If you watch the NCAA first-round game between Clemson and Missouri, don't blink. You might miss something.
This matchup of Tigers figures to be one of the most entertaining of the tournament as both teams play a free-wheeling style that could result in nonstop action.
"Missouri is similar to us," said Trevor Booker, Clemson's All-Atlantic Coast Conference power forward. "They like to go up and down the court, they like to press and so do we. It's going to be a pretty interesting game. It's definitely going to be a fast-paced game."
Missouri and Clemson are athletic teams that rely on pressure defense to force mistakes. Missouri forces 19.7 turnovers per game and ranks first in the nation in steals per contest (10.9). Clemson averages 17.5 takeaways and ranks eighth nationally in steals per game (9.6).
The downside for these teams is the easy baskets the opposition gets when it breaks the press. Missouri lost in the Big 12 Tournament to 12th seeded Nebraska, which shot 55.8 percent from the field in a 75-60 stunner. Clemson allowed 61.9 percent shooting in the second half and 52.8 percent for the game in a 57-55 loss to No. 11 seed N.C. State in the opening round of the ACC tourney.
Missouri is making its second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament under fourth-year coach Mike Anderson, who guided the Tigers to a school-record 31 wins and an Elite Eight appearance last season. This is the school-record-tying third straight appearance for Clemson. Coach Oliver Purnell has yet to win an NCAA game in five trips with three schools.
Everything revolves around Booker. The physical, 6-foot-7, 240-pound senior is the Tigers' leading scorer (15.3 ppg.) and rebounder (8.3) and is second on the team in assists. He is the only player in ACC history with 1,500 points, 1,000 rebounds, 200 assists, 200 blocks and 100 steals. When guards Demontez Stitt (11.2 ppg.), Andre Young (9.1 ppg.) and Tanner Smith (9.0 ppg.) are making shots, teams can't collapse on Booker. Forward-center Jerai Grant, a 6-8 junior, supplies good interior defense.
Sophomore guard Kim English (13.9 ppg.) leads a balanced scoring attack that includes six players who average at least eight points. Senior backcourt starters Zaire Taylor and J.T. Tiller are noted defenders who use their long arms to disrupt passing lanes. Sophomore guard Marcus Denmon (10.8 ppg.) shoots 42.5 percent from three-point range. An ACL injury to starting forward Justin Safford in February has left 6-8 sophomore Laurence Bowers (10.2, 5.6 rpg.) and 6-9 senior Keith Ramsey (5.8) to carry the load in the front court.
Given their similar styles, Clemson and Missouri know what they are up against. Clemson has the advantage inside if Booker gets enough touches and avoids foul trouble, but Missouri has more scoring options and its superior guard play could give them the edge.