Michigan shooters hold the key

KANSAS CITY - The game plan for seventh-seeded Clemson in today's NCAA Tournament first-round game against No. 10 seed Michigan is simple.

NCAA Tournament First-Round (South Region)
WHAT: No.7 Clemson (23-8) vs. No.10 Michigan (20-14)
WHERE: The Sprint Center — Kansas City, Mo.
WHEN: Thursday, March 19, 7:10 p.m.
SPREAD: Clemson -5.5

At least it is simple to write anyway.

To beat the Wolverines, Clemson will need to shutdown their guards and force them to win the game in the post.

"We have to play some of their guards," Clemson forward K.C. Rivers said Wednesday. "They go more of a four-out, one in movement. They make you play for probably 30 seconds of the shot clock. Again, we're going to have to be sound defensively.

"Defense is going to be our main purpose coming into this game as far as trying to defend what we want to go do. They will want to beat us with their smaller guards, and we'll definitely have to make a conscious effort to sustain our defense this time around."

When Michigan's guards are on, and are getting open looks at the basket, it is hard to beat. The Wolverines are 14-0 when they shoot better than 45 percent this season, but they are just 6-14 when don't. In a lot of those 14 losses, Michigan struggled to get near 40 percent at times.

"We want to keep pressure on the ball," Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. "Pressure is big for us. It wouldn't matter if it was Michigan or anyone. Pressuring the ball in the backcourt, pressuring the ball in the front court is important."

Michigan knows the Tigers will try to do that, and they also know that leaves open a lot of backdoor layups, especially in coach John Beilein's Princeton-like offense.

"I guess if I were to try to describe philosophically what they like to do, they like threes or layups or they like free throws, and they don't like things in between," Purnell said. "So just understanding that as you approach them defensively is important. You want to close out and pressure them, but if you pressure them and put them on the line they're going to hurt you.

"They're shooting 76 percent from the line. They're an excellent free throw shooting team. If you don't close out; they're going to knockdown the three. Yet, if you don't pressure them, they're going to pinpoint those backdoor passes, which they're going to get some backdoors."

And that's where Clemson's pressure on guards like C.J. Lee, Stu Douglas and the team's leading scorer in Manny Harris is going to important.

"When they get those backdoors, we want to have pressure on the ball, maybe get a fingernail on it, maybe cause them not to put it exactly where they don't want it and cause some turnovers," Purnell said. "So, you know, we're not doing a whole lot differently, but we're thinking about them differently and understanding. I think our players have a good understanding of that. They know what they want to do and we want to try to take that away as much as possible."

But ultimately, this game will be decided on whether Michigan is capable of making its threes or not. Statistics some times lie, but in the Wolverines case, it has clearly shown the way.

"Defenses vary on who we've played and things like that," Beilein said. "I know one thing, when we've won, we shot the ball well and our turnover numbers have been very low with all our wins. So that's been pretty consistent.

"We got to do that certainly against Clemson. The way they pressure, the turnover numbers could be very high. If we can get out in the open court, get into some space, you know, who knows. That could change the momentum into our favor or give us wide-open shots.

"That's that fine line we've got to play with (today)."

No. 7 Clemson Tigers (23-8)
G #2 Demontez Stitt (6-2, 175) – 8.9 PPG, 3.7 APG
G #22 Terrence Oglesby (6-2, 190) – 13.5 PPG, 1.8 APG
C #12 Raymond Sykes (6-9, 220) – 7.9 PPG, 5.2 RPG
F #1 K.C. Rivers (6-9, 215) – 14.3 PPG, 5.9 RPG
F #35 Trevor Booker (6-7, 240) – 15.3 PPG, 9.7 RPG

No. 10 Michigan Wolverines (20-13)
G #2 C.J. Lee (6-0,180) – 2.5 PPG, 1.6 APG
G #1 Stu Douglass (6-3, 175) – 5.9 PPG, 2.1 RPG
C #34 DeShawn Sims (6-8, 235) – 15.7 PPG, 6.9 RPG
G #3 Manny Harris (6-5, 185) – 16.8 PPG, 6.9 RPG
F #0 Zack Novak (6-5, 210) – 6.8 PPG, 3.5 RPG

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