With March Madness only days away from being in full swing, the Clemson Tigers, once a perennial bottom-dweller and now a legitimate force in the ACC, will be facing the Michigan Wolverines in the first round Thursday night.
The Tigers had a successful season, finishing 23-8 (9-7 in the ACC), but the end of the season is what concerns coach Oliver Purnell and Tiger fans everywhere.
With a first-round loss in the ACC tournament to No. 12 seed Georgia Tech, the Tigers gave every Tiger fan something to think about: Would this be another "build-me-up" year that would end up letting us down in the end?
With these Tigers, that question is asked far too often. Fortunately, these Tigers are hoping to handle the Michigan Wolverines in the first round of the 2009 NCAA Tournament.
Clemson and coach Oliver Purnell have many weapons, the biggest of which is his bench. With Jerai Grant, Tanner Smith, Andre Young, and David Potter all coming off the bench, it gives Purnell an oppurtunity to run his press the entire game.
However, the one thing Purnell needs to be careful of is over-pressing. Usually, he keeps the press on until it is too late, giving the opponents a 10-point head start, and rarely calls the press off as if he is too stubborn to admit his faults.
Thankfully Clemson has plenty of offensive weapons to balance the defensive press if or when it breaks down. Since Michigan has a 1-3-1 zone defense, Clemson will look to Terrence Oglesby and K.C. Rivers to hit three's from the open corners of the zone.
If the three's aren't there, or if one of them misses, Booker and Raymond Sykes are in the middle, on top of Rivers being one of the top inside shooting guards in the ACC, there will be plenty of rebounding opportunities throughout the game.
If Rivers and Booker play to their potential, Oglesby hits his three's, and if the Tigers get 10 points from two of the three people off the bench, Potter, Young and Grant, and if the press is used correctly, look for the Tigers to handle the Wolverines this Thursday. However, the second round may be a bit more of an issue for Clemson.
With the Griffin brothers of Oklahoma dominating the inside, Sykes and Grant may end up in foul trouble early with the second-round opponents, pending a huge upset. Booker would usually be in foul trouble, yet lately he has been sluggish due to the excessive use of the press by Purnell, so Booker will likely slack off on defense.
If the press is used accordingly and if Rivers and Oglesby show up with three-pointers and Stitt cuts to the basket, an upset could be in the works.
There is nothing that would mean more to this year's Clemson Tigers than at least one win in the tournament. Either way, the year has been a positive one for the Tigers, and it will definitely be a positive way to start next year.