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Clemson Basketball: Notre Dame Preview

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Let’s flip the coin again!

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Clemson Dawson Powers-USA TODAY Sports

When: Wednesday 7 p.m.

Where: Notre Dame

TV: RSN

Clemson men’s basketball has typically been a crapshoot during the Brownell era. His history is littered with head scratching losses and shocking wins. This 2021-2022 team has me saying “flip a coin” as much or more than any season I can remember to this point. I felt the Tigers would beat Miami, and they did for most of the game before folding. I thought they had no shot at winning at UVA but they went and won handily. I chalked that up to a much weaker than usual UVA squad and had hope they could sweep them with the return game at home...of course that didn’t happen. Then the Tigers went to Raleigh where they have had a good bit of futility and won.

I have no idea other than to predict against my gut instincts.

At its best, this team can be ruthlessly efficient on offense and punish teams from the perimeter as well as inside through PJ Hall. At its worst, the team suffers defensive breakdowns and its limited size gets exposed. The good news is the ACC is full of flawed teams who can be great sometimes but similarly terrible as well. Notre Dame is an excellent example. The Irish started the season losing five of its first nine games and not beating anyone of consequence other than upsetting Kentucky at home on Dec 11th. This included a bad loss to a rebuilding Boston College team ranked outside the top 100 in KenPom’s ratings.

Since losing to Indiana in the B1G/ACC challenge, the Irish have ripped off five straight wins, including beating North Carolina. Notre Dame, as usual, is a strong offensive team who can really hurt you from the perimeter. Their offensive numbers have improved a great deal and they are shooting it a lot better during this win streak. Mike Brey is one of the best offensive minds in college basketball and the Irish are normally very difficult to guard.

Their Achilles’ heel, usually, is on the defensive side of things. Brey slants his recruiting towards skill and hopes to grow his group defensively. This sometimes works well but sometimes does not. This team is barely inside the top 100 defensively, which is actually an improvement for the Irish. They were ranked 203rd last year during a very disappointing 11-15 campaign.

When Brad Brownell can find some offensive efficiency inside the top 100 to go with his defense, his teams are typically very good. The reverse is true for Brey. His teams that crack the top 100 defensively have won 20 or more five out of the five seasons in which that has happened since 2015’s 32-6 ACC Title team. This Irish team is on pace to do that at the moment, but the sample size is limited considering the Irish have only started the conference gauntlet.

Bottom line is this is a road game (which is never easy in the league) against a red hot team, and Clemson just won its last game. All that normally tells my gut that the Tigers will lose. Of course, this is the perfect time for them to actually win. I’ll just put out what I see at the path to victory, should it occur.

Job 1: DEFEND. While this is a much better offensive team than we typically see from a Brownell unit, the defense has just been OK a lot of the time. Some of that is due to lack of size with the starting backcourt and some of that is due to the lack of a pure rim protector. Some of it is due to periodic breakdowns. This third category has to be eliminated because the Irish will certainly make the Tigers pay for breakdowns in communication and/or coverage responsibilities.

The Irish play seven guys when it matters and all but forward Paul Atkinson are willing to pull it from 3. Prentiss Hubb, Blake Wesley, and Dane Goodwin form a strong backcourt trio. The Tigers need to make Atkinson and fellow post Nate Laszewski beat them and hope they don’t foul out P.J. Hall and Hunter Tyson in the process. Clemson also needs to keep ND under eight made three-pointers.

Job 2: Get Al-Amir Dawes and PJ Hall going at the same time. This was the key last time out, and Clemson has lost when both guys have been under 100 in ORtg. Hall should be a problem for the Irish inside as they are even worse at blocking shots than the Tigers. Clemson should be able to operate offensively like they want to, which means they can get open looks and will need to knock them down, which they have been good about this season.

Ultimately these teams are pretty similar, and Clemson is a little better defensively. KenPom has Notre Dame winning 73-71 with 56-percent confidence. My gut agrees with them, but —as I noted earlier — I’m picking against that and rolling with the Tigers 75-72.