Ah, the return to legitimate ACC opponents. Of course, that's assuming Clemson is the Clemson of old, not the Clemson that was handled by BC and labeled as a "turnover machine". And thus continues my struggles in finding a consistent team that makes it easy to write a preview.
First off, I'm still not sold on this Clemson team, just the same as every other Clemson team that seems to fall apart when they hit ACC play. Their best win was against Butler, and only by one. They're 3-4 in ACC play, albeit against better opponents than Maryland has played. Regardless, I'm not entirely sure they deserved all the credit they were given earlier.
Then again, much of their recent slump - they've lost three in a row, all conference games - can be attributed to the loss of Demontez Stitt, the Tigers' starting SG, second option offensively, and best ball-handler and perimeter threat. He's their floor leader and a major part of the offense, and without him on the team, they're nothing close to what they could be.
As unfair as it may be, the outcome of the game may reside on the whims of Stitt's ankle. We'll find out more later today, as he said he'll give it a go on Friday and that'll likely decide whether or not he plays on Sunday.
Outside of Stitt, the team is relatively one-dimensional, but that one dimension just so happens to be the scariest and best post player in the ACC: Trevor Booker. He's averaging 16 and 8, and is just ripping through people lately. Jeff Goodman says he hasn't been the same since Stitt's injury, but you couldn't tell that by watching the games - Booker is ferocious, strong as an ox, and surprisingly athletic.
Most of Clemson's offense, particularly without Stitt, runs through the big man. That leaves two options for Maryland - try to stifle Booker and see what happens, or let Booker get his points and try to keep anyone else from getting involved. Booker's good, but he may not be that good.
At first, I thought it unlikely that Maryland could stop Booker, certainly not one-on-one and maybe not even double-teamed. But that might not be giving Maryland enough credit. The last two opponents Maryland faced both had major post players - numbers 2 and 3 behind Booker - in Tracy Smith and Dwayne Collins, and both were held in check. Perhaps the same can happen with Booker.
A key to Maryland's strategy with Booker will be how they view Clemson's shooters. Particularly if Stitt doesn't play, the Tigers' guards don't shoot nearly as well as, say, Miami's. That's not to say they can't hit open shots - Andre Young leads the team with a 38% 3pt percentage from deep - but they don't seem to have anyone that can get hot and start lightning it up from deep. Since Stitt's injury - which is to say, their three game losing streak - Clemson has shot just 25% from deep. That was a major fear about doubling Collins, but it worked with better shooters, so it should work here.
When Clemson is successful, they're successful on defense and generate easy points. They have a suffocating perimeter defense (opponents only shoot 29% from 3) and are in the top 10 in defensive efficiency. They allow, on average, just 65 ppg in ACC play, and that number's even better OOC. They force a lot of turnovers - 7th best in the nation in defensive turnover %. With Maryland's experienced guards, though, I'm wondering if that will end up being an issue. It's tough to rattle two seniors or force them into a lot of mistakes.
And really, that might end up being a major key to the game - holding onto the ball. Take away Clemson's easy points, and they'll suffer. It's especially bad seeing how Stitt was a huge part of their halfcourt offense, which has suffered since his departure. Smart offense very well could lead to suffocating defense.
The last major point I'll talk about for the moment has to do with Littlejohn Coliseum. Maryland has only played one hostile ACC game (BC was a library) and they lost it. They're yet to face anything close to Littlejohn, a somewhat overrated but still extremely intimidating arena. It will be loud and rocking. How much of a difference will that make? I'm not sure. It goes back to the senior guard idea, and I'm sure that Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes will be fine. The rest of the team? Not so sure. Taking the crowd out of the game will be another major objective for Maryland. If Clemson gets hot, Littlejohn might carry them all the way.
A Q&A is coming up soon for a more Clemson-oriented view of the game, but this should tide you over for now. Prediction is coming gameday morning, though I'll accept any predictions you want to throw out.