Tuesday, No. 19 Clemson Basketball defeated NC State in overtime, 74-70. With the win, the Tigers improved to 9-1 on the season and 3-1 in ACC play. Through 10 games, they have a legitimate case to be the best team in the conference.
To the casual college basketball fan, the idea that Clemson could be the ACC’s best team is ludicrous. What about Duke? North Carolina? Florida State? So far this season, the ACC has proved to be quite weak despite the historic success of its member programs. Clemson is currently the highest-ranked program in the NCAA NET rankings at No. 15. The next ACC team (Syracuse) is No. 25.
Clemson’s biggest strength is their defense. Per KenPom, the Tigers are second in the country in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. In terms of raw numbers, they allow the sixth-fewest points per game of any team in the country, and the third-fewest of Power 5 teams. That’s not a fluke either. Eight of Clemson’s 10 games have come against Power 5 opponents.
The Tigers are elite at forcing mistakes and missed shots. Opponents commit 18 turnovers per game, shoot under 40% from the field and under 30% from three. They have yet to meet a truly elite offensive team, but so far things are really clicking on the defensive end.
Winning Games They Should Win
Unlike most top-flight ACC teams, Clemson doesn’t have a questionable loss yet. Virginia lost to San Francisco. North Carolina fell to Georgia Tech. Duke is 0-2 against ranked teams. Clemson, however, has the second-hardest strength of schedule in their conference and has come out with just one six-point road loss to a solid Virginia Tech team. They’ve taken care of business.
The Tigers are also 2-0 against ranked opponents. They have won their last two ACC contests by a combined 5 points. You might see that as a weakness, but an ability to win close games is extremely valuable in a tournament scenario.
Concerns with Clemson Basketball
A major concern with Clemson is their lack of offensive firepower. Despite being an elite defensive unit, their Adjusted Offensive Efficiency ranks No. 72 in the nation. That’s the lowest of any team in the KenPom top 40.
They also don’t really have a dominant go-to scorer. Aamir Simms and Nick Honor can both score the ball with good efficiency, but solid defensive teams have been able to limit their production. Together, Clemson’s two leading scorers have combined for six 15-plus point games but also 10 single-digit scoring performances.
Part of Clemson’s defensive scheme is slowing the pace of play. They are 283rd out of 342 eligible teams in possessions per game. However, in games against great offenses, slowing the game down can have the adverse effect of hurting your own offense when you have to keep up.
The Clemson Tigers will look to build upon their success in their next game; they face UNC (7-4 overall, 2-2 ACC) on the road on Saturday.
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