When: Saturday 2PM
Where: Louisville’s KFC Yum Center
Clemson avoided a disaster at home against Wake in a must win game on Tuesday night. Hunter Tyson came to the rescue on a rare tough night from Aamir Simms. Former Tiger Terrence Oglesby is a good follow on Twitter and had some good insight to the issues Wake presented. Clemson had to go from facing pressure/deny man defenses from NCSU, UNC, and Duke to a matchup zone around a 7 footer. The zone helped mitigate a lot of the matchup advantages Simms might otherwise have had vs. Saar and allowed the Deacs to keep him in the paint defensively. I can certainly say as a coach myself that sometimes this type of defensive change from what you’ve been seeing, even if you ordinarily feel you match up well against it, can throw your team out of rhythm. Luckily, the Tigers found enough to pull that one out because this next game is an extremely tough one.
Louisville enters this contest at the top of the ACC at 7-1 and 16-3 overall. They are a legitimate final 4 contender. The Tigers will absolutely have to play at the level they did against Duke to have a chance in this one. Clemson actually played pretty well in the last trip to Louisville, losing in heartbreaking fashion on a blocked shot at the rim. Of course, that was with an almost entirely different roster of guys playing the major minutes. The Cardinals have a veteran lineup, led by star junior Jordan Nwora, and are coming off a big win at Duke before holding off Georgia Tech by 4. They haven’t really been blowing out teams, but there is a lot to be said for winning when things aren’t easy and they have certainly done that. On the upside, if GT and Pitt can play them tightly, then Clemson should be able to as well in theory.
Louisville has really started looking like the Xavier teams coach Chris Mack had when he was there after a period of transition from the holdovers from the Rick Pitino/David Padgett days. They boast top 25 efficiency ratings in both offense and defense even though they aren’t blocking shots and stealing the ball nearly at the rates they did with Pitino and Padgett. Essentially, they play a lot like Clemson would like to play, just at a more consistent and efficient level. Tough man to man defense, mostly, and motion offense concepts. Louisville shoots the 3 well, ranking 16th in 3 point percentage at 38.2%. They also defend the 3 point line very well, ranking 22nd nationally at 29.2% surrendered. For me, that is a stat differential that matters more and more in the modern era of basketball. It is akin to being able to run the ball and stop the run in football, as teams who do both are usually winning at a high level. For contrast, Clemson shoots the 3 at 32.4% and gives up 31.5% shooting defensively. Our win/loss record is a similarly close 10-8 with the 4-4 ACC mark.
Clemson’s rotation seems to be fairly set after some moving around in the non conference part of the schedule. The top 8 are Simms, Trapp, Mack, Newman, Dawes, Scott, Tyson, and Moore. Chase Hunter might become a factor after finally getting some minutes against Wake. He’s been battling injury almost all season long, but offers a plus perimeter defender against guard play like Wake had. Jemison is the backup center but can’t be expected to log much more than about 12-13 minutes in a game. At this point, it is hard to say that we will see anything from Jonathan Baehre or Alex Hemenway who have been injured, but we shall see.
This is not a game Clemson fans should expect to win. It would be a huge deal if they could pull it off, but going 4-2 in the next 6 games would be pretty ideal without losing grip on reality. 3-3 would be ok. The main thing you are looking for is how the team competes and trying to avoid those painful scoring droughts which have plagued the team during this season. The team certainly has to get the free throw shooting back on track after two horrendous games in a row of sub 50% shooting from the stripe. This team simply can’t afford to blow scoring opportunities at the line when it already deals with streaky shooting from the perimeter.
KenPom says Louisville wins this 69-57. I hope Clemson can break 60 points but we shall see.