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Hoops Preview: Notre Dame at Clemson

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NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Opponent: Notre Dame 14-8 (5-6)
Time: 6:00pm
Location: Littlejohn Coliseum - Clemson, SC
TV: ACC Network

The Tigers limped into their 15th game of a year - a home game against NCSU - sitting at 7-7 with five of those wins coming against cupcakes outside of the top 125 of the KenPom rankings (and four outside the top 290). They then went 5-2 beating NCSU, Duke, UNC (in Chapel Hill!), Wake Forest, and Syracuse. The whole season had turned around, leaving us to wonder what clicked and if it was too late to earn a post-season berth.

Then... thud. Clemson was held to 44 points in consecutive road losses to Wake Forest and Virginia. They’re back at .500 at 11-11 (5-7). With eight games remaining, there is potentially just enough room to sneak into the NIT with a strong finish getting them to a solid record around 17-15 (11-11) after the ACC tournament. A loss here ends those hopes. With Clemson baseball starting on February 14th, attention will turn away from basketball if the Tigers can’t hold serve at home against the Irish. So what will the Tigers will be facing when the Irish come to town?

Notre Dame comes in riding a three-game win streak after home wins over Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, and Pittsburgh - a win streak that propelled them to #9 in the ACC above #10 Clemson.

The Irish are led by 6’9” senior John Mooney of Orlando, FL. He is averaging 16.5 points and a whopping 13.5 rebounds per game. He has posted 17+ points and 10+ rebounds in each of his past three games.

The matchup to watch is undoubtedly Mooney vs. Aamir Simms in the post. Simms has ascended to the “best player” role for Clemson this season and come through in big moments (two 3-pointers against UNC and a key assist against Syracuse standout). He’s also struggled at times against great post-players - the first matchup with Wake Forest and 7-footer Olivier Sarr comes to mind. Simms has scored 30 points over his last two games. The Tigers likely need him to continue playing at that level to pick-up the win Sunday evening.

Another player to keep an eye on is Clemson PG Al-Amir Dawes. He struggled with turnovers earlier in the season, committing 25 of them over a brutal seven-game stretch. Since then, his development has become apparent. In the past few games, he’s been threading the needle with passes setting up teammates for transition buckets. The teammates have failed to convert on those, hence the two losses, but it’ll be interesting to watch if those passes continue and if his teammate adjust and start converting them into points.

As a whole, Notre Dame is an offensive-minded team. They have the 23rd most efficient offense and only the 138rd most efficient defense. Conversely, Clemson has just the 197th most efficient offense, but the 39th most efficient defense. Notre Dame is likely the better team. They rank 56th in KenPom compared to Clemson at 95th. They have the best overall player on the court in John Mooney and a Coach who has won the ACC tournament. That said, road wins in the ACC are tough to come by. KenPom actually favors Clemson slightly, giving the Tigers a 52% chance to win. Clemson basketball always comes through with a big win right when you’re on the verge of giving up on them and moving on to the next sport. It is only fitting that Clemson would start a win streak here.

KenPom: Clemson 68, Notre Dame 67
RyKan: Clemson 71, Notre Dame 68