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2019-20 Clemson Basketball Season Preview: Schedule Breakdown

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NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament- North Carolina State vs Clemson Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a lot of change for Clemson basketball. The most obvious is the new faces in the starting lineup. The Tigers lost four starters from last year’s NIT squad: Shelton Mitchell, Marcquise Reed, David Skara, and Elijah Thomas. They’ll be hard to replace, no doubt, but seeing new faces and resetting expectations brings its own fun.

Additionally, after experimenting with it in the NIT, the three-point line will be scooted back to the international distance. Although it didn’t decrease three-point attempts in the 2019 NIT, one of the objectives of the change is to slow “the trend of the 3-point shot becoming too prevalent in men’s college basketball by making the shot a bit more challenging, while at the same time keeping the shot an integral part of the game.” Clemson was often out-paced from three last season. They were outside the top 240 in both 3PA/FGA (3-point attempts per field goal attempt) and 3-point percentage. With opponents being more reliant on threes, this could help Clemson.

Finally, the ACC has changed its scheduling to expand from 18 to 20 conference games. It wasn’t long ago that it was at 16 games, but now it will take up the vast majority of the schedule. This gives the ACCN tons of content and will help basketball carry its share of the financial load, which football largely bears.

While I’ve bemoaned calls for a nine-game conference schedule in football since Clemson routinely schedules far more interesting opponents in non-conference (e.g., Georgia, Auburn, Texas A&M, LSU, etc.), in basketball it’s quite the opposite. In non-conference play last season, Clemson played Akron, Georgia, and Creighton in a regular season tournament. Aside from that, they played two SEC teams, one Big 10 team, and seven mid-majors. This year, they again play in a regular season tournament (the MGM Resorts Main Event in Las Vegas). Aside from that, they play one SEC team (South Carolina), one Big 10 team, and six mid-majors. Essentially, they’ve swapped an SEC game and a cupcake for two more ACC games. That’s a nice improvement!

20 conference games is a bit scary, but the ACC is expected to be way down this year. Don’t get me wrong, the ACC will still be infinitely better than in football, but it may not be as tough as usual. Virginia, Duke, UNC, Louisville, and NCSU will likely be better than Clemson, but an ACC finish anywhere between 6th and 14th (out of 15 teams) could reasonably be in the cards for Clemson.

Syracuse loses loads of talent. Virginia Tech loses even more with Nickeil Alexander-Walker going to the NBA, Kerry Blackshear transferring to Florida, and Coach Buzz Williams going to Texas A&M. Florida State may be losing even more with most of their primary contributors departing.

Notre Dame is up and down, but can be dangerous when healthy. Georgia Tech returns a lot of their roster, but was bad last year and is on post-season probation this year. Pittsburgh is deep in a rebuild. Miami should be better, but they were bad last year as well (though they beat Clemson). Lastly, Wake Forest and Boston College were terrible last year and should be even worse as their best players depart and their coaches ride the hot seat. (Click here for a more detailed ACC preview.)

Of those bottom 10 teams, I only expect about two to end up earning NCAA tournament bids. So with all that being said, let’s look at the schedule in more detail (home games in bold):

November

  • Nov. 5 vs. Virginia Tech
  • Nov. 7 vs. Presbyterian
  • Nov. 10 vs. Colgate
  • Nov. 17 vs. Detroit Mercy
  • Nov. 21 vs. Alabama A&M
  • Nov. 24 vs. TCU (Las Vegas)
  • Nov. 26 vs. Wyoming/Colorado (Las Vegas)

In years past, Clemson fans have waited until after Thanksgiving to start giving basketball some attention. This year the season starts with a little more intrigue. Replacing the typical cupcake to start the season is Virginia Tech - one of the teams that Clemson will be jockeying with for position in the ACC standings. After Virginia Tech, Clemson goes through four mid-majors at home before traveling to Las Vegas for a regular season tournament. The Virginia Tech game is big, but even if they lose that they can rebound by winning the tournament, which has some solid competition.

December

  • Dec. 2 at Minnesota
  • Dec. 8 at Florida State
  • Dec. 15. vs. South Carolina
  • Dec. 20. vs. Jacksonville
  • Dec. 22 vs. Yale
  • Dec. 31 vs. Miami

Last year, Clemson played no ACC games and only two major conference teams in December. This year they get both FSU and Miami to go along with Minnesota and South Carolina. Not only that, but one of their mid-major opponents is Yale, who went 22-8 last season. If you wait until Thanksgiving to delve into basketball season, that’s fine, but December is where much of the season will be decided. KenPom has Clemson as heavy favorites in two games, slight favorites in two games, and underdog in two games. The difference between going 4-2 and 2-4 in December may determine Clemson’s postseason fate. The home game against Miami may be on one of the season’s biggest as it precedes a horribly difficult first half of January.

January

  • Jan. 4 vs. NC State
  • Jan. 11 at North Carolina
  • Jan. 14 vs. Duke
  • Jan. 18 at NC State
  • Jan. 21 vs. Wake Forest
  • Jan. 25 at Louisville
  • Jan. 28 vs. Syracuse

January is going to be brutal. The nice thing is they rotate home and away games. The bad thing is that those road games are exceedingly difficult. KenPom gives Clemson less than 20% chance to win in each of them. Additionally, NC State and Duke will be favorites in Littlejohn. That means a four game losing streak is quite possible. Fortunately, those four games are sandwiched by home games against Miami (in December) and Wake Forest, which seem all the more important when placed in context of the schedule. 3-4 would be a great goal for this outrageously difficult January schedule.

February

  • Feb. 1 at Wake Forest
  • Feb. 5 at Virginia
  • Feb. 9 vs. Notre Dame
  • Feb. 12 at Pittsburgh
  • Feb. 15 vs. Louisville
  • Feb. 22 at Boston College
  • Feb. 25 at Georgia Tech
  • Feb. 29 vs. Florida State

This is where Clemson has to make their mark. Winning road games in the ACC is hard. Even the elite teams struggle to do it with consistency (unlike in football where Clemson has won 22-straight games). Winning at Virginia will be nearly impossible, but road games at Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, Boston College, and Georgia Tech are all winnable. If January doesn’t sink the Tigers, February has a chance to put some wind in their sails. A 5-3 February is possible.

March

  • Mar. 4 at Virginia Tech
  • Mar. 6 vs. Georgia Tech

The Tigers close out the season with winnable games at VT and vs GT. If everything comes together and Clemson has 8 conference wins entering March, needing these two wins to reach .500, we’ll be in a good spot. That’s probably about where reasonable goals should be set, given the offseason injuries. With the the ACC being a bit down this year and the surprise news that Khavon Moore will not have to sit out the season following his transfer from Texas Tech, reaching that .500 ACC record is not out of the question.