When: Wednesday 5pm
Where: Carrier Dome; Syracuse, NY
I began this season making a fairly bold prediction that the Tigers would finish in the top 6 of the ACC, despite being projected in the bottom third coming in. Now the Tigers are in a very good position to surpass even that lofty goal and secure its second top 4 double bye in the ACC tournament since that format was adopted. The 2018-19 team that made the Sweet Sixteen was the last team to do it. Syracuse presents the stiffest test of the two games remaining, not just because of their talent but because this is a road game. Clemson handled the Orange in impressive fashion back on Feb. 6th as they harassed ‘Cuse into a putrid 3 point shooting performance (5-20).
Syracuse saw their dim NCAA tournament hopes grow much dimmer until pulling out a 72-70 win over fellow bubble team UNC. The Orange are still on the wrong side of things, but a win over Clemson could definitely put them back in the conversation. There is no doubt they will be in desperation mode. Clemson is a virtual lock for the NCAA now, and it will be interesting to see how the team responds to being in that position. Securing the double-bye in the tournament should be all the motivation they need because it all but removes a truly damaging loss from the equation.
Syracuse is decent defensively but really wants to score and push the pace. Their zone can still be bothersome, but Clemson was able to score 78 points in game one, which was just 3 off their season high and well above the average for the team. Clemson was able to do a lot of damage with Aamir Simms, Hunter Tyson, Clyde Trapp, and Jonathan Baehre taking turns operating out of the high post. It is really hard to zone a team who can put a real threat at that spot. As long as Clemson doesn’t get sloppy on the sidelines and especially short corners, where Syracuse will trap every time, finding good looks shouldn’t be too difficult. Hopefully guys like Alex Hemenway, Nick Honor, and Al-Amir Dawes can continue to knock down some three point looks when they present themselves. Clemson is well equipped to handle Syracuse defensively if the Tigers can get set and keep the Orange out of transition.
Clemson dominated the glass in the first meeting. That will be another huge key to victory in this game. The Tigers pulled 31 defensive rebounds and held Syracuse to just 12 offensive boards. Clemson isn’t a great offensive rebounding team but managed 11 against the zone, which is one of the things you have to exploit. Syracuse had to play a hard fought game against UNC on Monday and has a very limited bench, so hopefully the Tigers can exploit that with their extended man to man pressure and get into the legs of the Orange.
KenPom has this as almost a toss up, ever so slightly favoring Syracuse 68-67 with just 51% confidence. Brad Brownell has had good success against Syracuse recently with three straight wins, but all of those have been at home. Clemson’s last win at Syracuse was in overtime in 2016. I can talk myself into a win as easily as into a loss for this game.