When: Saturday 4pm
TV: ESPN/ESPN2 (check designation in your local area)
Well, the Tigers took their usual L on the road at Chapel Hill. It was a very frustrating night as at first I felt like the Tigers were just going to get boat raced so I wouldn’t have to stress too much, then they went on a torrid run to make me think there might be a chance, only to come up short yet again.
In the grand scheme, it is a game we always project a loss until proven otherwise, and as long as the Tigers can rebound at home against a good but shorthanded Notre Dame squad, things will still be on track for the overall goals for the season. My hope was the Tigers would at least take one of the killer four game stretch with Miami, UNC, ND, and UVA, and the victory over the Hurricanes checked that box. Getting 2 is more important now that Clemson dropped that winnable game at NCST prior to the stretch. I’d be happy with 2-2 and protecting home court.
The UNC game showed fans how bad Clemson can be, potentially, and how good. The bad, which covered the majority of the first half, featured sloppy ball handling, too over-reliance on three-point shooting, and poor perimeter defense. The good, which featured an incredible 15 straight made field goals, saw the Tigers moving the ball with purpose and taking shots in rhythm along with some strong dribble drives from Mitchell. Reed hit one “hero shot” as I would call it, a step back fade over a defender in the corner, but he only took that one after drilling multiple shots in the flow of the offense and getting hot, so you can live with that attempt under those circumstances.
The 2-3 zone Brownell used helped to break UNC’s offensive rhythm, which was off the charts most of the night (I was a little surprised he went away from it). It still stung to see the celebratory mass substitution from the Tarholes inside the final minute.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have not lost to Clemson in basketball since they came to the ACC. There have been some close battles, including an OT loss in South Bend when KJ McDaniels was a junior, but the Irish have proven to be the superior team each time out. This is an excellent opportunity for the Tigers to get one as the Irish are in the midst of a three game losing streak without their star forward Bonzi Colson. While point guard Matt Farrell has returned from injury, the Irish just lost guard D.J. Harvey for four weeks with an injury suffered against Louisville.
Clemson has to take advantage at home in this situation. The Irish will not be an easy out most likely. Despite the injuries, the Irish have been on the brink of winning games against UNC in Chapel Hill and against Louisville at home. They still have one of the deadliest offensive systems in the nation with multiple 3 point threats. Clemson will certainly need to guard the 3 point line better than last time out when the Tarholes went a staggering 15-31 on 3’s. Notre Dame makes a living with terrific spacing and movement in its system, making it very hard to key on one or two guys. Georgia Tech had success zoning up the Irish, but I have yet to see anything that tells me Brownell would use more than 15-20% zone in a contest.
The Irish are top 30 in adjusted offensive efficiency and 10th in the nation in turnover avoidance. This means they are going to get a shot 9 out of ten possessions, so it is up to the Tiger defense to contest it and rebound misses as effectively as possible. While this Tiger team is as capable offensively as any I can remember, I still don’t like the odds of winning games in the 75-85 point range. Clemson is much more suited when the game is in the 60-70 range and the Tigers are just 2-2 when an opponent gets over 75 points.
The Irish are one of the best teams in the nation at guarding without fouling, which has helped them get a ranking of 36th in defensive efficiency. Clemson and ND are pretty similar in looking through the lens of KenPom’s statistical data. The Tigers are better shot blockers while the Irish are better at taking care of the ball, but both are top 40 in offense and defense as well as in keeping opponents off the free throw line.
My key matchups for this game are at the point guard position with Shelton Mitchell facing Matt Farrell and wing Rex Pflueger vs. either Donte Grantham, Gabe DeVoe, or David Skara. In Notre Dame’s last 10 games, they are 6-0 when Pflueger scores double figures and 0-4 when he doesn’t. His role as a third scorer (usually) has been the key factor in these games, especially since Colson went out. It is likely Farrell and Gibbs will get their numbers, but if the Tigers limit the others like Pflueger, they should be able to notch the victory. Meanwhile, Clemson needs the Mitchell and Reed from the second half in Chapel Hill and not the guys we saw in the first. Another big deal is Grantham bouncing back from a rough night shooting the ball, but I’m less concerned about him than I used to be. Hopefully there will be a great crowd on hand to help boost the Tigers up in this pivotal ACC game.
KenPom favors the Tigers, giving them a 69% chance to win and projecting a 69-64 victory in Littlejohn.