When: Sunday, January 22nd at 6:30pm
Where: Littlejohn Coliseum, Clemson, SC
How to Watch: ESPNU
Clemson just completed the toughest stretch of their schedule, and it wasn’t pretty. They lost five straight after starting 11-2. In the five game losing streak, Clemson faced three teams in the KenPom top 10 and another in the top 25. Three of the five games were on the road, and Clemson was the underdog four times.
“Clemson Twitter” is aghast with the results from this stretch despite projections that only had Clemson a game or two ahead of where they stand now. Truth be told, its how they’ve lost.
The Tigers outplayed UNC for most of the night, but surrendered key offensive rebounds and missed big free throws. They battled with ND and UVA, but couldn’t get defensive stops down the stretch - normally a bedrock of Brownell basketball. They went ice cold against GT. They held an early double-digit lead on Louisville, but panicked when the Cards made their run and got completely run over.
So what now?
Clemson has already played the three best teams in the ACC and doesn’t have to face any of them a second time. Clemson is 3-5 in Tier-A games (top 50 opponent adjusted for home/road). They obviously fare much better against weaker competition and that’s what’s upcoming. Over their next seven games they will play in just three Tier-A games after playing in seven their last nine contests.
A loss to Virginia Tech would make it six in a row. It has the potential to cause things to spiral out of control. This seven game stretch is where Clemson must make up ground. A 5-2 run here in the heart of the ACC schedule is possible and would get the Tigers to 6-7 and within reach of the tournament. It MUST begin now.
The Hokies are #51 in KenPom’s team rankings. Since they hired Buzz Williams from Marquette, they’ve quickly become competitive and sit at 3-3 in the ACC. Here’s the thing, they haven’t faced a tough schedule (yet!). They’ve only played in five Tier A games (compared to Clemson having already played 10). VT still has UNC, UVA (twice), and Louisville on the schedule.
KenPom statistics reveal Virginia Tech to be a fairly balanced squad. They boast the 60th most efficient offense and the 63rd most efficient defense. The only apparent statistical weakness is on the offensive glass, where they don’t give themselves a ton of second chances. This bodes well for Clemson, who is 328th in defensive rebounding percentage.
Avry Holmes and Shelton Mitchell have done a great job leading the transition offense. Clemson can’t miss opportunities to get out and run. Donte Grantham needs to make better decisions in these situations. He has heaps of potential, but has started relying on the three-ball too much again. He is the best free throw shooter on the team at .800 (tied with Mitchell), but has taken the fewest FTs of the seven major contributors - just 20.
The Clemson offense is best served by getting out in transition as much as possible and playing inside-out basketball with Blossomgame and Eli Thomas in the post when in the set offense. Blossomgame went 2-4 from three against Louisville after going 1-11 from three in ACC play prior to that point. If he can regain his three-point shooting form the Clemson offense can improve on what is already the 29th most efficient offense in the country.
Against elite competition, Clemson has been victimized by giving shooters anything more than an inch of space. The Hokies have two players shooting over .400 from three (Seth Allen and Ahmed Hill). Sometimes it feels there is nothing a team like Clemson can do when a player like UNC’s Joel Berry starts hitting circus shots. This must be how Alabama felt when Mike Williams started jumping over people to come up with tremendous catches.
Clemson’s defensive efficiency is 66th in the country, the worst it’s been since 2003! It’s been hurt significantly by giving up offensive rebounds and allowing teams a second chance. The offensive rebounding has looked better over the past three games, but the defense has been sporadic. With one of the better offensives Clemson has had in years, it just needs to be adequate.
Fortunately, Virginia Tech doesn’t have the offensive talent of a UNC, UVA, or Notre Dame. Clemson’s offense should carry the day. This is where Clemson’s season turns. KenPom gives the Tigers a 73% chance to win. Their backs are against the wall, they hear the negativity, and they can’t lose. They finally get back on track on Sunday.