When: Saturday, noon
TV: ACC Network (check for your local provider)
Clemson has very little time to lick wounds after losing a third straight ACC game, this time as a favorite, in Atlanta Thursday night. Virginia comes to town and has been a major nemesis for Brad Brownell, and pretty much everyone else in the ACC, since hiring Tony Bennett (the best coach in the ACC, in my opinion). The Duke, UNC, and Louisville monsters are always going to be there, but most teams below that (with the exception of maybe Syracuse) are in similar spheres in regards to recent (since 2000) basketball history. The days of glorious NCST teams or Tim Duncan at Wake are long gone. Clemson desperately needs to start winning games here and there against UVA and Notre Dame who have established themselves in the upper 8 of the league (if not top 4). Clemson must protect home court and the challenge will be steep against the always defensively stout Cavaliers.
The Cavs are once against an elite defensive unit, ranking 4th in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom. That pack line defense continues to limit chances at the rim, limit offensive rebounding, and force contested jump shots late in the shot clock. Clemson simply has to shoot the ball much better than it did in Atlanta to have any chance at all. Jaron Blossomgame gave the Cavs a lot of trouble last year, as he does to just about everyone, but the supporting cast just couldn’t step up to help pull the upset. UVA does an outstanding job of not beating itself and forces you to grind your possessions and earn everything you get against a set defense. Thankfully the stalwart Malcolm Brogdan has moved on, but veteran point guard London Perrantes is back again to run the show. What makes UVA so good is that they can dictate slow tempo, like Brownell was doing in his first few seasons, yet still be efficient in the half court late in the clock. Bennett has done a masterful job of getting guys tough enough and willing enough to guard like they do yet skilled enough to be effective on offense. UVA isn’t signing a bunch of McDonald All Americans but will contend for a top 4 seed in the NCAA tourney yet again this season and probably for the remainder of Bennett’s time there. I like Brad Brownell but I must say I envy the Cavs on the hoops front. I’m hoping the new facility upgrades can allow Brad to recruit to do what UVA has been able to do, that is a reasonable goal for the program IMHO.
Aside from shooting the ball well, and being smart with the shot selection, Clemson must improve defensively and on the glass. These have been the biggest reasons for the three game losing streak. The win in Columbia was because the team got stops and FINALLY rebounded down the stretch, whereas the UNC loss, the Notre Dame loss, and the GT loss featured multiple second chances for the opposition and critical perimeter defensive breakdowns. Clemson can’t keep allowing 45% or better FG percentage and hope to survive in this league. Clemson is an abysmal 318th in the country in opposing offensive rebounding percentage. A lot of this is a product of the bigs constantly having to rotate and help (trying to block shots) and being out of position to block out and board. The guards have to to a better job of sinking in and helping the help with box outs on the glass, but keeping the ball in front of them on the perimeter would also help this a lot. There has been a lot of feast or famine for the Clemson defense this year in that they have created a good amount of turnovers (ranking 27th in this department without pressing) but when they don’t get the steal they are giving up some good looks or putback chances.
This was about the time last year when the team went on a surprisingly great run of upsets. This is what this team desperately needs to get the mojo going it had when it came from the dead to beat Wake. The body language in Atlanta was very negative and the team needs to believe, but only results can truly support that belief.
KenPom has UVA as the favorite here, of course, and gives the Tigers a decent 42% chance at the victory. Hopefully the football team’s glorious parade/banquet, etc, will help increase the energy in the building and get the Tigers a big win.