Preview: West Virginia - Clemson

Balanced scoring from the starting lineup is Clemson's forte, and matched with a strong defense the Tigers are a formidable foe for the Mountaineers in Thursday night's NIT championship.


Scouting reports typically emphasize stopping or slowing one or two players, but opponents of Clemson can't rely on that tactic. All five Tiger starters average double figures in scoring, which makes them very difficult to defend.

In the back court, Vernon Hamilton (Sr., 6-5, 195 lbs.) and Cliff Hammonds (Jr., 6-3, 200 lbs.) average 12.2 and 11.6 points per game, respectively. Hammonds runs the show, tallying 4.0 assists per game, but is also strong on the boards, chipping in 3.2 per outing. Hammonds is the superior three-point shooter of the pair, making 37.8% of his attempts, but also passes it well, as his 121 assists on the year attest. The strong pair can score on drives or from midrange as well, and feature all-around games with no weaknesses other than the team's crazy inability to hit free throws.

K.C. Rivers and James Mays form a potent duo at the forward spots, much as Hamilton and Hammonds do at guard. Rivers (So., 6-5, 210 lbs.) leads the team in scoring at 13.9 points per game, and is third in rebounding at 4.5 caroms per contest. Mays (Jr., 6-9, 225 lbs.) scores at a 12.3 per game clip, and leads the team with 6.5 rebounds per contest. Center Trevor Booker might not be as tall as traditional pivotmen, but his excellent timing and jumping ability more than make up for any size deficiencies. Booker (Fr., 6-7, 215 lbs.) averages 10.3 and 6.4, respectively, and also leads the team with 74 blocked shots. Put all three together, and you have an explosive group of athletes who can get to the basket, play physically, and exert strong defensive pressure on opponents.

Sam Perry (Jr., 6-5, 205 lbs.), was a starter for most of the season, and now gets the most minutes (15.7) off the bench. He averages 3.7 points per game while providing rest for Mays and Rivers at the forward spot. Julius Powell (So., 6-7, 205 lbs.) and Raymond Sykes (So., 6-9, 215 lbs.) each check in with just more than one basket per game while getting about ten minutes of playing time each, with Powell at forward. Sykes, the backup at center, stands out with his 36 blocks (one every 10.5 minutes of playing time.)

David Potter (Fr., 6-6, 180 lbs.) provides relief in the back court, but his 7-41 mark from three-point range makes him a limited scoring threat.


The quick turnaround and limited preparation time were topics of conversation the day before the final game, but another factor could be the biggest one of all.
Game Info
Thu Mar 29
7:00 p.m.

Madison Square Garden
WVU 26-9
CU 25-10
WVU 2-1
Sirius Channel: None
Despite the natural excitement of playing for a championship, fatigue could be a big challenge for both schools in the game. While both had three game home stands before coming to New York, and did have a day off since Tuesday's semifinals, the overall drain, and a season's worth of bumps, bruises and grinding practices will certainly have taken its toll. Overcoming those limitations will be a question of mental strength as well as physical reserves, and the team best able to maintain a consistent level of effort and execution will likely come out on top. In this case, West Virginia's short bench (mad even shorter by the fewer minutes being logged by Joe Alexander) could be an issue.

Clemson's defense powered it to an early 17-0 start, but a late season slowdown allowed foes to end up making 44.7 % of their shots. It will be interesting to see how Clemson defends West Virginia at the three-point line. If they come out and challenge face-to-face, as expected, will the Mountaineers have the strength to drive and create against the high-leaping Tiger front line? Most teams have been unwilling to cede any open jumpers to WVU, so on the offensive end it will be incumbent upon the Mountaineers to drive, and finish, strongly. That has been a problem in some games this year, where hesitation and lack of oomph on inside shot attempts have resulted in blocked shots and a few bad misses, but there can be no backing down in this game.

On the other end of the floor, West Virginia must improve on its drops in the 1-3-1 zone to keep weak side cuts from resulting in uncontested lay-ups. If the Mountaineers can do that, and force the Tigers to make contested shots, it will have a big advantage. WVU has been yielding 10-12 uncontested points per game during the NIT, with many of those coming on drive and dish penetration and passes to cutters behind the weak side wing of the 1-3-1. Stop those passes, and it will be much more difficult for Clemson to win.


WVU: None

CU: None


West Virginia's win over Mississippi State was the 1,500th in school history. While WVU has won the most games in NCAA history with an NCAA title, that factoid does not include West Virginia's 1942 NIT championship, which was the more prestigious tournament and the de facto national title at the time.

For its part, Clemson has never won the NIT or NCAA Tournament. Its only postseason tournament win was the Southern Conference championship in 1939. The closest it has come to an NIT or NCAA title was in 1999, when it lost in the NIT championship game to California by the score of 61-60. Oddly enough, the Golden Bears denied WVU an NCAA championship in 1959 by the score of 71-70.

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On the other side, a Clemson win would give the Tigers a school record for victories in a season. The win over Air Force tied the school record of 25 that was set in 1986-87. That Clemson team, led by ACC Player of the Year Horace Grant, finished with a 25-6 record.

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When he steps on the floor against Clemson, Frank Young will become the all-time WVU career leader in NIT games played. His total of eight will break Leland Byrd's record of seven, set from 1945-47.

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Clemson is now 18-0 this year in non-conference games and will attempt to become the only school in the nation with a perfect non-conference record this year. Included in that total is a 69-66 home win over Mississippi State.

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