When: 7:00pm tonight
That four game winning streak was nice, but it was really only a matter of time before the patented Clemson offensive funk reared its ugly head and cost the team a win. That occurred in Miami on Sunday when the Tigers could only muster a pitiful 45 points. The "third quarter" blues were mostly to blame as the Tigers again failed to come out of the locker room strong. Landry Nnoko's invisible man routine was just too much for the team to once again try to overcome. Josh Smith has been a real gamer for the team, but he just can't produce what Nnoko potentially can IF the big junior can get his act together.
Now opportunity knocks with the biggest home game of the year by far as the #10 ranked Irish come to Clemson. We all know how big that game will be in the fall when the Irish visit Death Valley, but it is no small deal tonight either. Clemson has to win this game to entertain the dim possibilities of an NCAA tournament berth, but the biggest thing is giving the fan base hope that the Tigers can compete with some of the upper level teams in the league. So far it has not gone well against the ranked ACC contingent with only the Louisville game being competitive throughout. The Irish are a very, very good offensive team and will challenge the Tigers from the perimeter even more than the Hurricanes who knocked down critical three-pointers to get that win Sunday.
Meet the Irish: Notre Dame is led by a name familiar to the Tigers, Jerian Grant. Brad Brownell only got to coach Jerai Grant for one year and simply could not compete on the recruiting trail for the other Grant brothers who both turned into excellent college players. To be fair, Jerai was a bit of a project when Oliver Purnell was able to land him while his younger brothers were much more highly recruited out of powerhouse DeMatha High. Jerian had to take the Everett Golston sabbatical last season which helped doom the Irish to a 15-17 finish in 2014. Now that he's back, the Irish have been a real power player and currently rank 2nd in the ACC behind Virginia. Only Duke has comparable offensive firepower to the Irish who can attack from the perimeter as well as anyone in the country. They are averaging 80 points a game and are 2nd in the nation in field goal percentage.
Behind Grant's 16.8 points per game is Pat Connaughton at 13.3. Connaughton is a dangerous three-point shooter as a forward coming in at an impressive 45%. The Irish's biggest post threat is the athletic Zach Auguste who has put on a few dunking exhibitions this season. It will be very important for Clemson to turn this game into a half court grinder because there is no way the Tigers can match the Irish in offense should the pace get up and the possessions get high. Brad Brownell's defensive prowess will be really put to the test as the Irish are ranked #1 in KenPom's effective FG% and 2pt FG%, 2nd in adjusted offensive efficiency (a ridiculous 121.1 number: Clemson is 100.3 by comparison), and 2nd in turnover avoidance. Clemson simply has to keep the Irish around 60 or less considering the Tigers have really struggled to score beyond 65 points this season (even on good outings such as the Syracuse game and the Boston College game).
Outlook: Here's the good news: Clemson is at home, the crowd should be as good as it has been all year, and the Irish are just OK defensively and don't protect the rim nearly as well as North Carolina or Miami or FSU. If there was a game for Landry Nnoko to snap out of his foul prone funk, this is the game. Clemson needs to get the ball inside and punish the Irish on the glass. Offensively, the Tigers have to be smart and efficient on offense. A 5-6 minute funk like we have seen periodically from the team will spell disaster against a team with the firepower of a Notre Dame. To me, the best case (realistic) scenario for the team is a 5-2 finish (losing to ND at ND and Duke at Duke). This would be a win that could propel that into action. If nothing else, it would come close to locking in an NIT bid for the team (barring a collapse against some bottom feeders like VT and GT). I believe a postseason birth is extremely important for the momentum of the program.
KenPom gives the Tigers a 36% chance of victory.