When: Tuesday, March 7, at Noon
Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.
How to watch: ESPN2, WatchESPN app
Clemson’s penchant for the close loss this season has resulted in the Tigers being slotted as the No. 12 seed in the ACC Tournament and tasked with playing a game on the opening day of the tournament. They face No. 13 seed NC State - which they held off in a 78-74 home win last Wednesday - with the winner slated to face off with No. 5 seed Duke on Wednesday afternoon.
Despite the Tigers’ disappointing season to this point, Clemson still has plenty to play for in this tournament. A win over NC State would likely position them for an NIT bid (obviously not ideal, but still better than nothing), while 2-3 wins could incredibly put them back in the NCAA Tournament conversation. Two wins likely would not get the job done, but three would give them a real shot considering the latter two would be over Duke and Louisville. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. None of that is in play without a win against NC State.
While the Wolfpack are in relative disarray considering the mid-season firing-but-you’re-still-going-to-coach of Mark Gottfried, there is still talent on the roster. That was on display last week as Clemson had to battle it out with State in yet another down-to-the-wire game.
Point guard Dennis Smith Jr. is an imminent NBA lottery pick, and the Tigers did well to keep him at bay with just 13 points in 40 minutes of play in Littlejohn. They will need a similarly disruptive defensive effort this time around, as he is a guy that can go for 30 if he gets comfortable.
The problem that harassing Smith with multiple bodies can present is leaving daylight for Maverick Rowan and Terry Henderson from three-point range. They combined to go 5 for 11 in last week’s matchup, and the Tigers can ill afford to let these two get a bunch of open looks.
The guy who has presented a real problem for Clemson in his three years at NC State is Abdul-Malik Abu, who stuck the Tigers for a team-high 18 points last week. His ability to score in the post and step out to knock down jumpers make him a matchup nightmare for Clemson, as he is too physical at times for Blossomgame but too mobile for Djitte. Elijah Thomas seems like a logical matchup, but his propensity for fouling would be a bit worrisome. We’ll see how Clemson approaches Abu defensively.
The good thing about a matchup with the Wolfpack is they struggle mightily to guard people. Clemson needs Shelton Mitchell and Marcquise Reed to be in attack mode looking to break down the defense with penetration, and hopefully Jaron Blossomgame plays more like he did in the second half of the Tigers’ first game against State (16 points) than the first half (0 points).
Clemson will look to Avry Holmes to carry his torrid ACC 3-point percentage with him into the conference tournament, and a continued boost from Sidy Djitte (11 ppg last three games) would be welcome.
“Survive and advance” is the time-honored mantra when it comes to postseason tournament play. Let’s see what Clemson can do.