Wichita State should match up well with this style. Since a shaky start to the season, WSU has been an elite transition defensive team since the new year. The Shockers allow an above-average amount of opportunities in transition, but their defensive points per possession of 0.99 ranks them No. 32 in the country and in the 91st percentile.