It’s interesting writing a review of a game after we have updated information from a different game, but it does also help to provide some context to the most recent outcome. Fans were, rightly, thrilled after this game only to see that enthusiasm take a hit after watching us play against Duke the following night. I’m here to say that, while the Duke loss was unfortunate and was something I’ll dig into in detail with that review (out hopefully tomorrow, Wed latest), these encouraging signs were real, are applicable toward most opponents we’ll face, and cement my opinion that we’re playing better basketball than at any point in the year after Reece’s injury. This team went from having to grind out a victory against Clemson at home and fighting through almost every possession to winning by 20 at a neutral site and, at times, simply carving up their defense with ease.
Clemson is not a small team, by any means. Their 3-5 go 6’8″, 6’7″, and 6’10” and they bring comparable size across their bench replacements, as well. In fact, and this speaks to why I like the first weekend of our draw, they are a bigger team 1-5 than ANY of our potential opponents until we were to reach the Sweet 16. And yet, we carved them up, punished them inside, and did a much better job of stopping their inside scoring in this one as a result of our lineup changes from the previous contest with them in Charlottesville. PJ Hall went from going 9-13 from the field for 19 points against primarily Gardner, BVP, and Dunn, to going 4-12 from the field for 13 points against primarily Shedrick, Caffaro, and Gardner. Jayden Gardner, now primarily guarded by combination of Ian Schieffelin and RJ Godfrey rather than PJ Hall, went off for 23 points on 10-15 shooting compared to 12 points on 5-13 shooting in the game prior. Franklin made a living in the lane for 16 points, Clark had his best game of the tournament, and both Shedrick and Caffaro were able to convert points at the rim with 8 and 4, respectively on over 70% shooting collectively. All with Reece Beekman looking far less explosive than he had the night before coming off of no rest.
In the interest of getting both games done and giving some time to focus on Furman, this will not be quite as long of a review, but still come with me on this journey through a tale of offensive execution and improved size and physicality.
The Beautiful Game
Our offense in this game was executed incredibly well with great motion, screen action (so much so that Clemson attempted to start running directly through screens to force the refs to make a decision on a foul; one they more often lost that won), and some really gorgeous passing. We mostly used our Sides offense, using fantastic execution most highlighted by Franklin and Gardner and screening through our bigs; but also sprinkled in some Triangle to great effect. Let’s take a look:
Here in this first clip and this is classic Sides. If you’ve watched our team, you can remember this variant from back as far as CTB started coaching. The lineup is Clark, Beekman, IMK, Dunn, and Shedrick. Beekman gets the ball off of a pin down screen and attempts to run a pick and roll with Dunn which Clemson defends by sending two at Beekman and with Hall deterring a pass to Dunn. Clark comes around for the replacement on the wing, and IMK replaces at the top with Beekman running baseline through the other side. IMK starts the offense as if he’s going to pass to Clark and then gives it back over to Beekman on the opposite wing. Clark then dives baseline to run through a screen by Shedrick on the other side, and now Dunn sets the flare screen on IMK’s man. Beekman throws the pass before the screen ever takes place so that IMK catches it in rhythm and is able to drain the three. This is a great look at the continuous defense and alertness that we require from Clemson and one of the many variations that we’ll touch on, executed crisply.
Both Gardner and Franklin really worked well together on this night, with Gardner really thriving. Here’s a look that, when run in the context of us having been running Sides could certainly look like it is. It’s actually our Triangle offense. Dunn and Beekman move toward each other at the beginning here as if Dunn could be setting a screen for Beekman, but instead Dunn just continues out to the wing. Both defenders would have been alert here, thinking that Beekman was looking to run through the baseline or pop back out on the wing himself. He gives a slight rub to PJ Hall to free Gardner on the block, and then continues up through the lane. Meanwhile, Dunn gives the ball to Gardner in the post and Franklin, playing at the top of the three-point line, cuts back door through the center of the open lane. Gardner finds him with a beautiful pass and Franklin finishes at the rim.
This is pretty basketball but there’s also a lot going on here. In Sides, Clemson defenders would be looking for completely different movements. Franklin, playing at the top of the three-point line, would be facilitating to one of the sides and then looking to replace on one of the wings, flare, etc. The cut down the center of the lane wouldn’t be something the defender would be expecting given what they’ve been defending. Also, that area wouldn’t be so open, but the spacing created by the Beekman/Dunn decoy action and Gardner catching the ball well away from the block opened up the entire middle of the court, as the Triangle is wont to do but as teams have been far more focused on stopping recently when they’ve known it was the offense we were in. Switching into it seamlessly was key here.
Here’s another clip, this one from the second half, when we’re in the Inside Triangle. We went to it much more often with Gardner and Dunn both on the floor rather than Caffaro and Shedrick, and this time Clemson knows it’s coming as you can tell by how they’re switching/helping off of the screen action. Again, we decoy Sides with Dunn starting in the paint and then popping out to his spot on the wing. Gardner sets a screen for Beekman across the lane which Clemson switches and then recovers off of. The ball goes up to Gardner, who then passes it up to Franklin for a two-man pick and roll in the center of the court with Beekman keeping to the baseline. You’ll notice that Schieffelin is on Dunn and he has read his scouting report/is sagged pretty far off of him. But Franklin gets Hall switched onto him and does a good job forcing both Schieffelin and Hunter Tyson to have to commit to helping stop his dribble. If Clemson was playing this perfectly, they probably would have just had Schieffelin take the ball and give Dunn that wide-open look on the wing that you can see at about the 13 second mark. Instead, Franklin reads Tyson and makes a sick and accurate bounce pass to Gardner who has rolled and kept good spacing. He makes a clean catch in traffic with momentum and finishes at the other side of the rim to avoid the Hall contest from behind. This is pretty nasty execution right here.
Here we have another variation from the Triangle, this time Clark walks the ball to his wing slot and Hall attempts to cheat over the cross-screen Franklin is about to set for Gardner. Instead, Gardner stays home as Hall leaves, Clark reads it, and hits him with such a nice and intuitive pass over the top for the easy layup.
It should start to be clear how well we were functioning within our offensive frameworks as a collective unit. Our guys were seeing the floor and were seeing what each other saw, which kept adding up to excellent offensive execution and just adding continual wrinkles into what we were doing.
Here’s another look, below, now we’re back in Sides again with Beekman, Clark, Franklin, Gardner, and Shedrick. Beekman runs through the baseline and Clark flares to the other wing while Beekman replaces and Franklin runs through the baseline as well. Clark then sets up the baseline cut again, but doubles back and runs his man off a (likely moving, shhhh, don’t tell) screen that would make Pete Nance proud. It destroys Chase Hunter and lands him on the ground. From there, Clemson’s defense has to adjust while Hunter attempts to recover, the ball swings to Beekman who drives to draw help and kicks it back out to the wide-open Clark. Clark drills this one, which, he shot 50% from three in this one despite shooting 25% from deep in the tournament. We’ll definitely need him to replicate this game and his earlier season form from outside, and finding him wide-open shots through execution is a great way to do that.
Here, in the clip below, another look from Sides. My favorite thing about the play, aside from just the exclamation point with the dunk, is how it comes from a different angle of attack. When Beekman runs baseline and takes the screen from Shedrick, he flares out into the corner rather than extending to the wing, and then plays the pick and roll with Shedrick from there. It isolates the two defenders and keeps them at maximum distance from help. And, while help does come, unlike the Duke game (which we’ll see later), it can’t effectively contest Shedrick’s rim running. Just so many different threats for Clemson defenders to have to track when we’re executing at this level.
I LOVE this next read and play below and this, along with the clip after, really illustrate how smart and effectively Gardner was playing within the offense. We’re in Sides again and we initially run Franklin through the baseline off of both a Gardner screen and THEN a Caffaro screen going the other way (so many screens set by Caffaro on this play). Franklin’s defender stumbles but gets through the screening so Clark passes over to Beekman who probes toward the elbow on a drive/screen by Gardner. Clark’s man dips in to help stop Beekman’s drive so Clark flares to the opposite wind through a screen set by Caffaro. The action comes a little late and Caffaro can’t get a big piece of the defender so he recovers, but then, no rest for the weary, Caffaro sets ANOTHER ball screen on him and this time PJ Hall has to switch onto Clark to keep the drive from happening. Immediately sensing the advantage, Caffaro goes to the block with a 9 inch advantage on Dillon Hunter, who is fronting him. But here’s the really sharp part. Clark is struggling to find an angle to get Caffaro the ball. Gardner, noticing this, comes up to the free throw line, Clark passes HIM the ball, and NOW he has the perfect angle to dump the ball over the top to Caffaro for the hoop and the foul. This section is called “The beautiful game” for a reason, because this is such intuitive, clever, and pretty basketball.
In our last look at the offense, this is Sides again, and Gardner has just set two successive down screens for Clark and Franklin, respectively. He attempts to post Hunter Tyson, briefly, but Franklin opts to pass the ball back out top to Clark. Clark looks to switch court but Beekman is being denied the ball, so Clark turns back. Gardner goes to set another pin down screen for Franklin to ostensibly catch the ball on the wing, but this time he slips the screen entirely as Tyson leaves him in an attempt to deny Franklin. This leaves him WIDE open at the hoop and Clark, whose man was giving him roughly 10 feet of cushion, is able to find him for the easy layup. So savvy. Such a great read of how the defense would react to this action and doing the opposite.
So, where am I going with these clips? Against Duke we had a bit of a crisis of offense. There were certainly things we could have done better and executed more effectively, but a lot of that was because their unique size and athleticism took a lot of these options away. Clemson, as I mentioned, is NOT a small team, larger than any we’d face until a possible matchup with Alabama in the Sweet 16. These offensive sets and this execution should absolutely be repeatable in terms of creating HIGH quality looks for our offense via switching between multiple offenses, the experience we have running it, and the size of our “blockers” becoming more of a key factor in what we’re doing.
Furthermore, all ACC teams have a ton of experience both preparing for (within their coaching staff) and playing against our various offensive sets. Teams that haven’t had the misfortune of playing against it and navigating the constant movement/various wrinkles are usually at an even greater disadvantage than our conference opponents. Point being, I would look at how we executed against UNC and Clemson as being much more translatable to most of our matchups in the Field of 68.
A Quick Look At Defense
I noted at the top how much more difficult and inefficient offense came for PJ Hall with our bigger lineup guarding him. The shots he did make were often well contested, but more often he ended up settling for shots like this, fading away from the basket trying to shoot over one-on-one defense.
However, there were still times that we played without a true Center, utilizing Gardner and Dunn together, during which we were much more aggressive about doubling the post (as we were previously playing Small Ball). I’m going to show two possessions of this below, one that did not work well and one that did.
In this first one, PJ Hall catches the ball in the post against Gardner and Dunn is immediately there for the double team. Clemson is prepared for this, though, and Schieffelin screens Beekman on the back side so that he can’t get back out quickly on Halls pass to the opposite wing. Clemson misses the shot, but this is a wide-open look where Clemson was able to take advantage of our double team.
Now here’s another look, and this one is much more successful and fluid. Notice this time Hall gets the ball in the post and Dunn comes to double, but Hall has to back the ball back out of the post, doesn’t have as clean of a look, Dunn recovers to Schieffelin first but, upon realizing that Franklin is pinned, jumps out to Tyson quickly by the time the ball gets to him. Schieffelin then gets the ball in the post on Franklin, and Gardner comes over to double. Clark is fronting Hall who is also pinning him down, but Beekman is the flex role and is in position to be able to recover to either of the passing options. Fading away from the double team, Schieffelin attempts to lead his man toward the corner to beat a Beekman recovery but the two are not on the same page and he throws the ball away.
Hopefully, most of the time in the tournament we will have either Shedrick or Caffaro on the floor, depending on the matchups. But, if the ACC Tournament is any indication, it’s likely there will be approximately 10 minutes in any given game where they are not. How we read and react to these rotations will play a huge role in our defensive success during those times.
Really quickly, I just wanted to highlight three separate plays that were not the kinds of plays we were able to get/make against Duke but that ARE the kinds of plays I think we should be able to create, at least until the Round of 16.
Clip 1, Kihei Clark just taking advantage of his man ducking under a screen set by Caffaro and hitting the open look from outside:
Unlike RJ Davis, Caleb Love, Jeremy Roach, and Tyrese Proctor, it was very clear that Chase Hunter did not feel as though he had the quicks (or confidence in his outside shot/handle) to both stay in front of Clark on defense or to elevate over the top of him on offense considering the buffer he gave him and how little he pressured/tested him off of the dribble. This was the only of the three games in the Tournament where I would say Clark had a good game, certainly on par with how he’s played the majority of the season. I expect Clark to be much more competitive and confident in the NCAA Tournament and certainly will be a threat to finish at the rim more in the first pod.
Clip 2, this dunk by Shedrick. Shedrick should be the longest, most threatening rim runner and protector in our pod. On this play, he is able to come down with a lob attempt gone awry, and is actually just able to pivot himself into position to go straight up and dunk the ball. Clemson isn’t small, but they didn’t have the hops/length to contest this. I expect Kadin to look much more like he did against Clemson in those games than he did against Duke (and how he plays against a team with the athleticism of Alabama will be a huge factor in how well we’re able to compete with them).
Clip 3, second chance points for Gardner against Duke, in fact, points near the rim in general, were very hard to come by because their length and strength across the board, even at the wing positions but especially with the two 7 footers could quickly get back into a play and bother shots. Against Clemson, we see some screening action here get him switched onto a guard and then how strong he’s able to play around the rim to clean up the offensive rebound. I expect us to be able to see a lot more of these types of plays from Jayden in the pod.
Lastly, not a clip, but a thought. Taine Murray getting some run, I think, has been pretty smart. He made a couple of shots and does look like he’s playing better defensively (not as well as the rest of the group, but it was a glaring struggle earlier in the year when he got on the floor). But what I really like about it and the most reliable benefit, in my opinion, is that if he can defend well enough his fresh set of legs as a shooting threat through Sides can be huge to wear down our opponents, help to create fatigue, and to keep us fresh throughout a long and grueling tournament. Another person to run the opposition HARD off of a Caffaro screen creates incremental advantage, wear and tear, and is mentally draining for our opponents. I wrote earlier in the year that I didn’t think we would benefit from many more minutes from him this year, and apparently CTB agreed… until recently. I think it’s been very sharp to see if he could be integrated for a few minutes per game, considering our core offense is Sides now, good that it doesn’t seem to have been hurting us, and a really smart adaptation by CTB.
We’re about to take a tour through a much less fun contest for us where things looked bleak/ugly on the offensive side of the ball. There will be things to look out for, and some lessons hopefully learned for if/when we play a team like, say, Alabama. But, hopefully this is a reminder of where our advantages are against most teams not loaded with 5-star talent, very familiar with our systems, and peaking right now (read: every other team except for Duke). We’re going to hear a lot about how vulnerable we are this week. This is not the same team that was squeaking out tight games against bad competition in February. This is still the team who played much more convincingly against both UNC and Clemson than we did just a couple of weeks ago.