Brad Brownell has experienced some tough losses. In 2019 at NC State with a potential NCAA tournament bid at stake, Clemson was up by 6 with 34 seconds left. Using data from Advanced NFL Stats leveraging 5,450 NCAA basketball games, teams up by 6 on the road with a minute left should win 99.2% of the time. Clemson lost and kissed their NCAA tournament bid goodbye. Eventually, they lost in the second round of the NIT.
On the other hand, Clemson has also had some good comeback wins. The next season at the MGM Resorts Thanksgiving tournament, Clemson came back from down 13 points with 5 minutes left and beat TCU in overtime. Using the same sample data, Clemson only had a 2% chance of winning in that scenario.
So, I wanted to answer the question, is Brownell an above-average game manager, or does Clemson tend to blow it in the final minutes? I pulled the second-by-second data for every Clemson game since the 2013-2014 season, 10 years and 307 total games. I looked at how Clemson performed vs. the Advanced NFL Stats sample data of 5,450 games when coaches were in similar situations to answer the question, did Clemson and Brownell perform above or below average when the game was on the line? I compared Clemson’s performance vs. average at Halftime and with 10, 5, and 1 minute remaining in the game.
Note: The shot clock changed several times since the sample data was collected. The shot clock was shortened to 30 seconds in 2015 and was further modified after an offensive rebound to 20 seconds in 2019. Overall, it should not bias the data, but it could be more likely to come back when trailing in a game post-2015.
Clemson: Above average at home
The first finding was that Clemson does better than expected in the 2nd half at home. Brownell is an above-average game manager at home.
In the last 10 years, Clemson has only lost once when up by 8 points or more at home at halftime (63-1 when up by 8 or more). In the sample data, teams only win 84% of games at home when up by 8. Pretty impressive performance by Clemson and Brownell.
Results were similar at points later in the game.
- With 10 minutes left, Clemson is 5-0 at home when down by 3 (sample data: teams lose 61% of the time). Clemson is 2-0 when down by 6 (sample data: teams lose 79% of the time).
- With 5 minutes left, Clemson is 95-1 when up by 4 or more (sample data: teams lose 25% of the time when up by 4). Clemson is rock solid when up at home
- With 1 minute left, Clemson is 4-1 when down by 1 (sample data: teams lose 75% of the time when down by 1). Clemson never lost when up by 3 or more.
Clemson: Below average on the road (and neutral courts)
Unfortunately, the trends reverse on the road for Brownell and Clemson, which has contributed to the mostly-meager results in the postseason.
At halftime on the road (and neutral courts), Clemson is 1-5 when tied at halftime (sample data: teams win 40% of the time). Results are similar later in the game:
- With 10 minutes left, Clemson is 5-5 when up by 6-8 points (sample data: teams win 79%-90% of the time in these scenarios).
- With 5 minutes left, Clemson has lost games when up 8, 9, and 11 points (sample data: teams win 94%-99% of the time in these scenarios)
- With 1 minute left, Clemson is only 2-2 when up by 3 (sample data: teams win 97% of the time when up by 3) and lost that game against NC State mentioned at the onset.
The problem on the road: Clemson can come back, but struggles to hold on to wins
Nearly universally in the second half of games, at home and on the road. Brownell and Clemson do a good job staying in the game when trailing. When on the road, Clemson has won 16 games when trailing at halftime. The sample data shows that teams should win 15 games in these scenarios – not bad.
The problem is that Clemson has only won 40 games when leading at halftime on the road, while the sample data shows they should have won 47 wins. Brownell is 7 games below average with a lead on the road. So net, Brownell has lost ~5 games on the road more than an “average” coach using the sample data across the NCAA based on the halftime score.
Results are similar later in the game: Brownell is average when trailing with 10 minutes left, but lost 6 games more than average when leading. With 5 minutes left, Brownell is average when trailing but lost 6 games more than average when leading. With a minute left, Brownell is 1.4 games above average when trailing, but loses 5.5 more than average when leading.
Brownell is better at holding on to leads at home, but not much better than average
When Clemson is at home, they are great at comebacks and do much better at holding onto leads vs. on the road.
- When trailing at halftime at home, Clemson and Brownell win 9 games more than average. When leading, Clemson and Brownell win 5 games more than average.
- When trailing with 10 minutes remaining at home, Clemson and Brownell win 11 games more than average. When leading, Clemson and Brownell are just average (no wins above average).
- When trailing with 5 minutes remaining at home, Clemson and Brownell win 3 games more than average. When leading, Clemson and Brownell win 4 games more than average.
- When trailing with 1 minute left at home, Clemson and Brownell win 5 games more than average. When leading, Clemson and Brownell LOSE 1 game more than average.
I took the sample data and calculated the average win percentage at each lead and interval, at home, and on the road. I compared this to Brownell’s wins: overall, if Brownell won more than the sample data would suggest, one could conclude he is an above-average game manager. If the sample data suggested more wins, one could conclude he is below average.
Overall: The data shows that Brownell is a slightly above-average game manager. He’s +8 at halftime, +6 with 10 minutes left, +3 with 5 minutes left, and +1 with a minute left when averaging home and road totals.
At Home: Brownell is above average at home, winning double-digit games above “average” in similar positions at halftime and 10 minutes left, and remarkably strong with 5 and 1 minute left, winning 8 and 5 games above average over the past 10 years.
On the Road: Brownell is a below-average game manager on the road, losing more games than the sample data would suggest at every time interval.
When Trailing: Brownell is remarkably good at comebacks. He wins 9 games above average when trailing at halftime at home and 1 game above average on the road. At later stages of games, Brownell remains strong and performs above average.
When Leading: Brownell can hold on to leads at home but gives up leads more than usual on the road. Brownell and Clemson should look to change their strategy when they’re leading on the road. Are they playing too conservatively? Should they push the pace and try to extend their lead? It’s worth a shot!