When: Tuesday 7PM
TV: ESPN (regular, 2, or U)
I had a preview ready to go for the first game against UNC that was ultimately postponed. My oh my how the fortunes have changed since then. Clemson was #19 and winners of three straight games (ultimately climbing to #12 while idle). Since the return, we have seen the team the media must have figured Clemson would be when they picked the Tigers near the bottom of the league preseason. One line I decided to keep from that first preview was this: “This is by far the best year to go play a game in Cameron Indoor or the Dean Dome.” Welp, that trip to Cameron Indoor was an unmitigated disaster which completely undid all the mojo building a scrappy win over Louisville may have provided. To make matters worse, UNC is playing much better ball now than when that first matchup was scheduled to happen. As Drew pointed out in his Louisville preview, this is all about Clemson vs. Clemson and trying to figure things out to be competitive. Losing to talented ACC teams is one thing, but being repeatedly embarrassed is quite another. Those who choose to follow Clemson basketball with much the same passion as the football program can only take so much of this.
UNC is extremely big and powerful on the front line. This is a mismatch for Clemson that can only be mitigated by the Tiger guards making life miserable for the youthful Tarheel perimeter players. The problem is, the Tiger guards have been pretty darn awful since the COVID break and it has killed the team as a whole. Horrific shooting and poor ball security have in turn led to defensive lapses as games have worn on. Strong initial defensive efforts against FSU and Duke went for naught after long and painful scoring droughts.
Many fans and posters on here have railed against the bevy of three point attempts this team has been taking. My biggest issue is the overall lack of getting to the free throw line by the guards. Clyde Trapp has been about the most consistent guard on the team all year but will obviously never be a volume scorer. Dawes, Newman, Honor, and Chase Hunter simply have to elevate their play. Hemenway has been more aggressive driving it but those others are built more for that type of action, especially Newman and Dawes. When Clemson got rolling for that stretch last season, it was Dawes and Newman who largely spurred it on. Clemson beat Louisville and, lo and behold, it was a game where Dawes stepped up. Dawes isn’t getting to the rim like he did last year or earlier this year and that has to change.
Clemson will need to hold up inside against Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot, Day’Ron Sharpe, and Walker Kessler, all of whom are 6’10” or bigger. UNC is relying on youth at the point guard and so Dawes and Honor will need to win those matchups to help offset the size disadvantage inside. The Tigers must make UNC play against its set defense as much as possible. The Tarheels have bogged down in several games when they haven’t been able to get out in transition. Clemson is still shooting a large number of 3s, and misses there could lead to long rebound run-outs, but it will be important in attacking the Tarheel defense built to protect the rim. Dawes, Honor, and even Trapp and Newman might find finishing very tough against the frontcourt size UNC features. Aamir Simms’s ability to play away from the basket gave the Tarheels fits last year and should be something Clemson can use in its favor this time.
There was no better time than this year for Clemson to take advantage and finish near the top of the league. Teams like Duke and UNC have struggled by their standards. However, it is Virginia Tech who has really risen up to seize the moment while the Tigers have floundered in the last three weeks. A win Tuesday night would be a major shot in the arm, if for no other reason than to keep hope alive. I might even be ok with a loss if the Tigers show that “grit” they keep touting as the program’s mantra. UNC is more talented and if both teams play well, UNC will probably win. If Clemson plays poorly, UNC will definitely win and probably by 20 or more. One more dose of that medicine might be a tipping point.