Game Preview: at Clemson

After a week off, Florida State is back in action Tuesday night against a Clemson team that seems to be the only ACC team exceeding expectations as of now (argument can be made for Virginia Tech). These teams are very, very similar in terms of style of play. It starts with defense, playing heavy help-side and trying to force turnovers to get out in transition. Both defenses force opposing offenses to initiate sets much further out than they’re used to, and do their best to cause disruptions. When they don’t get those easy looks in transition, they struggle to create offense but have a roster littered with good shooters that can make you pay once a play breaks down.

TL;DR: it’s going to be an ugly game, more than likely.

This is also Florida State’s first road game of the season, and will play three of their next four away from home after starting the season with six straight home games. This game starts at 7pm EST on the ACCNX/Local Fox Sports Channel from the Littlejohn Coliseum.

Clemson Tigers (6-1, 0-1) Breakdown

This is a good Clemson team; how they’re not ranked is a surprise to me. They’ve already beaten Mississippi State, Purdue, Alabama, and Maryland, with their lone loss being a fluky one on the road against Virginia Tech, a game in which VT doubled Clemson’s FTA and Clemson still almost came out of Blacksburg with a win.

Usually we start with offensive sets; what they like to do, what they’re best at, etc. Heh… about that.

Clemson is not good offensively. They’re currently 76th in offensive efficiency (for comparison, FSU is T-28th), and the only thing they’re competent at is transition offense, where they score an impressive 1.147 points per possession (80th percentile). Nothing else they do offensively is even above average. Here is a look into their shot distribution: Spot-Up 30.4%, Transition 14.6%, P&R Ball-Handler 10.9%. Nothing else is above 7.5%, so don’t really need to focus on it.

For most of their shots coming from spot-up chances, they’re horrendous on these chances, scoring 0.814 PPP, bottom 25% nationally. It was surprising to see them this bad on spot-ups considering the amount of good-to-great shooters they have on the roster. They’re even worse in pick-and-roll situations, where they only score on a paltry 0.643 PPP, bottom 21% nationally. This is strictly a transition team offensively, though they do like to pick-and-pop with Aamir Simms when he’s being guarded by a bigger player. The Purdue game is the best game to watch if you want to do some film review yourself since they’re pretty much the only team Clemson has played that has a classic big down low.

Side note, horrible screening here by Simms. Essentially whiffed on two screens in four seconds.

Leonard Hamilton said after the UCF loss that FSU may go to more hedging on ball screens instead of switching to stop giving up drives, so this is what that would look like. Purdue’s center, Nate Edey, is one of the tallest player’s in the country at 7’4″, but he’s also not quite as quick as any of FSU’s true bigs. The issue is, no player on earth is fast enough to hedge then recover back out on a pick-and-pop. This isn’t something Clemson does consistently, and Simms only takes a little less than two 3s per game, so it’s not something has to gameplan to take away, it’s just something to keep in mind when Clemson goes through their sets.

This team makes it’s money defensively. They currently rank 2nd in defensive efficiency, allowing just 85.4 points per possession. For reference FSU sits at 91.6 points per 100 possessions. They also rank 11th in turnover percentage, forcing a turnover on 24.6% of possessions, and force 19 turnovers per game. And if you thought we were done, they’re also 20th nationally in oFG%, holding teams to 37% from the floor. They limit good looks from 3 (18.0 3PA allowed, top-50), restrict driving lanes, and force you to take and make tough shots.

If there’s one thing I think they’re susceptible to, it’s low post threats. They kind of just let guys catch it deep in the block and face up without much consequence.


Every so often, Simms will front the post, but otherwise they allow the big to catch it, and lot of the time it’s in their preferred operating spot. When it’s off of the spot, there isn’t a ton of resistance when the offensive player attempts to go to the post. There’s no help over the top, players are stunting at the ball but not fully committing, and sometimes guys are a little slow to react to a middle-drive from the post.

Edey and Trevion Williams are two entirely different players style wise, but they both try and do the same thing. None of the other teams they have played have any type of low post threat, so they may have an entirely different gameplan for Florida State, but if they stay with this kind of set defense, I don’t see them having much success down low.

Don’t get the one potential weakness twisted though; it’s an elite defensive team. The rebounding is a little below par, sitting right at a 50% rebounding rate which is T-203rd nationally, but they are a smaller team. Baehre and Hall are 6’10”, but Baehre is more of a perimeter player while Hall is more of just an offensive threat, which we’ll talk about more here soon.

Clemson is led by Aamir Simms, both on the floor and off. He’s the team’s leading scorer, rebounder, free throw maker, and when he’s not on the floor he’s a great vocal presence. While dealing with foul trouble against Mississippi State, I was impressed by how much he was taking the opportunity to teach the younger guys, call out sets, etc. Most of his shots actually come on post-ups; 25.9% of them in fact. He’s not great in the post, shooting just 28% on post-up chances, but he uses this to set up his spot up game. He’s effective as both the roll man and just spotting up and taking a dribble or two, although he does tend to turn it over as the roll man more than he should.

Al-Amir Dawes is the man who hit the game winner on Florida State last season in this building, and I don’t think either side has forgotten about it. He’s a fearless shot taker; when an opposing team is on a long, he’s usually the one that steps up and ends it. Most of his shots come as the pick-and-roll ball handler, but he’s most effective in transition and spot-up chances. Don’t let his 33.3% mark from 3 fool you, Dawes is a willing and capable shooter, and leads the team in 3PA.

Nick Honor, a former Fordham all-freshman player, is a relentless attacker and is one of those “see ball, shoot ball” players. He’ll just get the ball and GOES with no hesitation. He’s a lot like former ‘Nole David Nichols in terms of play style, he’s just a little shorter, every so slightly slower, and much wider. He originally came off of the bench this season, but Brad Brownell needed his shot creation in the starters. 39.1% of his shots come on spot-ups and 26.6% come in transition. Honor also plays passing lanes really well, leading the team in steals and steal rate.

Clyde Trapp is a player I have absolutely no opinion on. He’s fine, but he doesn’t really do any one thing great. Trapp is a good rebounder for his size and a solid defender but doesn’t provide much value outside of that. He is extremely inefficient on offense, having the second highest turnover rate, second lowest offensive rating and third lowest offensive box plus/minus of anyone we’ll talk about. He hasn’t taken enough shots of any particular kind to qualify for national percentile, except for spot-ups where he scores 0.667 PPP, bottom 21%.

Jonathan Baehre is the tallest rotational player, but he operates more on the perimeter. He’s a solid do-it-all player that doesn’t have any one specialty, but in good ways. He’s towards the top in both offensive and defensive rating, and gets shots off in any variety. He’s not going to be someone you have to focus on taking away a certain aspect of his game, just play to your principles.

John Newman, Olivier-Maxence Prosper, and Chase Hunter are all horrific offensive players, but great defensive players. Their offensive box plus/minuses are so far below the floor for this soon into the season that it’s almost impressive. When they come in, it is strictly for defensive purposes. When Alex Hemenway is in, it’s the exact opposite. He’s a sharpshooter that doesn’t provide much else.

PJ Hall is a curious player. He’s extremely gifted offensively, but he’s had issues gaining consistent playing time as a freshman. Coach Brownell wants to get to the point where both Hall and Simms are playing together, just haven’t found the opportunity yet. They’re similar style player, Simms is just stronger and more knowledgeable of the system, while Hall is more of a finesse guy.

Team stats PPG/RPG (ORB,DRB)/APG, SPG, BPG, ToPG, FPG                FG%/3pt%/FT%

Here is Clemson’s production: 66.6/33.0 (9.0 ORB, 24.0 DRB)/13.0/9.0/13.7/17.6       43.0/34.1/75.8

Here are their opponents: 53.4/33.0 (10.0 ORB, 23.0 DRB)/8.6/6.4/3.3/19.0/17.3        37.0/27.8/64.8

Player stats PPG/RPG/APG/SPG/BPG/ToPG        FG%/3pt%/FT%

#25 Aamir Simms 12.1/4.7/1.9/1.4/0.4/2.9             59.6/45.5/85.7

#2 Al-Amir Dawes 11.0/2.3/2.6/1.3/0.4/1.6            41.9/33.3/75.0

#4 Nick Honor 9.4/0.9/2.3/1.7/0.0/1.4                    45.5/41.7/50.0

#0 Clyde Trapp 6.0/4.7/2.0/0.9/0.3/1.9                  41.7/30.8/66.7

#1 Jonathan Baehre 5.1/3.4/1.3/0.9/0.9/0.4          42.4/40.0/80.0

#15 John Newman 4.1/2.4/1.1/1.1/0.3/1.3                31.6/20.0/100.0

#24 PJ Hall 4.7/2.8/0.0/0.5/0.2/0.5                         57.1/16.7/75.0

#12 Alex Hemenway 3.7/1.3/0.1/0.3/0.0/0.7          46.7/40.0/100.0

#3 Chase Hunter 2.3/1.9/1.0/0.6/0.1/0.9                21.4/0.0/66.7

#18 Florida State Seminoles (5-1, 1-0) Breakdown

Leonard Hamilton talked about hedging ball screens instead of switching everything like they had to start the season, following the loss to UCF. If FSU were to go to it (because it’s not confirmed they’ll actually make the switch), you’d likely see it either this game or Duke since they’ve had some time to practice it. Really the only thing that becomes different in ball screens is what the big does. Instead of just switching directly, he’ll play up close to avoid any quick shots, but he’ll just be corralling the ball-handler until the primary defender can get back into the play. This leaves those pick-and-pops open that I mentioned earlier, but this will be one of those things that FSU plays by ear. Everything else will still switch 1-4. It makes a lot of sense for Florida State to do this when their other primary players are all between 6’5″ and 6’9″.

This will likely only be when the traditional bigs are in: Balsa Koprivica, Tanor Ngom, and Quincy Ballard. When Malik Osborne is at the 5, they’ll probably go back to switching 1-5. FSU did this same thing when their big rotation was Christ Koumadje (switch 1-4, hedge screens) and Mfiondu Kabengele (switch 1-5). I think this is a good thing, these traditional centers aren’t meant to be able to keep up with these quicker guards. If you instead funnel these ball handlers into the trees, you improve the effectiveness of your traditional bigs.

MJ Walker has been FSU’s most reliable tough shot creator, but he’s going to need help this game. Scottie Barnes is going to need to be relentless attacking the rim, RayQuan Evans is going to have to be more consistent, and RaiQuan Gray is going to have to stay out of foul trouble while using his playmaking abilities. If guys like Anthony Polite, Nate Jack, Wyatt Wilkes, Sardaar Calhoun, etc., who are more not for their shot-taking can create anything positive off the dribble, even better. But FSU is going to have to rely on their few primary ball-handlers against an opportunistic defense.

Florida State should have an advantage on the glass given their length and athleticism, and if they can create a couple extra possessions and second chance points on the offensive glass, it could go a long way in this game. As Coach Hamilton would say, an ACC blowout is a 4-point game, so any extra possessions matter.

Injury Report

MJ Walker suffered a “thigh bruise” in the Gardner Webb game, but should be ready to go for Clemson. Same goes for Scottie Barnes, who went down with a very minor ankle injury last game, but was able to come back.

Hunter Tyson suffered a facial injury about two weeks ago and is out indefinitely.

Projected Starters


G: Nick Honor

G: Al-Amir Dawes

G: Clyde Trapp

F: Jonathan Baehre

F: Aamir Simms

Florida State

G: Scottie Barnes

G: MJ Walker

G: Anthony Polite

F: RaiQuan Gray

C: Balsa Koprivica

Keys to the Game

Win the Transition Battle

In a game where offensive issues are going to be difficult to come by, both teams are going to be pressing to force turnovers and get out in transition as quickly as possible or grab a rebound and RUN. Florida State’s natural transition defense has someone getting back as soon as a shot goes up to stop the quick deep passes, 1-2 people attacking the offensive glass, and the rest matching up trying to stop quick outlets.

Clemson forces a turnover on 24.6% of possessions (11th nationally), this is how they get offense. Limit turnovers and easy transition chances, and FSU will be right in this game.

Figure Out Big Rotation

I’m really, really curious to see how Florida State rotates their bigs. Clemson has not shown much willingness to double or trap the post so far this season, and they’ve played some true big men so far. This could mean a lot of opportunities for Balsa Koprivica to eat down low, and in a game where there won’t be a ton of offense, it might be necessary to play Kopriciva a lot. The questions come on the other side of the ball.

Aamir Simms is a threat from anywhere on the floor, but he plays out to the perimeter, and these 5s that can stretch the floor have given Koprivica issues. I’m expecting a lot of Malik Osborne in this game as well to match up with Simms, since Clemson will run pick-and-pops specifically designed for Simms to get open against these taller, more lumbering bigs. Is FSU going to double down on making this a defensive slugfest a ton of minutes, or are they going to try and create as many offensive looks as possible and play Koprivica 22-25 minutes?

Off-Ball Actions and Get to the Line

If Florida State wants to make the most of their offensive opportunities, they’re going to have to be dialed in on back-cuts, off-ball screens, pin-downs, and getting to the line. When you play these heavy help-side teams, getting as much off-ball movement as possible gives the defense that one extra thing to think about and creates opportunities for confusion. The more you stand around on offense and just swing the ball side-to-side, the more it favors into what Clemson wants.

Virginia Tech beat Clemson by doubling up Clemson’s free throw attempts. Since this is the ACC, I’m not expecting Florida State to end the game with that kind of advantage, but they need to do their best to get to the rim and create some chances from the free throw line; really press the issue.


Clemson opened as 2.5-point favorites, with the o/u set at 132.5 (has already moved to 131.5).

These are two good defensive teams with developing offenses. I’d definitely take the under without hesitation. Good looks are going to be difficult to come across, and both teams are going to do what they can to limit transition chances. Clemson has one of the best transition defenses in the country, and Florida State is above average too. If neither team can get out in transition, this will be a long, slow game.

I can see this going one of two ways: 1) Florida State looks like a team that is seeing a mirror image of themselves and knows how to attack it. Since Clemson tends not to help on the post, Balsa Koprivica could have a big game while FSU plays inside-out or 2) Florida State struggles with Clemson’s ball pressure with no true primary ball-handlers, can’t create offense, and can’t create any open looks. Either way, it’s going to be a low scoring game.

As of now, I’ll take Florida State 59-56, but I could see it being even lower scoring. I just think FSU has a better offense, while their defenses are at least somewhat comparable, though I agree Clemson’s is better. It’ll more than likely be a tight affair the entire way.

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