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Clemson Basketball: Clemson vs Boston College Preview

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Don’t look now, but the Tigers suddenly find themselves in an interesting position heading into Chestnut Hill.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 09 Notre Dame at Clemson Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Clemson vs Boston College

Where: Chestnut Hill, Mass. (Conte Forum)

When: Saturday, February 22nd, 6 PM EST

How to Watch: ACCN

Clemson (13-12) (7-8 ACC)

The Tigers come into this game smoking hot after handily dispatching Pittsburgh on the road and Louisville in Littlejohn last week.

In fact....

With the majority of their players now healthy, the Tigers are hitting their stride down the stretch. Brad has found a rotation he’s comfortable with after searching all season for the right mix, and Alex Hemenway has come on strong to provide the Tigers with much needed scoring from beyond the arc.

The thing is...we’ve seen this before from this Clemson team. The Tigers three-game heater in January (NC State, North Carolina, Duke) ended with a thud on the road at Raleigh to the Wolfpack. The Tigers have a manageable schedule down the stretch, and ample opportunity to pick up road wins against beatable opponents.

KenPom currently has Clemson finishing 2-3 down the stretch with wins over BC (Away) and Georgia Tech (Home) and losses to Georgia Tech (Away), Florida State (Home) and Virginia Tech (Away).

That said, all of those games are predicted to be within 5 points. If Clemson can flip the script and finish 4-1, or even 3-2 with losses to Georgia Tech and Florida State, the Tigers would find themselves sitting at 17-13 or 16-14, respectively. If the Tigers can stay hot and win four of five heading into the ACC Tournament they would have a winning ACC record, at 11-9. Winning three of five puts the Tigers at 10-10. For all the weeping and gnashing of teeth, this team isn’t far out of the NCAA Tournament conversation.

They’ve got some big wins and a few of their losses that may be discounted because of injury. I had all but given up hope on the tournament, but I’ve been pulled back in, despite my better instincts. Clemson has a path forward right now, it’s a narrow path, and they need Duke and Louisville to get their crap together and NC State to finish strong, but it’s a path none-the-less.

Of course, none of this matters if the Tigers lay an egg at Boston College. Their NCAA tournament resume is in desperate need of road wins, and a winnable road game lays before them tomorrow.

Boston College (13-14) (7-9 ACC)

The Eagles are coming off a 78-65 road loss to Virginia. The Eagles have been the definition of an up-and-down team in February, alternating wins and losses. They’ve managed to knock off North Carolina, Virginia Tech and NC State, while losing to Duke, Miami, and Virginia.

Their last home game was an impressive 71-68 win over the Wolfies. I’m not exactly sure what to expect from this BC team, but I think Clemson can leave Massachusetts with a victory if the good version of the Tigers show up Saturday night.

B.C. Starting Lineup

C - #21 - Nik Popovic - 6’11, 255 - Sr. - 11.1 PTS, 5.3 REB

F - #41 - Steffon Mitchell - 6’8, 220 - Jr. - 7.1 PTS, 8.4 REB

F- #1 - Jairus Hamilton - 6’8, 235 - So. - 9.7 PTS, 4.4 REB

G - #5 - Jay Heath - 6’3, 175 - Fr. - 12.8 PTS, 2.1 AST

G - #11 - Derryck Thornton - 6’3, 195 - Sr. - 13.1 PTS, 3.6 AST

Key Bench

G - #3 - Jared Hamilton - 6’4, 205 - Sr. - 8 PTS, 2.4 REB

G - #2 - Julian Rishwain - 6’5, 190 - Fr. - 3.5 PTS, 1.7 REB

F - #0 - CJ Felder - 6’7, 230 - Fr. - 5.8 PTS, 3.9 REB

Injury Concerns

Derryck Thornton, former 5* Duke and USC transfer, missed B.C.’s last game with ongoing back issues that have forced him out of action a few times this season. Needless to say, he’s an important player and Clemson’s job gets significantly easier if he can’t suit up. Even if he does suit up, back injuries are difficult to play through (ask Larry Bird) and may limit his overall effectiveness. He’ll be a game time decision.

Stephon Mitchell injured his ribs against UVA on the second possession of the game. Sat out a while, and then came back less than 100% in a gutty performance. Much like a bad back, injured ribs are tough to play through (I speak from experience). I expect Mitchell to give it a go, but it will be interesting to see how he holds up as the game wears down and he takes a few bumps.

Boston College On Offense

All things run through the two seniors on this Eagles squad. Popovic is a classic pick and pop Euro big man shooting 35% from deep. When the Eagles pair him with hyper-athletic Thornton on the pick and pop (or roll), it puts teams in a bind defensively. If Thornton is ready to go, expect a steady diet of Popovic and Thornton early.

Also look for Popovic to post early and look to take advantage of the smaller Simms in the paint. Aamir has done a decent job of holding up against traditional 5’s this year, and he’ll have to do it again on Saturday. If I’m B.C., I’m going at Simms early to see if I can draw a few cheap ones and get the Tigers best player on the bench.

Jay Heath has come on strong for BC down the stretch. He put up 18 against UVA, going the full 40 minutes with Thornton sidelined with a back injury. He’s a legit threat from deep, and has been hot recently, going 2-4 against UVA and 3-7 vs NC State. If Thornton starts turning the corner on the pick and roll, look for him to kick to Heath for catch and shoot 3s. Clemson can’t over react to the drive and leave Heath open, or he’ll be the next in a long line of players that have a career night from deep against the Tigers.

Boston College on Defense

The Eagles are fairly pedestrian to bad on defense in most analytic categories, but the one category they do well in is turnovers and steals. Mitchell in particular is adept at picking pockets and jumping in passing lanes, averaging 2.2 steals a game, but he’s not the only Eagle with sticky fingers on defense. Heath, Thornton, Popovic, and Hamilton all average a steal a game.

BC is going to be aggressive at home and I look for them to ratchet up the pressure on both Trapp and Dawes in the back court. Dawes is averaging 2.5 turnovers a game and Trapp isn’t a ton better with 1.7 per game. They’re going to need to make good decisions with the ball, and at worst, limit their turnovers to dead ball turnovers. Clemson doesn’t want to give a BC team that at times labors to put the ball in the hoop easy buckets and momentum off turnovers.

Clemson Wins If

Simms stays out of foul trouble and takes advantage of Popovic on defense. I expect Simms to have a bright green light to attack the BC center off the dribble. If he can get Popovic in foul trouble or force him off the court (unlikely) because he can’t guard him, the Tigers job on defense gets much easier.

Even if Simms plays to his potential, and takes advantage of weak BC rebounding Clemson will need either Newman, Trapp, or Mack to step up and give Clemson additional scoring punch. Newman was a killer against Louisville, and if that version of John Newman III the Tiger will be in business, but more likely, it’s going to need to be Tevin Mack finishing his long and winding college career in stellar fashion. He’s got the talent, and if he’s ever going to consistently put it together, now would be the time to start.

Boston College Wins If

They guard Clemson hard inside the arc, give up some open 3s, and the Tigers miss them. Sometimes the key to beating this Clemson team is to set back and watch them beat themselves with bad outside shots and stagnant offense. Expect BC to challenge Clemson to beat them from deep early in the game, and adjust if Clemson brings their shooting shoes. You might see Hemenway early if BC defends Clemson like I think they might.

On offense, they could really use a healthy Thornton, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen. If he’s limited, or can’t go, it all falls on the shoulders of the freshman Heath. He’s been hot of late, and his match up with either Trapp or Dawes should be interesting to watch. If he’s matched up with Dawes, I look for BC to target that match up early and often. Clemson, on occasion, can give up big games to good guards. BC wins if they get one from either Heath or Thornton.

Prediction

KenPom

Clemson 65 - B.C. 63 (61% confidence)

Drew

Clemson 73 - B.C. 67

Don’t let me down boys.