When: Saturday 3pm
Where: Notre Dame
The Tigers missed a golden opportunity to knock off the Tarheels on Tuesday night. In one sense, it was encouraging that Clemson really had a good shot to win despite UNC getting some good perimeter shooting. Normally UNC loses, the few times they do lose, when their outside shooting is poor (unless they are playing a fellow power like Kentucky). UNC was terrible from the perimeter in an upset loss at GT, but shot a very strong 41.7% from 3 in Littlejohn. Most of the damage was done by Joel Berry who was flat out unconscious from distance and saved the Heels from a game Tiger squad. Now the Tigers face the most efficient offense in the ACC, if not the country, in Notre Dame in South Bend. The ACC is absolutely brutally hard this season and wins on the road are worth nearly TWO wins going forward. The league has already seen Duke, UNC, and UVA drop road games against teams in Clemson’s tier or below. Louisville currently sits in LAST place in the league and they are a legit top 20 team. An upset win here would completely make up for the lost home game to UNC and keep the Tigers in firm position for NCAA tournament selection.
Notre Dame continues to play a beautiful brand of basketball under Mike Brey. They move the ball, rarely turn it over, and can shoot the lights out as a team. They aren’t an elite defensive team but put so much pressure on opponents due to their offense that it hasn’t mattered much. The Irish are currently red hot, winners of four straight including a road win at Pitt (which UVA couldn’t do) and a win over Louisville last time out. Clemson has given the Irish really tough games in recent meetings but has not been able to knock them off since the Irish joined the ACC. Notre Dame is extremely adept at spreading the floor with capable shooters and mix Princeton concepts with some of the traditional Duke four around one looks popularized by Coach K. Clemson will need to be strong on the perimeter, obviously, and also alert to backdoor passes and dribble drive/kick action. You don’t want to foul them either as the Irish are currently #1 in KenPom’s team FT% at 84.4%.
What this means is Clemson has to be at its best on offense in this game. A stretch of poor shots or sloppy turnovers will certainly doom the team to a loss in this game. The Tigers should be able to attack the Irish inside a lot more than it could the Tarheels, and a guy like Eli Thomas could be a major X factor in this game. Clemson must also defensive rebound MUCH better as giving a team like the Irish extra looks is a recipe for disaster. Guys like Donte Grantham and Shelton Mitchell can’t be lured into a shooting competition with their counterparts, as they have sometimes done, and stick to attacking the Irish off the bounce to create for themselves and others.
Even if Clemson is playing well offensively, like it did for much of the game against Notre Dame last year, it CAN’T allow the Irish to find a rhythm at the same time. This was a killer in last year’s game as the Irish were able to sustain their play on that side much more than the Tigers. Clemson is better served making this game as ugly as it can with spotty tempo, even if it means less offense for itself.
KenPom gives the Tigers a 39% chance at victory, which is about what I would give them. That’s not terrible odds but it will be a steep challenge in what is proving to be a crazy, crazy year in the ACC.