Tigers Must Defend Dangerous Backcourt

CLEMSON - There's a reason why Clemson's first round opponent in the NCAA Tournament, Villanova, was ranked most of the 2007-08 season - they're good. Just ask Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell.

"When I saw the bracket and saw that we were a five-seed I was very pleased," said Purnell, who agreed to a six-year contract extension earlier in the day. "But then I saw Villanova pop up I said, 'Wow. Could we have a tougher opponent?'

"I watched them lose to Georgetown in a game they obviously could have won. I watched them in the Big East Tournament and have been very impressed with their guard play. But I'm very impressed with their athleticism on their team. ... We've got a very tough opponent and a big challenge."

The Wildcats spent the first 11 weeks of the season ranked among the top 25 teams in the nation and despite a mid-season slide, remained one of the most dangerous teams in what some would argue as the deepest and most talented conference in the nation- the Big East.

Overall, Villanova finished the year 20-12 and 9-9 in conference play, but all but one of those losses came against a team with less than 20 wins.

Also keep in mind the Big East Conference led the way with bids to the NCAA Tournament this year with eight.

Purnell said there are a number of things his team must to be successful against a team that has strong guard play like Villanova.

And it starts by defending the three-point line.

"If you give them a lot of threes, they are going to beat you," said Purnell. "If there is one thing we have to do well is with our three-point defense. We have to make them score inside. Scottie [Reynolds] is one of best guards in the country, there is no question about it. He has the ability to carry Villanova when he's got it going."

Last season, Villanova spent most of the year running three and four guards on the court at the same time. This season, while they haven't done that as much, they still have a dangerous backcourt, led by one of the most explosive players in the nation in the sophomore Reynolds.

The Wildcats also have a number of ball-handlers that could challenge Clemson's full-court press.

Despite forcing No. 1 North Carolina into 20 turnovers in the ACC Championship game Sunday, the Tigers gave up too many easy baskets in the second half, allowing the Tar Heels to build a 13-point advantage.

Naturally, in facing a team in the first round of the NCAA Tournament which is led by its backcourt, there is concern that could happen again.

"Any time you have a good guards and a lot of them are good ball handlers," said Purnell. "The more ball handlers you have on the floor then you are naturally better equipped to handle pressure. So it's a concern, but that's our style.

"We don't want to change because that's our style. It's a situation where we are going to play our style and play the way we play. It's going to come down to us making some shots and making some free throws."

Reynolds garnered second-team All-Big East conference honors this season, averaging over 15 points per game, but he can become much more explosive if he gets hot.

"I worked with him at the LaBron James camp," said junior guard K.C. Rivers. "He's more of a No. 2 guard than a point. Coach said he's similar to Jack McClinton at Miami so we are going to try and play him the same way. When he gets hot, he's hot."

That may be an understatement. Last year's Big East Rookie of the Year, Reynolds, scored more than 20 points nine times in this year, highlighted by a 32 point effort at Cincinnati on Jan. 12.

Villanova's starting point guard, freshman Corey Fisher, was also selected to the conference's all-rookie team.

Still, the Tigers have faced a number of elite-level players in the ACC this season, especially in the backcourt.

Going against the likes of players like North Carolina's Ty Lawson, Virginia's Sean Singletary, Boston College's Tyrese Rice and Maryland's Greivis Vasquez should give Clemson a good idea of what to expect against Villanova Friday night.

"The one thing is we played against a lot of tough guards this year," said senior forward James Mays. "Teams that haven't faced us before are going to have to adjust to our pressure. And we know what's it is like going against good guards having played in the ACC this year. There is a lot of good guard play in our conference so we are going to have to be ready."

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