When: Wednesday 12pm
The roller coaster basketball season is reaching its apex as the Tigers enter the ACC tournament at 9-9 and the 9th seed. The Tigers have been playing much better basketball as a whole down the stretch, but near misses against North Carolina and Louisville make this game with NC State a probably must-win for NCAA tournament hopes. My Wofford Terriers helped the cause by finishing the Southern Conference Championship last night, but losses in the finals by Lipscomb and Radford in their tournaments hurt a little. Wofford is the biggest deal because they would have been in either way, so their win keeps UNCG out and frees up an at large spot. Clemson needs to take the guess work out by winning Wednesday.
Clemson fans remember well the last meeting with the Wolfpack when the Tigers blew a golden opportunity for a quadrant 1 road win, losing on a very deep three at the buzzer after the usually clutch Marcquise Reed missed four straight free throws for probably the first time in many years. Reed was “honored” as 3rd team All-ACC yesterday, but he clearly felt it a slight as do most who have paid attention to his stellar play. I fully expect Reed to use this stage as a way of showing the ACC writers he is better than they thought.
The Tigers have been playing better than the Pack down the stretch, and NCSU went from being an NCAA-lock to teetering on the bubble thanks to a loss to Georgia Tech at home last week. The Pack did look very good in crushing Boston College on the road last time out, though, so this will be a full tilt battle of two desperate teams on Wednesday.
Looking back at game 1, the first thing that jumped out was that Elijah Thomas is a serious matchup problem for the Pack. He had his way with them inside nearly all game long, scoring 18 on 8-11 shooting in only 26 minutes. Unfortunately, Clemson got a poor shooting night out of Reed and got outscored 27-0 on 3 point baskets, including that fateful dagger from Braxton Beverly at the buzzer.
The good news is that Clemson lost by 2 on the road with Reed and Shelton Mitchell having bad nights going a combined 8-24 from the floor and 0-3 on 3’s. Mitchell scored just 9 points and had 4 turnovers to no assists. Either of those guys plays more like he can and the Tigers would have won going away. You would have to think one, if not both, will be better this time. As usual, Elijah Thomas will need to avoid early foul trouble so the Tigers can play through him and force the Pack to double team to stop him.
The Wolfpack like to play with more pace and use more full court pressure than a lot of teams in the league. The Tigers weren’t terrible in the first meeting with 15 turnovers, but 7 of those came from point guards Mitchell and Clyde Trapp. This is very likely going to be a 2-3 possession game so any reduction in turnovers can be the difference in the end.
Wing CJ Brice really hurt the Tigers the first time out, posting 15 points and a stellar 137 offensive rating. He might draw more of David Skara this time around after Skara mostly guarded Torin Dorn in game 1. The Tigers did a good job of getting to the free throw line in the first game, going 17-26. but Reed’s untimely misses loomed large. Still, I think most Tiger fans will take their chances should Reed see the line 14 times like he did that day.
The winner of this game has the unenviable task of facing Virginia on Thursday, but the Tigers would be playing that game with house money should it win this one. I’ve reflected on how different the narrative on this team would be had it gone just 3-3 in the games that were decided by 2 points as opposed to 1-5. The team would be 21-10 and above .500 in the ACC right now, locked into the NCAA tournament. Clemson is certainly more deserving of going at the moment than perceived lock Syracuse, but the Orange have the all important winning ACC record and marquis wins over Duke and Louisville.
Wednesday should be fun and hopefully the senior-laden Tigers are ready to make a run that will make fans forget much of the frustration that has come from this season of high expectations. All signs point to the administration sticking with Brad Brownell, so even fans who are tired of him should pull for success here which will hopefully help his continued efforts to build the program into a more regular NCAA tournament level team.
KenPom says Tigers 71-70. I’m going all in on Marcquise Reed going off with Eli and carrying the Tigers to a win, say 73-64.