The Clemson Tigers (16-9) (7-6) return to action on Saturday afternoon as they travel to Atlanta to meet the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (13-13) (4-9) in a pivotal ACC match-up. The Tigers ended a 3-game losing streak and played its most balanced game of the year in dismantling the NC State Wolfpack by a score of 73-56. Like Clemson, Georgia Tech has lost 3 of its last 4 with the victory coming against the Boston College Eagles on the 13th.
These 2 squads met at Littlejohn Coliseum earlier this month in one of the stranger games in ACC play this year. Tech came limping into Clemson missing Trae Golden and Robert Carter Jr. In a particularly gruesome offensive game where neither team managed to shoot 35% from the floor, the Tigers clawed out a 45-41 victory thanks to 12 bench points from Jordan Roper.
Remembering back to that game, the only Georgia Tech source of offense came from Senior Center Daniel Miller. Miller was spectacular scoring 18 points and grabbing 8 rebounds while shooting 9-of-13 from the field. Landry Nnoko did a fine job keeping Miller out of the paint, but Miller would victimize the Tigers with a soft touch on the baseline jumper that he just didn't miss. Tech ran their offense around him with Marcus Georges-Hunt running the pick and roll and waiting for the Tigers to double the ball before Miller would roll off the screen.
On the opposite side for the Yellow Jackets, Marcus Georges-Hunt was awful. Georges-Hunt, who averages 12.0 points per game on 41.4% shooting this season scored 9 points on 1-of-13 shooting and added 5 turnovers including a crucial pass that found the bleachers as Georgia Tech had the ball with under 1 minute with an opportunity to tie the game.
On the other side of the court, the Tigers were just as ugly. Leading scorer K.J. McDaniels wasn't on his game scoring only 8 points on 3-of-14 shooting. Clemson was bailed out by Jordan Roper who's 10 point first half kept Clemson in the ball game before grinding out the win.
Now that we have taken a look at the game from earlier this month....forget about it. This game will be nothing like the earlier meeting between the Tigers and Yellow Jackets. Tech is coming in healthier with both Golden and Carter Jr. available. (They both came off the bench Tuesday night in a loss to Duke to play 17 and 26 minutes respectively) Golden will be rusty, but Carter Jr. will be a force to be reckoned with as he leads Tech in rebounding this season averaging 8.5 rebounds a game. This will be a stat to keep an eye on as without their leading rebounder, Clemson only managed to out rebound Tech by a 36-34 margin in their previous meeting.
Don't expect to score 50 points and come out with a win on Saturday as it is hard to imagine that Marcus Georges-Hunt will shoot as poorly as he did either. With more offensive options open, Tech won't be forced to run the same pick and roll 2-man show between Georges-Hunt and Miller so expect to see some different looks from this Yellow Jacket team.
Clemson's responsibility will be to carry over the success that it had from its supporting cast from their victory against NC State, which is much easier said than done. You can quote Hoosiers all that you want in saying that the rim is still 10 feet from the ground, but players just don't play the same on the road. Once again, McDaniels is going to be focused on, and I expect to see a fair amount of zone defense from Georgia Tech.
Offensively, look for Nnoko to be the focus early on, as you saw Clemson finally begin to get comfortable with interior passes in the victory against the Wolfpack. He was only 3-of-9 from the field in the previous meeting, but he missed some open shots close to the basket that Clemson will have to count on him making in order to win this game. Look for Nnoko and Rod Hall to penetrate down low early in an attempt to get Daniel Miller into early foul trouble.
The keys to this game for Clemson are going to be Damarcus Harrison and Jaron Blossomgame. Harrison is coming off one of his best games of the seasons, scoring 14 points and nailing two 3-pointers. If Georgia Tech decides to sit back in a zone, he is going to have to make them pay for it. Blossomgame is going to have to be the difference on the glass as he will be saddled with the responsibility of keeping Carter Jr. from creating 2nd chance points for Georgia Tech.
KenPom has the Tigers listed as the favorite on Saturday with a 60% chance of winning with a final score of 57-55 in favor of Clemson, and I tend to agree with that analysis. While this is a game that Clemson needs to, and should, win, just keep in the back of your head that this isn't the same Georgia Tech team as before, so this game needs to be treated like it is the first matchup of the season between the teams.
Make sure to tune into ESPN3 at 12:00 noon on Saturday to watch the Tigers take on the Yellow Jackets, and keep your computers on Shakin the Southland for all of your post game coverage.