When: Tuesday, 7pm
Where: Dean Dome, Chapel Hill
TV: ACC Network (FSN for most)
After an impressive 72-63 victory over Miami on Saturday afternoon, the Clemson Tigers (15-2) (4-1) will return to the hardwood for their third game in just six days as they travel to Chapel Hill to take on the Tar Heels of North Carolina (14-4) (3-2). The narrative between the two programs hasn’t changed over the past decade as Clemson will look to win at North Carolina for the first time since 1929, and break the dreaded 0-58 streak that has been the topic of conversation since the final horn sounded on Saturday night.
What makes this year different from any other? For starters, the current state of the Tar Heels is not what we expect to see out of the defending National Champions. This is something that will almost certainly be corrected prior to the end of the season, but Clemson may have caught UNC at the perfect time. After UNC escaped Notre Dame with a 69-68 victory, both head coach Roy Williams and captain Joel Berry voiced their frustration with the inconsistent play of the team in their post-game interviews. To show the inconsistencies of the game, Notre Dame managed to go on a 16-4 late run to take a late lead and North Carolina (who is currently the #1 rebounding team in the country) managed to give up 20 offensive rebounds on the day to a team that was without their leading rebounder.
Personnel wise, what we can expect from North Carolina are familiar faces. The team is led by Junior Luke Maye averaging 18.2 points-per-game, 10.8 rebounds-per-game and is a jack of all trades on the basketball court, and his game now includes a much improved three-point shot. Maye has increased his 3-point attempts per game to 3.0 from 1.1 a year ago, and his confidence has to be flowing as he is hitting 48.1% of his three balls. Limiting Maye’s touches (easier said than done) will be key to a Clemson road victory as the last two Tar Heel losses where two of the few games where Maye has taken less than 15 shots.
Joining Maye in the starting lineup is Joel Berry II, the Tiger killer himself. Berry is averaging 17.4 points-per-game and has made 15 three-pointers in the teams last five games. Berry is no stranger to the Tigers as he scored 31 points while making 7 three-pointers during last seasons overtime victory in Clemson. Berry also hasn’t committed a turnover in UNC’s previous two games. Joining Berry in the expected lineup will be Kenny Williams (12.1 points-per-game and is shooting 43% from three-point range) and the lengthy bodies of Theo Pinson and newcomer Cam Johnson.
The Tigers, on the other hand, enter the contest after an impressive home victory which saw them rebound after a devastating loss on the road at NC State, which handed Clemson their first ACC loss of the season. Clemson continues to live and die by the three-point shot, as they used a series of key three-point baskets by Donte Grantham and Gabe DeVoe to put the game out of reach down the stretch. Marcquise Reed continues to lead the Tigers in scoring with 15.9 points-per-game, but close behind him is Donte Grantham with 14.9 points-per-game whose defense and rebounding have been taken to the next level this season as he is now 0.5 rebounds-per-game away from the team lead.
The keys to a Clemson victory on Tuesday night, and ending the streak come down to exploiting a Tar Heel weakness that has developed of late, and that is their poor guarding of the three-point line. Gabe DeVoe, Marcquise Reed, and most importantly on the evening Shelton Mitchell are going to be able to get open, and their ability to hitting an open three-pointer will be the main reason as to whether Clemson can come away with a victory in this game or not. The other key factor comes from Clemson’s defensive pairings against UNC. If there is one thing that UNC has that can cause the Tigers fits, it is their length on the offensive side of the ball. Look for David Skara to potentially log his highest minutes of the year to guard Luke Maye. With Skara on the bench, that task will almost definitely fall to Donte Grantham which would leave Elijah Thomas the sole responsibility of both Pinson and Johnson leading to potential early foul trouble.
KenPom gives the Tigers a one-in-three chance to win. Stay tuned to Shakin the Southland for all of your Clemson Men’s Basketball coverage.