Missouri men's basketball team faces similar opponent in NCAA opener

Thursday, March 18, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 2:15 a.m. CDT, Friday, March 19, 2010
Missouri and Clemson are so similar they have even crossed paths on the recruiting road. Missouri's Laurence Bowers says he got attention from Clemson. "So it is actually a game of Tigers versus Tigers,” Bowers said.

COLUMBIA — When Kim English found out Missouri’s first-round opponent in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament would be Clemson, he quickly took notice.

He immediately knew what it would mean.

“Somebody is finally going to press us,” English said enthusiastically.

Much like the No. 10 seed Missouri,  No. 7 seed Clemson has an unconventional style of play. Both employ a series of traps and full court pressure to create turnovers and wear out opponents. Although the teams will meet for the first time in 14 years, Friday in Buffalo, N.Y., Clemson guard Tanner Smith said the game is likely to have a familiar feel.

“The first thing that popped into our minds was, ‘Man, it’s going to feel like we are playing against ourselves in practice,’” Smith said in a phone interview. “But obviously on a bigger stage.”

The two teams mirror each other. During the summer, Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said he used film from Missouri to make tweaks to his own team. Purnell said he adjusted his offense to include more space for drives to the basket and gave his defense more freedom for traps.

“They are looking to lead you into trapping situations,” Purnell said in a phone interview. “They give their players the freedom to kind of freelance a little bit, and that makes them tougher and unpredictable.”

Even the players on the teams are similar. Purnell said he looks for quick, athletic players that will fit his system much like Anderson. The two teams have even crossed paths on the recruiting road.

“From what I know, I got recruited by Clemson, and coach Purnell likes to press,” Bowers said. “So it is actually a game of Tigers versus Tigers.”

Both teams are also heading into the tournament under similar circumstances. Missouri and Clemson each entered their conference tournaments as No. 5 seeds and lost in the first round. While Missouri is trying to replace injured starting forward Justin Safford, Clemson is trying to regain the success it had earlier in the season when it was ranked as high as No. 17.

Missouri coach Mike Anderson said the similarities between the teams will make for an interesting game.

“I think when the NCAA was sitting in the room, the selection committee was looking for intriguing first-round matchups,” Anderson said.

Smith said the matchup eases the preparation for the game. The only difference will be more emphasis placed on attacking the press rather than working on how to press. The team is even watching film of their own practices, something it usually only does during the season.

“We have press-breaking offenses,” Smith said. “But the only time teams press us, is if it’s late in the game when we’re winning.”

Aside from the different colors and the school name on the jerseys, there are a few differences. Purnell said his team uses more set plays on offense. While Missouri runs an offense based on screens and constant movement, Clemson likes to run plays with one player in the post and four others around the perimeter.

“I don’t think the differences are that significant,” Purnell said. “We run different plays offensively, they play a bit more zone than we do, but I don’t think they are major differences.”

However, Purnell couldn’t help but make a joke about the similarity between the two teams. When told that Anderson likes to characterize his team’s tempo as the fastest 40 minutes in basketball, Purnell paused for a moment.

“Maybe the second fastest,” Purnell said with a laugh.


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