Jaron Blossomgame will receive All-ACC honors this year.
Many on this Clemson team did not play well in the game, but Blossomgame continued to play at a different level than anyone else on the floor. Nailing 3's and hitting extremely difficult, contested shots were the norm for him throughout the night as he kept Clemson in the game. He ended with 23 points and 6 rebounds shooting 8-15 from the field and 4-6 from 3.
I optimistically tweeted earlier this year that Blossomgame could be making a KJ McDaniels-like jump this year, and this stretch in ACC play has proven that true. As long as he consistently continues to put up numbers close to what he's been putting up in the past 6-game stretch, he should be receiving All-ACC honors. Whether it's first, second, or third team will depend on how good those numbers are and how strong Clemson finishes.
Landry Nnoko again provided energy and leadership.
Nnoko finished with 15 points on 7-9 shooting assisting Blossomgame in providing what was the only offense the Tigers seemed able to muster throughout the game. Although the rebounding numbers were not where they probably needed to be to beat Virginia, both players kept the Tigers in the game and gave them a shot to win. Virginia has a lot of size, experience, and strength in the front-court, and Nnoko did a good job battling down low and providing offense.
During this 7 game stretch I have been impressed with Nnoko. From the players-only meeting that he called and was the spark to the winning streak to the offensive and defensive efficiency in his production, Nnoko is finally beginning to look like the player that most Clemson fans thought he could become at the end of his Sophomore year. Look for the momentum he's picking up on the offensive end to carry over to the rest of the ACC schedule.
Guard play matters.
Clemson's smaller guards have been playing extremely well through the winning streak, but none of them brought much to the game offensively. Avry Holmes and Jordan Roper combined for just 9 points on 3-13 shooting. Roper has not been a huge factor scoring the basketball as of late, but he has been a huge factor in his play-making ability putting up a lot of assists. He led the Tigers in assists against Virginia, but he only had 3. Roper and Donte Grantham have been key to Clemson's success during the winning streak, and Grantham also had a quiet night only scoring 8 points on 3-8 shooting.
Every year in college basketball you hear analysts discuss how the teams with the best guards are the most successful. That thought rang true in the game as Virginia's guards clearly out-played Clemson's. Clemson's smaller guards struggled mightily to defend Virginia's pre-season All-ACC selection at guard, Malcom Brogdon. Brogdon had been struggling in the last few games but torched Clemson for 20 points on 7-11 shooting and 2-2 shooting from 3.
Clemson caught Virginia at the wrong time.
Virginia's patented pack-line defense is tough to score on. It is especially tough to score on when you're not shooting the 3-ball well: something Clemson proved going 4-14 from 3. The Tigers had been shooting the ball well as of late and were due a bad shooting night.
Virginia was coming off losing 3 of their last 4 in ACC play, and the game was something of a must-win for them if they wanted to continue to contend for a top spot in the ACC. Conversely, Clemson was riding high off a crazy, good winning streak and playing in a tough venue against a ranked team that was licking their chops to bounce back. Winning this game would have been the most surprising of all the surprising wins Clemson's had the last 5 games.
Clemson will be playing in the post-season.
Clemson is the only team in the ACC to face 8 RPI top 50 teams. They are 4-4 in those games. That's not a bad stat for a Tigers team that seemed to be reeling not even a month ago. The fact that Clemson scrapped, clawed, and made this game so competitive is quite telling. Their guards didn't play well, they were out-rebounded by 11, they only shot 6 free throws in comparison to UVA's 22, they were on the road in a tough place to play against a good team that was desperate for a win, yet they were competitive and had a chance to win in the last three minutes. Brownell made that point after the game when he said, "With 3 minutes to go, 2 minutes to go, it’s a one-possession game...we were right there. We couldn’t quite get over the hump." If not for questionable shot selection and a costly turnover in those last three minutes Clemson may have pulled a win off. They couldn't quite win this one, but the game was telling of a Clemson basketball team that has turned a corner and is playing good basketball.
I don't know if I'm ready to say this team is tourney-bound yet, but the ACC play after the Pittsburgh game gets dramatically easier. There's a realistic chance that Clemson goes 12-6 in the ACC paired with one conference tournament victory which would make a good case as a tournament team. Whether it makes the big dance or not, Clemson basketball should be playing in a post-season tournament at the end of the year.
Clemson plays at home next Wednesday against Pittsburgh.