South Region: No. 7 Clemson (23-8) vs. No. 10 Michigan (20-13)
When: Thursday, 7:10 p.m., EDT
Where: Sprint Center, Kansas City, Missouri
1) Clemson Tigers, Naughty By Nature? Clemson University is a public school located in the northwest corner of South Carolina in Clemson, South Carolina, the "golden corner" of the Upstate. Though established in 1869, the Clemson Tigers long for the 1990s. The Tiger faithful call themselves Oliver Purnell's Posse (O.P.P.), a nod to Naughty By Nature's 1991 "Yo! MTV Raps" classic "O.P.P ," which is played at home games to get the crowd excited. The 1990s was also the last time the Clemson Basketball program sustained any success. The parallels between the 1996-1997 team and this year's team are uncanny, which may bode well for the team in this year's tournament, as the 1996-1997 team made it to the sweet 16. Both 1996-1997 and the 2008-2009 Clemson teams started 16-1 and were then assigned to Kansas City, Missouri. for the first two rounds of NCAA tournament. Both teams finished with a 9-7 ACC record, including a 4-4 road record and a home loss to Wake Forest when each team was ranked in the top ten. Both teams were lead by 2nd team All-ACC Juniors Greg Buckner in 96-97 and Trevor Booker in 08-09. And while the faces have changed, Clemson has indeed returned to the success of the 1990s.
2) Stay Hard Clemson Each of the past four years, the Tigers have started out hard. Each of the
past four years, the Tigers have finished soft. Incidentally, the 1996-1997 team did as well.
2006: First Half of season: 11-0, second half: 8-13, final record, 19-13
2007: First Half of season: 17-0 second half: 8- 11, final record: 25-11
2008: First Half of season: 10-0, second half: 14-10, final record: 24-10
2009: First Half of season: 16-0, second half: 7-8, current record: 23-8
These strong starts have been a knock against Clemson Basketball from both fans and national media. Still, as a charter member of the ACC, and a self-proclaimed "football school," just being discussed in the context of basketball is nice. We'll see if Oliver Purnell can get his first NCAA win and help the Tigers seal the deal this year.
3) In and Out Both offensively and defensively, Trevor Booker is the key for the Tigers. The 2nd team All-ACC Junior leads the point of the Oliver Purnell Press defense and leads the team in scoring, averaging 15.3 ppg, 56.7 fg%, 9.7 rebounds, 2 blocks per game, in addition to leading the team in FTA and FTM. All of this at 6'7". On the outside, he is helped by 6'6" F/G senior KC Rivers, who averages 14.2 ppg with 39.8% three point shooting, and the Norwegian National, Terrence Oglesby, who averages 13.9 ppg on 39.6% 3 point shooting. The Tigers lead the ACC in team three point shooting at 37.9%. If the ball goes inside to Booker and the three pointers fall, the Tigers win. — the op blog
1) The Long Road Back Prior to this year, Michigan had not reached the NCAA tournament since 1998*. This is, undoubtedly, the fact that you will hear most this week concerning Michigan. Since that time, a number of either dislikable or incredibly frustrating teams have passed through Crisler Arena. Amazingly, Michigan was far from a doormat during this time, and the Tommy Amaker coached teams even came to dominate the NIT. (Champions!!! in 2004, Runner-ups! in 2006, and also an all too short run in 2007). This year, most fans were hoping for an improvement off the 10-win campaign a year ago, and maybe another shot at the NIT. And then a group made up of two emerging stars, a couple scrawny white freshmen from Indiana, two former walk-on PGs, and a rotating cast of role players beat UCLA, and became maybe the most likeable Michigan basketball team I can remember. The chance to play in the tournament, if only for 40 minutes, means everything to this program.
*The wins from the 1998 were vacated (as well as 1997, 1996, 1995, 1993, and 1992), so officially Michigan has not played in a tournament since 1994. Yes, that was the Fab Five team minus Webber. The Chris Webber who
recently retired from the NBA.
2) The MVPs Manny Harris seems to be the player most frequently discussed on Michigan. His numbers are fantastic (Top 5 in the Big Ten in scoring, rebounding, and assists), but anyone who has followed this team closely knows how frustrating he can be to watch. John Beilein even chose to sit Manny for the entire OT at Iowa, in what most thought was a season-ending/soul-crushing loss. For a team that stresses good shots, his off balance 3-pointers with a hand in his face early in the shot clock make you scream … and then they end up going in. And then there's DeShawn Sims. Sims led Michigan in scoring in their 4 biggest wins over UCLA, Duke, Purdue, and at Minnesota. Then he took over the tourney-bid-clinching win over Iowa. As DeShawn goes, so goes this team.
3) Walk-on PGs It is almost as if John Beilein is looking for new ways to challenge himself. CJ Lee and David Merritt make up the PG combo that you and your friend could likely beat in a pick-up game. Both are former walk-ons who, and as much as I hate to admit it, seem to motivate the team in some sort of strange way. My favorite CJ Lee moment of the season came when Erin Andrews was at Crisler for the Michigan/Michigan State game. During the 2nd half Lee got sick, and Erin had the pleasure of updating his condition from behind the Michigan bench with CJ vomiting into a trashcan. Merritt gives the team's Ray Lewis like pre-game pep talks, only the exact opposite. My personal favorite came in the season finale, when Merritt got the team ready by firing off an obscure stat about the team having led at the half in 7 of its 10 road games. Just in case Michigan draws an ACC team that lives off pressing its opponents, Beilein does have the uber-fast Kelvin Grady on the bench to single handedly break it. However, this is John Beilein, and me thinks he will continue to challenge himself with slower, undersized, dribbling-inept LEADERS at the point. — Mike Worhach