Attacking Michigan's zone

CLEMSON — When Clemson advanced to the NIT Finals to face West Virginia two years ago, then Mountaineers head coach John Beilein knew his chances for winning were really good.

His 1-3-1 defense was made for a team like Clemson at the time. The Tigers had just one true shooter in reserve guard K.C. Rivers, while the offense was centered on post players James Mays and Trevor Booker.

Anytime the ball went inside to either one, West Virginia players collapsed, forcing the ball back outside where countless perimeter shots were wide open. The only problem, Clemson could not make the open shot.

The Tigers finished that night at New York's Madison Square Garden 6-for-23 from behind the arc.

"We were just missing shots that night," Rivers said Monday. "We were breaking (the zone), but we were not hitting on all cylinders. We were not clicking at all. Every shot we took, we missed."

Rivers was just 3-of-11 from behind the arc in that game.

Clemson, who will face Beilein's new team the Michigan Wolverines Thursday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Kansas City, like their chances a whole better this time around if Beilein employs the same scheme.

"Things have changed," guard Terrence Oglesby said. "They did not have a second shooter back then so they can spot me up off certain spots and that will take a lot of pressure off the inside."

Oglesby and Rivers are currently making nearly 40 percent of their shots from behind the three-point line so it's doubtful Beilein will stay in his typical 1-3-1 trapping defense the entire game.

"I don't think they have been playing too much 1-3-1 as a typical Beilein team will," Oglesby said. "He has not got his style completely put in yet.


Sophomore Manny Harris leads the Wolverines in scoring (16.8 ppg) and rebounding (6.9 rpg) and will also play a critical role defensively. (Getty Images)

"I would say they are around 60-40 zone to man so we will see what will happen."

Like Oglesby, Clemson coach Oliver Purnell doesn't expect Michigan (20-14) to simply allow them to hit the open outside jump shot on a consistent basis. He suspects the Wolverines will try and challenge his team in a similar fashion others have without losing their signature style of play completely.

"We definitely had to dust off the zone that we have not faced a lot this year," he said. "I think the reasons for that are that people respect our shooting, particularly Oglesby's shooting, but I expect we will see more of it since we are playing Michigan."

Michigan has not run as much 1-3-1 in the last four or five games so Purnell expects it to run a lot of two-man, while sprinkling in some 1-3-1 as well.

Guard Demontez Stitt says the Tigers (23-8) just plan on attacking whatever defense the Wolverines run, while getting the ball into Booker as much as they can.

"We have to get the ball inside," he said. "That is the main thing. We have to get the ball into Booker. I don't think they have anybody inside that can check him. Obviously, you know Booker has proven to be one of the best players in the country.

"It is going to be tough going against that 1-3-1 zone and we know they are going to sag down on him so we are going to have to hit the outside shot."

And that's when Oglesby and Rivers come into play.

"It's going to be important that we move the ball and get that ball inside and attack inside-out," Rivers said. "If Trevor doesn't have something, we have to trust that he is going to find someone and kick it back out. If he does have something, we have to trust that he made the best play."

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