Clemson is back in Littlejohn today after an ugly loss to the Dookies in Durham on Tuesday. The Tigers are hosting the Virginia Cavaliers in the first of two meetings this season. Last season, the Tigers and Cavaliers split two games with both teams grabbing a W at home. Although Virginia has had more impressive wins against quality opponents this season (and we'll overlook two of the three losses to CAA opponents), these two teams have a lot in common right now. Virginia is the more bi-polar team, leading the ACC in scoring defense (51.1 ppg) but coming in last in scoring offense (63.7 ppg), while Clemson is not far behind in both categories, ranking 3rd in scoring defense (57.1 ppg) and 11th in scoring offense (64.7 ppg). The Cavs also seem to be experiencing an identity crisis similar to Clemson, with two of their starters last game (a loss to Wake Forest) contributing a combined 2 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 turnovers, while Clemson has had similar struggles all season with starters consistently failing to contribute.
What Virginia has going for them is 34% shooting from three (good for 3rd in the ACC), confidence wins over Wisconsin, Tennessee, and UNC, and go-to scorers. On the perimeter they have 6-6 guard Joe Harris, who has so far done this season what Mike Scott did last season for the Cavs. He leads the team with 15.1 ppg and 48% shooting from 3, while contributing decent rebound, assist, and free throw numbers. On the interior, 6-8 forward Akil Mitchell is contributing 12.6 ppg and a whopping 9.3 rebounds per game (for comparison, Devin Booker leads Clemson with 8.1 rpg). Virginia will be fired up and motivated after a close loss to Wake Forest. They will no doubt play solid defense, and at the very least will have a legitimate shooting threat both on the perimeter and in the paint.
Clemson needs to play just as hard on defense, and in particular needs to take away the perimeter shot (something they've struggled to do this season), and keep Mitchell out of the paint as much as possible. If Booker shows up to play for his third game in a row, the Tigers may very well be able to hold the Cavaliers below 60. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that enough players will be able to score or have enough opportunities to score in order to win. In all of Clemson's losses this season, they have shot below 40%. So to go out on a limb, if Clemson can shoot 40% or better in this game, Clemson wins.
This game marks the end of the first half of the season, and it would be great to go into the second half with a win in the ACC. This team has the talent and the discipline to win this game, it just depends on which team shows up: the team that shoots 1-11 from three and scores 10 points in the first half, or the team that shoots 12-16 from 3 and 52% on the game.