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Hardcourt Happenings

   by Matt Fargo - 12/07/2006

Throughout the college basketball season, Matt Fargo will be taking a look at teams that should pique your betting appetite, whether they are good or bad. We all know about Florida, North Carolina and UCLA but with 336 teams in division I college hoops, there are plenty of teams flying under the radar. Today’s session:

Clemson Tigers

The Tigers are usually the doormat of the ACC but they finished a solid 7th in the conference last season after finishing 9th the previous two years. Clemson is off to a 9-0 start this year and things are looking really good but can it last? The Tigers started 11-0 last year and 7-1 in 2004-05 but closed with a combined 17-28 record to simply remain an average team. They have made it to the NIT the last two seasons but ask South Carolina what that means.

Despite being undefeated, the Tigers are no where to be found in the top 25 as they are not even receiving votes in the AP or the USA Today/ESPN Polls. Could it be that Clemson has not defeated anyone of significant value this season? The Tigers have played the 136th ranked schedule in the country which isn’t too bad and they are coming off two blowout road wins at Minnesota and South Carolina, games they would have lost in previous seasons.

The question remains can they keep it going heading into conference action? The answer to that is a resounding yes considering the rest of the schedule before ACC games commence is a cakewalk with all five games at home and the toughest coming against a 5-1 Georgia team. Carrying this early season momentum into the conference slate has not panned out the last two years but that could change this year with a veteran group mixed with some great young talent.

Clemson has one of the best backcourts in the ACC with Vernon Hamilton and Cliff Hammonds leading the way. Hamilton is an excellent point guard, has cut down on his turnovers and the senior is an excellent leader. Hammonds is quick and athletic and can shoot the rock but the wild card up top is wing K.C. Rivers, who despite not being a starter, leads the team in scoring and is the Tigers best three-point shooter. The trio is averaging 34.8 ppg on 47.9 percent shooting.

The frontcourt is not as strong but James Mays is a force at the forward/center position. He is averaging 12.8 ppg and 7.7 rpg and playing a full season will no doubt help the Tigers. He was academically ineligible in the second half last year and it happened to coincide with the team’s 8-13 finish as he was around for only the first 11 games. Joining him down low are Sam Perry and freshman Trevor Booker but both are relatively undersized.

While Hamilton has cut down on his turnovers, the rest of the team needs to do a better job. Clemson is averaging 15.4 turnovers per game which isn’t horrible but it still needs to improve. The Tigers are 62nd in the country in assist/turnover ratio at 1.12 and they have posted more assists than turnover in six of their nine games. This is a big improvement from last season where they had a ratio of 0.92. Experience plays a big role in this progress and keeping it over 1.00 is important.

Clemson is deep with nine players averaging double digits in minutes so its up-tempo, fast break offense can be successful. This team is not without its problems however and the biggest one is a huge concern. Last season, the Tigers were last in the ACC in free throw shooting at 61.7 percent and they are showing no signs of improving that. As a matter of fact, it is getting worse as they are hitting only 58.7 percent from the stripe with four players shooting 58 percent or less. Rivers is their best shooter, hitting 76.2 percent.

So far so good for Clemson but we have heard that in the past as well only to see the rest of the ACC take charge while the Tigers can only watch. The pieces are in place to make a run at the NCAA Tournament but for that to happen, Clemson needs to make free throws. Winning close games is what good teams do and not being able to nail the freebies will give the Tigers no shot at pulling out close games. They went 1-3 in overtime last season shooting a combined 64.9 percent from the line in those games.

Betting on Clemson can cause some premature gray hair. The Tigers are talented enough to play with most teams yet making or missing free throws down the stretch is going to decide a lot of games against the number. Looking at the next five games only Georgia Southern is at a disadvantage at the free throw line while Wofford and Georgia St. are both hitting above 73 percent. Comparing these numbers for the Tigers all season will definitely help you picking out wins and staying away from possible losses.

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