When: Friday, 8pm
Where: Littlejohn Coliseum
Welcome back to the always winding road of Clemson men’s basketball! If you are just tuning back in, the Tigers got off to one of the best starts in school history, got COVID in the program, came back struggling like a vintage Larry Shyatt team only to regain some footing recently with impressive wins over Louisville, UNC, and Syracuse. Clemson has a healthy resume at the moment and only needs to hold serve against (on paper) a much lighter stretch of games to complete the regular season. Doing so should deliver the third NCAA tournament bid for Brad Brownell and provide some validation that he is indeed moving things in the right direction.
Georgia Tech comes to town posing a very real and present danger to the Tigers. Georgia Tech, along with UVA, FSU, and Duke, handed Clemson a humbling defeat just a few weeks back. While GT has struggled to emerge from the middle of the ACC pack with Josh Pastner, they have been a big problem for Brownell’s program. Clemson has simply been owned by the Yellow Jacket guards, particularly Michael Devoe, in the last three meetings (all GT wins). The Tigers really need to protect home court once more before heading out on the road for three straight games. There are signs that the team has rediscovered the defensive cohesiveness that propelled the early season surge, but we will see if they can finally find a way to contain DeVoe and/or Jose Alvarado.
GT is not a deep team and generally relies on its starting five to do all the heavy lifting. Those five players all have at least 70% of the minutes the team has played. The only real bench contributors are Kyle Sturdivant and Khalid Moore. The first game saw five guys score 80 of the 83 points GT racked up. The Tigers would be foolish to not work to try to get GT into some foul trouble and force Pastner to use his bench a lot more than he would like. The Tigers failed at this miserably the first game as they drew only 13 total fouls from the Jackets and shot just 7 free throws the entire night.
Clemson actually shot the ball well against GT in game one but took terrible care of the basketball, racking up 20 turnovers. Jose Alvarado is one of the best defenders in the nation, especially at getting steals, and had 4 of GT’s 11 in game one. Clemson obviously has to cut that number nearly in half to expect to win tonight.
GT lit Clemson up from 3-point land in game 1, going for 16-26. That is an absurd number to surrender to anyone, but especially a team like GT who doesn’t rely as heavily on the 3 as some other teams do. Clemson was just a slow and disconnected defensively those first few games back from the COVID break, but the effort the team showed against UNC and Syracuse was much more encouraging. That type of effort will be essential tonight.
The Jackets have won just 2 of the last 6 games during a tough stretch, but remain one of the primary rivals for Clemson in trying to finish top 6 in the ACC. GT dropped a tough one to league leader UVA while Clemson has had nearly a week to rest and prepare. I would expect Clemson to come out of the gates fresh and ready, and the team is about as fully healthy now as it has been all season long.
This game will come down to how Dawes/Honor and Trapp match up with Alvardo and DeVoe, and how Aamir Simms matches up with Moses Wright. Jordan Usher was the out of nowhere factor in game one when he went for a season-high 21 and an uncharacteristic 5-7 on 3-pointers. He is just a 32% shooter from 3 and that number is lower when you take out the first game with Clemson. Still, you would rather he be the guy GT needs to use vs. their usual big 3 of Wright, DeVoe, and Alvarado.
If Clemson can get to 60 points before the opponent, the Tigers almost always win the game. I’m not sure how to actually get the stats for that, but it certainly feels like I say “the first to 60 wins” in a lot of my previews based on watching this program in the Brownell era. GT wants the game to get in the 70s or higher, much like Syracuse. I hoped that Clemson could go at least 6-2 down the stretch. Now that number is 4-2 thanks to two straight wins. GT is still the highest rated team remaining on the schedule, though the Jackets dipped out of KenPom’s top 50 after losing to UVA.
KenPom’s metrics likes Clemson tonight 66-63. I worry about facing GT like I worry about facing VT, but hopefully the recent momentum will carry the Tigers through tonight.