Tuesday, March 27, 2007

ACC in the NIT

Lost in the discussion of how much the NCAAs played to seed is that this year's NIT is pure chalk (stupid question, where does this expression come from?) - all four 1 seeds advanced to the Garden. Of course, getting home court advantage helps, but these are four legitimately good basketball teams that, but for certain periods of adversity during the season, would have strongly merited NCAA bids. All are top-32 in the Pomeroy Ratings, with Air Force leading the way at #21 , and these are the four-best non-NCAA teams accoording to those ratings (these are rankings as of today, not as of the start of the post-season, so each has received a bump on account of winning three in a row while teams around them are losing).

For the Tigers, they're clearly enjoying playing non-ACC opponents for the first time in 2007. If Clemson wins the NIT, they'll be 19-0 against non-ACC teams, compared to 7-10 in their conference. So far, the NIT has played out like a preview of the future - sophomore KC Rivers and freshman Trevor Booker have been studs. Booker is averaging 12 and 7, and Rivers is scoring nearly 20/game, including a career high 29 in the win over Syracuse. Clemson will definitely be able to use this NIT run as momentum for next year - only Vernon Hamilton departs, and David Potter should be able to step into his shoes reasonably well.

Tonight's game features a real contrast in styles. Clemson is up-tempo and pressing - they thrive off turnovers and their full court press is about as good as they come - 8th best in the country in steals. Air Force, on the other hand, is another Princeton-style team that plays very, very slow - only 58.4 possessions per game. They're deliberate, they shoot well, and they never turn the ball over. Air Force's offensive stats are severe - they're in the top 20 in several categories - EFG%, turnover%, assist rate, and ratio of 3s to 2s, but then atrocious in offensive rebounding (332nd) and getting their own shots blocked (324th). This is close to the epitome of a perimeter-oriented team, although they are reasonably good at getting to the free throw line. Air Force is also experienced - four seniors and a junior start - so Clemson may not be able to rattle them with the press. If the Tigers can't force some turnovers, look out - Clemson's offense and defense in the half court leave a lot to be desired.

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