Where: Littlejohn Colliseum
When: Saturday at High Noon
TV: ESPN/ESPN2 split
Overview: I mentioned in the preview for the first Pitt game that the Panthers were really a blueprint of the type of team Brad Brownell is trying to build at Clemson. Well, Tony Bennett's Virginia program might be an even better example. Bennett has put new life in the once proud Cavalier hoops program and has just clinched another 20 win season. His team is a lock for the NCAA tourney and a real threat to take the top seed in the ACC tournament. He has built his program on stellar half court defense and a gradual improvement in overall skill on offense. Although Virginia, like most every other ACC team, has more tradition in basketball than Clemson, it isn't on the level of the Syracuse/Duke/UNC group or even NCST, really. There is no reason why Clemson cannot compete regularly with UVA in basketball. However, as many have noted, the facility comparison between the two schools in basketball is no comparison. UVA has top flight stuff for hoops. Those upgrades to Littlejohn are sorely needed. If Clemson wants to get back into the discussion for the NCAA tourney, it has to score a win against a highly rated UVA team ranked in the top 25 and 9th in the KenPom ratings.
UVA is led by sophomore wing Malcolm Brogdan at 12.2 points per game and 5.7 rebounds. He's hitting nearly 40% of his 3 point attempts. K.J. McDaniels will be charged with keeping Brogdan under wraps. UVA has senior leader Joe Harris coming in at 11.6 points per game and a very solid 43.4% 3 point shooting. Harris, however, is not having as big a year as last year but has gotten more help from his roster mates. Clemson should also look out for senior Akil Mitchell, a good rebounder but poor free throw shooter. Anthony Gill can score it off the bench and Justin Anderson is a very capable player as well.
The Cavs are just as stingy on defense as Clemson and are ranked by KenPom at #2 in defensive efficiency. In conference play, UVA has the top defensive efficiency in the ACC and the lowest effective FG% allowed. The first team to approach 60 will be in great shape in this game. It is the little notch up in shooting ability that really separates UVA and Clemson when you look at it. Otherwise the teams are nearly mirrors of each other. Last year featured two blowout games with the home teams running away with things. This is a result of one team starting out hot and the other not being able to play catch up against such a good defense. I don't forecast a blowout here, more than likely it will be a repeat of the games we have seen lately vs. FSU, GT, Syracuse, and Notre Dame.
The point guard matchup is an interesting one. UVA has a good freshman prospect running the show. London Perrantes has a very solid 91 to 28 turnover ratio for the year. However, he has not shot the ball very well and Rod Hall has a pretty significant edge here in both 2-point and 3-point shooting percentage. It will be very important for Hall to win this matchup and give K.J. some offensive help. Clemson also needs a third double figure scoring effort from somebody, either Roper, Blossomgame, or Nnoko would be the likely candidates. It was a huge factor in the Notre Dame loss that none of those three really gave Clemson much scoring when you consider the game went to double overtime.
Hopefully the Clemson students and fans will be in full force for this one. The Tigers are coming off one of the most brutal road game stretches in the history of ACC basketball and have managed to stay afloat when early on it looked like things might go sideways like last year. This team continues to battle and pick itself up off the mat and should be appreciated for the effort. The extra boost a good crowd can provide can get that rim looking bigger and some of those shots we need to fall to go in. We've seen this team play some top level ball in stretches when the confidence on offense is there.
Many have voiced their frustrations on here with the direction of the offense. Some have lost patience with Brad Brownell, especially those who remember the relatively quick rise of the program under Oliver Purnell and Rick Barnes previously. I would say that I do believe the patience with Brownell is going to pay off and Clemson is not as far away from what we would hope to have in hoops as you might think. Unlike Barnes and Purnell, Brownell has not been able to field a large "foundation" class like those two were able to do. The Jamison/Wideman/Christie group of Barnes and the Perry/Mays/Hammonds group of Purnell were the cornerstones of the turnarounds. Both coaches added in an NBA level guy to that mix in Greg Buckner and Trevor Booker and we were able to make consecutive NCAA tourneys and be a factor in the league. Brad is building around Rod Hall and K.J. McDaniels and is really just a couple of pieces away from being where UVA is right now, in my opinion.
To back up this point, I'll post the team statistics for Clemson (15-8/6-5) and then UVA (20-5/11-1):
KenPom currently ranks Clemson 52nd and gives the Tigers a 35% chance to beat the Cavs.