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Florida State basketball opponent preview: Aamir Simms & Clemson

A deeper dive into how Clemson utilizes star forward Aamir Simms and how FSU plans to stop him.

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Florida State
Patrick Williams Scoring over Aamir Simms and Hunter Tyson
Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

Aamir Simms

Aamir Simms is Clemson basketball. He leads the team in minutes, points, and three-point percentage and is second on the team in assists; which might be the most impressive stat of all considering he plays the stretch-four. The guy can basically do it all. So how does Clemson try to get Simms involved in the game? Well, the same way any sane person would: any means necessary.

Arguably the most dangerous thing Clemson does with Simms is pick-and-pop. This action is similar to the pick-and-roll taught at the most basic level of the game with one key difference. Instead of rolling to the basket the screener “pops” out to the three-point line. This is particularly effective because most college defenses aren’t designed to quickly cover the perimeter with their big men, as most teams don’t have big men worth covering out there:

If the defender commits too hard to limiting his three point opportunities, Simms will try to beat him off of the dribble and for a 6’7” forward he has a surprisingly good handle. Once he gets momentum downhill, teams are often caught over-helping which is a major contributor to his assist total:

Another thing you’ll notice him do is follow his pass into a pick-and-roll. This is often done toward an empty corner. This floor-spacing puts maximum distance between Simms and potential help defenders:

His high three-point percentage and assist numbers make him unique among big men, but he’s still a big man. If he isn’t up setting screens for guards, he’s most likely getting fed down low. The Tigers have a couple interesting ways to do that.

They like to run back-screens (or cross-screens) in the low post to get him open. A back-screen implies the screen is set on the defender’s back. In the clip below you’ll see the Clemson player pick off the Georgia Tech defender, leaving Simms isolated on a smaller guard:

You’ll also see Simms set pindown-screens on the perimeter. If the pin down is well guarded, he’ll turn and post up his defender. The initial action occupies any defender who could potentially clog the lane, leading to an easier entry pass:

We get it, he’s good. What can FSU do to stop him?

The first and foremost way to shut Simms down is to prevent him from getting the ball. FSU’s defensive scheme is already perfectly suited for this. The Noles play an aggressive denial man defense. Denial means exactly what it sounds like: the defenders get between their man and the ball, forcing the offense to pass around them. In the clip below, you see how this disrupts Clemson’s flow, leading to a steal and the least athletic missed dunk you’ll ever see:

In addition to denying perimeter passes, FSU also denies post entries. This is called fronting the post. They had success limiting Simms’s post touches earlier this season:

Another staple of FSU’s defense is its tendency to switch ball-screens—when a screen comes, they switch defensive responsibilities. Like anything in basketball, it comes with pros and cons, but when done effectively, it can stall the initial action of an offense and keep Simms from getting easy points on pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops:

If Simms is able to get the ball in the paint, look for FSU to bring help. This is called doubling the post. It allows the Seminoles to be aggressive in fronting their post players without worrying about giving up easy layups:

This philosophy is not without its faults. By sacrificing a player to help inside, you’re vulnerable to kick-out threes:

This is where Clemson can be dangerous. They’ve shown to be one of the most competitive teams in the conference with the talent to knock off Duke and Louisville. They’ve also shown stretches of complete mediocrity with recent losses to GT and Wake. The difference comes in their three-point shooting.

Clemson’s record in February is 3-4. In those wins the Tigers hit 50% of their threes. In their losses they shot a meager 20%. Saturday’s outcome depends on which Clemson team shows up.