The Clemson Tigers come into the 2011 NCAA Tournament with somewhat of a chip on their shoulder after a heart breaking ACC Tournament overtime loss to North Carolina. The Tigers used their full court press to create piles of turnovers and general confusion out of a pretty solid Tar Heels back court. They'll look to this blueprint to replicate that success and make some noise in the Big Dance.
Clemson teams and fans are accustomed to this frenetic press and run style but first year coach Brad Brownell has instilled more discipline in the Tigers on the offensive end which has been a boon for senior lead guard Demontez Stitt. The lightning quick Stitt is enjoying his best season as a Tiger and finally living up to the expectations that fans packing Littlejohn Coliseum had for the youngster since his arrival on campus.
Along the front court, the Tigers have the type of long athletes that can thrive in the press creating havoc in passing lanes and contesting layups at the rim when pressure is broken. Most teams go entire seasons without playing an opponent that employs the Tiger's brand of basketball and that's a huge advantage for a team like Clemson in a tournament setting where preparation time is minimal. Remember this dynamic as you're filling out your 2011 NCAA tournament bracket.
Key wins: Virginia Tech, Boston College
Key losses: Virginia, Old Dominion
Player(s) to watch: Stitt is the bell cow, and as he goes, so go the Tigers. He's the one guy on the team that can get his own shot or create open looks for others in a half court setting. Stitt's ability to create becomes even more important when the Clemson press isn't manufacturing easy buckets in transition. The X-factor is Jerai Grant who's a force in the paint if he can avoid foul trouble. He's one of the best shot-blockers in the game but he needs to pick his spots to aggressively contest opponents at the rim because the Tigers need him on the floor on offense.
Top 25 Matchup Wheelhouse: Ohio State, Kansas. I'm not saying Clemson can beat Ohio State but their style would give a young point guard like Aaron Craft some trouble and the pace of the game could limit the impact Jared Sullinger might otherwise have. As for Kansas, Clemson does a good job of taking away primary ball handlers, so the Jayhawks would have to utilize players other than Tyshawn Taylor in their press offense. Remember, Missouri runs a similar style and they forced a shocking 24 turnovers against Kansas in their last meeting.
Teams in the Top 25 to fear: Pitt, Wisconsin. Pitt can put 3 ballhandlers on the floor in Gibbs, Wannamaker, and Woodall to break the Clemson press. Wisconsin's bigs handle like guards and are comfortable sharing the ball evidenced by a team average of 13 assists per game. Both teams do a great job of valuing the basketball which means each game would become a half court affair. Lose-lose for Clemson.
-- Kevin Berger
See our printable 2011 NCAA Tournament bracket.