When: Tuesday, 6:30pm
Where: Blacksburg, Va. (Cassell Coliseum)
TV: ACC Network
The undefeated Clemson Tigers delivered an impressive performance in Atlanta against a potent Alabama team who will be a factor in the SEC race this season. Clemson once again applied heavy man-to-man pressure for 40 minutes, making life miserable for the Crimson Tide who love to run and score. Clemson’s impressive depth was a key as leading scorer Aamir Simms was saddled with early foul trouble, then key forward reserve Hunter Tyson was knocked from the game with a concussion just as he was putting together a great game. PJ Hall and O-Max (Olivier Maxence-Prosper) stepped in and helped the Tigers build a lead in the first half.
Now the most important games of the season begin - conference games. Virginia Tech got the Tigers off to a very sour note last season when they came into Littlejohn and won despite being very lightly regarded heading into the season. The Hokies then swept the Tigers with the much later second outing even as they were struggling down the stretch of the season and Clemson had seemed to find itself. It is important that Brad Brownell not let Mike Young get the better of him again this year.
The next challenge for Clemson is handling success. Folks have started taking notice of the team. The Tigers have already risen to 19 in the KenPom rankings and 24 in the AP Poll. Virginia Tech has had a little issue with this after a strong start to the season featuring a major upset win over a top 10 Villanova team. The Hokies have since gotten blown out at home by Penn State and struggled to beat lowly VMI the game before that. Virginia Tech really hurt the Tigers last year with their 3-point shooting and ability to break the defense down to create those opportunities. The VT guards absolutely dominated both times. Now Clemson should be in much better position to put a wrench in the Hokies’ attack thanks to having Nick Honor to help out Al Amir Dawes with pressuring the ball. Clemson’s rim protection is a lot better this season as well, and the Alabama game featured several blocks from different guys.
Virginia Tech lost star wing Landers Nolley who transferred to Memphis. Nolley absolutely killed Clemson in the first game last year, so I won’t miss seeing him in maroon. The Hokies have added Delaware transfer Justyn Mutts, Kansas State transfer Cartier Diarra (West Florence alum), and Wofford transfer Keve Aluma is now eligible just like Nick Honor for Clemson. Aluma has made an impact in the post for VT, scoring double figures in every game except the loss to Penn State. The Tiger big men need to do a good job limiting Aluma’s impact inside because it will open up the perimeter options for the team otherwise. Penn State did this very well and held the Hokies to just 55 points.
Other Hokies to watch are guards Tyrece Radford, Nahiem Alleyne, and Wabissa Bede. Bede in particular got the better of Dawes and Trapp last season, using his strong build to muscle his way inside to set up his teammates. Bede is also a capable 3-point shooter. Nick Honor is built very similarly and should really help Clemson do a better job containing Bede this year. Hunter Cattoor is their version of Alex Hemenway and must be forced to drive when he is in the game. Cattoor is 7-14 on three’s so far this season.
Like last year, the Hokies are very guard oriented. Aluma is their one true inside threat and Clemson has a host of bodies to throw at him from Simms to Hall to Prosper to Tyson to Baehre. If you have read this blog for long, you will know I’m a Wofford alum for my undergrad (Clemson for graduate). I have a ton of respect for Mike Young, and he is an excellent offensive mind while also having his teams be tough defensively. Young took a VT team with a huge roster overturn last season and made it competitive, beating Clemson twice and notching some huge wins over Michigan State in the Maui Invitational and on the road at Syracuse. He’s already knocked off Villanova this season, so Clemson will need to play well in a true road game (albeit with very limited fan presence). This is the first true road game of the season for the Tigers.
Clemson just played a team who really tries to attack with 3-pointers and did an awesome job limiting those looks. That will be the formula once again, though VT will not play with the same pace as the Crimson Tide. VT likes to get their 3’s off inside/out action or running guys off multiple stagger screens or flares. Young gives his players options to adjust cuts and using screens based on how the defense is guarding them. This is extremely hard to deal with if the Hokies are on the same page. Heavy ball pressure can help prevent the precision that this usually takes.
Clemson also needs to dominate the glass like they did against Alabama. VT isn’t anywhere as big and strong inside as Purdue and Mississippi State. The Aluma vs. Simms matchup will be very interesting to watch, as well as Bede vs. Dawes and Honor. In my mind, those are the two matchups that will determine who wins this game.
KenPom likes Clemson by a single point 64-63. Barring a terrible shooting performance, which is always possible for Clemson, I just think the Tigers have too much depth to throw at the Hokies and can guard the perimeter much better than last season. I’ll take the Tigers 68-54.