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Hoops Preview: Clemson at Georgia Tech

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NCAA Basketball: Georgia Tech at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

When: 6pm, Sunday
Where: McCamish Pavillion - Atlanta, GA
TV: ESPNU

Clemson travels to Atlanta to face the Yellow Jackets this Sunday. They come limping in - at least as much as a 16-4 team can “limp in.” Following a big home victory over Notre Dame, The Tigers luck took a turn for the worse. First, five-star Clemson prospect Zion Williamson surprised everyone by choosing Duke over the Tigers. Reportedly, he didn’t decide until the day of his annoucement. That news was quickly followed by a negative prognosis on Donte Grantham’s knee. A torn ACL will keep him out for the year. Then Clemson scored just 13 second half points in what would become a 25-point loss at #2 Virginia.

All is not doom and gloom though. The Tigers just completed their toughest stretch of the year (vs. Miami, at UNC, vs. Notre Dame, at Virginia) and managed a respectable 2-2 record. They sit at 16-4 (5-3) and are receiving very favorable seeding projections for the NCAA tournament.

The Tigers play Georgia Tech (and Florida State) twice each year as a designated rival. In each of the past three years, the Tigers have Yellow Jackets have held serve on their home court, splitting the home-and-home matchups with Clemson.

The Yellow Jackets will be home underdogs according to KenPom (28% win likelihood), but they’ve played much better in ACC play than during their disastrous start to the season that included losses: vs. UCLA, vs. Grambling St., vs. Tennessee, at Wofford, at Georgia, and vs. Wright State. They’re 3-4 in ACC with with their only home loss coming to Virginia. Home wins against Miami and Notre Dame prove they’re dangerous, if their three game home win streak against Clemson hasn’t already.

Georgia Tech has a top 60 defense and plays at an excruciatingly slow pace. Given Clemson still favors a slower pace, expect this to be another low-scoring affair.

Tech’s offense is limited due to a lack of good shooters. They rank just 343rd in proportion of points from three-pointers, which allows defenses to pack the paint and make life difficult. Freshman PG Jose Alvarado is the only notable threat with 34 made three-pointers on the season. The rest of the team combines for only 60 made three-pointers on the season. Nobody else has over 20 (Clemson has four players with 20+ threes). Alvarado has made four three-poiners in each of his past two games and scored 23 in a loss at FSU on Wednesday night.

Ben Lammers is one of the Yellow Jackets’ best all-around players. The 6’10” senior starts at center as is one of the premier rebounders (8.8 rpg) and shot blockers (2.9 bpg) in the ACC. His scoring is a bit down from a season ago, but he is still is routinely putting up double-digit points and should be the early focus of the Jacket’s game plan, as he could coax Eli Thomas into some early foul trouble and challenge the Tigers depth. He had 23 and 25 points in his two games against Clemson last season. Here’s a reminder of some of that damage:

Here’s Lammers with an unstoppable fade-away shot.

Tech’s best scorer is Josh Okogie. He’s an Atlanta kid who turned down Tennessee and Kansas State to stay in his hometown. He averages 17.8 points per game. The Tigers will have to focus on stopping him. We may see DeVoe and Skara get turns at defending the Jackets’ key scoring threat.

After losing their starting PG and PF from last year’s NIT finals team, Georgia Tech has taken a step back. KenPom ranks them just 110th in the nation. They’re nevertheless dangerous in Atlanta, especially as Clemson is still adjusting to play without Donte Grantham.

This is a blocking and tackling type game for Clemson. They face a challenging defense, but have a far superior offense. They can’t be lulled into taking out of rhythm shots or getting into foul trouble and offering juicy matchups. Avoid turnovers (which has been an issue) and make a struggling GT offense earn everything they get, and this should be a Tigers win. Road wins have been tougher than ever across the conference this year. This one is pivotal for both teams. The Tigers need to swing the momentum of their season back in the right direction and grab a sixth ACC win as UNC awaits them in Clemson on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech looks to snap a three-game losing streak and remain above .500.

It’ll be another great ACC battle. Tune in on ESPNU and click back to STS for more Clemson basketball coverage. For those who will be attending the game, the Atlanta Clemson Club is hosting a pre-game get together at Marlow’s Tavern (information here).