When: Wednesday 7pm
The Tigers notched a crucial victory over Virginia Tech to now begin to seriously put itself in the conversation for a bid to the NCAA tournament. The team played some of its best defense of the season, especially on the perimeter, to beat a team which has been a problem in recent seasons. Clemson knows it has a small margin of error down the stretch if it wants a bid to the big dance and really can ill afford to drop a game against a “lesser” ACC opponent. This year’s Miami team would qualify as “lesser,” but everyone should know that any team in this league can get you, especially on its home floor. The Hurricanes really, really should have beaten UNC in Chapel Hill on Saturday and the Heels are top 10 with only 2 ACC losses. Hopefully the Canes will have a let down after such a near miss at a huge upset that the Tigers can take advantage of.
Clemson has improved its defense to now top 15 level in adjusted efficiency after some stellar performances during this current four game win streak. Other than the second half of the Pittsburgh game which was a blowout at the half, the Tigers have given up 18, 19, 24, 18, 29, and 22 in the last six halves of basketball. Clemson is going to win a lot of games holding folks under 60 points.
Miami is led by small but fierce point guard Chris Lykes. The sophomore is listed at a mere 5’7” but is capable of filling it up as he did against UNC with 27 points. He is leading the Canes with 16.9 ppg and 3.3 apg. I’m hopeful that the size and length advantages the Tigers have with Shelton Mitchell and Clyde Trapp can make life difficult for Lykes and keep him from going off. He is a streaky three-point shooter as evidenced by his 9-19 from 3 in the two games against UNC vs. the 0-15 he put up in back-to-back losses against Florida State and Syracuse. This year’s Hurricanes are not particularly deep with the five starters all averaging 29 minutes or more and are much like Clemson in how much they rely on their starters for scoring.
Miami is struggling by their standards after putting up four straight 20+ win seasons and three straight NCAA tournament bids. Jim Larranaga has done a masterful job since taking that job in 2012. He has had six 20+ win seasons and won an ACC title. In fact, the production he has had at Miami is about what I’d like to see happen at Clemson in basketball. While this current team is just 2-9, they haven’t done worse than 7-11 in the league during his tenure. Clemson has to take advantage of a down year for the Hurricanes to pick up a crucial road win.
Other guys to watch for the Hurricanes are the other four starters, all who average double figure scoring.
Zach Johnson (wing) 13.1 ppg
Anthony Lawrence (forward) 11.9 ppg
DJ Vasiljevic (wing) 11.1 ppg
Ebuka Izundu (center) 11 ppg
This team will fire up some three-pointers, maybe not to the extent of Virginia Tech, but a good many compared to Clemson. They have three players with over 100 attempts and one at 91 three-point attempts, while Clemson has just one over 100 and one at 92. Vasiljevic is the most prolific having gone 58-149 (39%). For comparison, Mitchell and Reed have combined for 58 makes this season. Defending that line is going to be very important once again.
Izundu is the inside force for the Hurricanes on defense with 31 blocks. His backup, Sam Waardenburg, is not nearly the same level of rim protector. It will be important for Elijah Thomas to get Izundu in foul trouble and not the other way around because each team will gain a nice advantage with its center against either team’s backup center.
It will be interesting to see who Brownell deploys David Skara on defensively. Vasiljevic is the more dangerous shooter but Johnson is a better off the bounce player. Simms will no doubt draw Lawrence.
Miami will mix defenses up between man and zone but are just slightly above average as a defensive unit. Clemson is actually rated higher in offensive efficiency and is much higher in defense. The Hurricanes can be trouble if allowed to get the three point shot going, though, as UNC found out when Miami hit 14-31 from distance. Look for Clemson to defend much the way they did against the Hokies to force drives into the longer front line players Skara, Simms, and Thomas.
KenPom gives the Tigers a 57% chance at victory and calls for a 67-65 win. I say the first team to 60 wins this one.