In one day, Clemson coach Brad Brownell must undo a year's worth of conditioning. On this one night, the Tigers must forget part of who they are.
Clemson leads NCAA Division I in 3-point field goal percentage defense. Its opponents have converted 27.9 percent from 3-point range.
Yet, tonight, the Tigers must ignore an instrumental element of their swarming team defense. They must abandon the fluid rotations that have helped them disarm isolated sharpshooters.
Clemson will host Belmont tonight in the quarterfinals of the National Invitation Tournament. The winner advances to the semifinals next week in Madison Square Garden in New York.
Belmont has netted an average of 8.9 3-pointers per game, the 11th-highest average in Division I. Clemson has allowed more than eight 3-pointers in only two games this season.
Belmont has converted 39.3 percent of its 3-point field goal percentage. Six Bruins have shot at least 40 percent from 3-point range, including three starters.
"They shoot the first good shot they get, and oftentimes, it's early in the clock," Brownell said. "There aren't that many teams that are Belmont in terms of having this kind of offensive firepower and shooting. It's unique."
Thus, the Tigers must track Belmont's perimeter shooters vigilantly. If a defender leaves his assignment to assist a teammate on penetration or screens, these marksmen will find clean shots.
"You've got to get away from some of your natural instincts to go help on every play and stay disciplined to shooters," Brownell said. "If you haven't practiced that three days in a row, when you get into the middle of a game, your instincts tell you to do one thing. Because you've been trained almost every other day to do that natural thing -- help, you're probably going to over-help sometimes and give up 3s. Well, that's what they're banking on."
Brownell had one day to deprogram his players.
Clemson defeated Illinois on Sunday. Illinois converted 14.3 percent from 3-point range.
Only three of the 28 opponents Clemson has faced this season are ranked among the top 50 Division I teams in total 3-pointers. Only one of Clemson's Atlantic Coast Conference counterparts is ranked in the top 65 in 3-point percentage.
"The hardest part about this is you don't see this. This isn't an ACC style of play," Brownell said. "You don't practice every day like this. You practice more for games like Illinois every day, where you're gapping and recovering and rotating and blocking out and rebounding and closing out short and being strong and physical. Belmont is different.
"Because you don't see that every day and because we haven't had three or four days to practice against it, as a coach that's a concern for you."
The Tigers may be encouraged by the distant memory of its last encounter with a rapid-fire offense. Virginia Military Institute averaged 28 3-point attempts per game, precisely how many it launched against Clemson on Dec. 30. However, VMI landed merely three of those attempts, and Clemson won by 30 points.
Executing a similar disarming strategy tonight will earn the Tigers a return trip to New York. Clemson advanced to the NIT championship game in Madison Square Garden in 2007.
"That's the big key for the NIT. 'Hey, let's get to New York,'" Brownell said. "They've been hearing it for a couple of weeks. So, they know that."