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Hoops Preview: Clemson versus Virginia Tech

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The Tigers look to continue the journey from NCAA pretender to contender in Blacksburg.

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Where: Blacksburg, Va.

When: Saturday 4pm

TV: RSN (Raycom)/ESPN 3 for out of region

Overview: My how the fortunes of Clemson basketball have changed.  The Tigers came into January ranked 101st in the KenPom rankings.  Now, the Tigers have climbed inside the top 50 at 49 and can realistically claim a shot at making the NCAA tournament.  That would be a monumental accomplishment for Brad Brownell and company as this would occur about a year ahead of most projections, not to mention the awful shape things look to be in coming out of Athens, Georgia.

Clemson has gotten out of the murderous part of the ACC slate in great shape and has winnable road games and two great home opportunities vs. Notre Dame and UVA.  Louisville's self imposed postseason ban has made another spot in the field available.  The trick now is not screwing it up, which the team looked like it was in danger of doing in Winston-Salem on Tuesday night.  Luckily the guards got their act together in the second half and the team exploded for a big road win.  Clemson's guards are so very important to the fortunes of the team.  They really struggled at FSU and the team couldn't overcome it.  Clemson once again faced foul problems with Djitte and Nnoko at Wake, but the guard play in the second half erased that problem.

Meanwhile, Jaron Blossomgame is making a real push for first team All-ACC, and landing on one of the three all league teams seems a lock for him at this point.  When you say you've done something only Horace Grant has done in the last 30 years, that's big time.  That would be dropping 20 or more in 5 straight league games.  Let's not forget Horace was ACC Player of the Year the year he pulled it off.  Jaron continues to be too quick for big forwards to handle off the bounce and can bully smaller defenders in the post.  His three-point game is solid, hitting 41% from distance, and that keeps folks from being able to sag on him.

Meanwhile, Virginia Tech has made some strides under Buzz Williams in year two.  However, they have faced a murderer's row themselves and have lost 5 straight after a 4-1 league start (and a great win over UVA).  Their latest loss was a heartbreaking OT defeat at Syracuse where they had outplayed the Orange for most of the game.  Clemson was able to salvage a victory in a similar situation and it helped boost the team's fortunes in January for sure.  Hopefully the Tigers can take advantage of a hangover off that game and jump on the Hokies early.  VT prefers to play a more frenetic game and scrap with a smaller lineup than many ACC teams feature.  Clemson should have a decided advantage inside with Nnoko and Blossomgame versus the Hokie front line.  Clemson will have to match the Hokie intensity which is trademark of a Buzz Williams team.  They have been tough at home all year, beating UVA and narrowly losing to Louisville and UNC, so this is no cakewalk trip.  Clemson cannot afford a half as poor as the first half at Wake and hope to win.  The good news is VT is not an elite defensive unit if you take care of the ball against them.  They haven't given up less than 68 points since facing Grambling State in December.  That makes coming back more of a possibility like we saw against Wake who isn't great defensively either.

Players to watch: The top guys for VT are Seth Allen, a 6'1" guard, and Zach LeDay, a 6'7" swing man.  They are both averaging between 14 and 16 a game.  The Hokies lost key freshman Chris Clarke to a fractured foot before ACC play and that has hurt their depth for sure.  Clemson needs to take advantage of another great road win opportunity in the ACC, which has always been a tall task for the program.  KenPom gives the Tigers a 53% chance for victory which sounds about right.  The Tigers should win, but will need to play well to do it.  If the guard play is anything like we saw in Tallahassee or the first half in Winston-Salem, this will be a loss.