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Clemson vs Pittsburgh Preview

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Prepare yourself for a battle of ACC titans tonight.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 15 Boston College at Clemson Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Clemson (10-8, 2-5 ACC) vs Pittsburgh (7-11, 2-5 ACC)

When: 6:00 ET

Where: Clemson, South Carolina

What Chanel: ACCN

Clemson

The Tigers come into this game losers of 4 out of the last 5. Last time out they were beat down by an average Syracuse team, which, to be fair (cue Letterkenny), is better than losing to a bad Boston College team at home. Let’s uhhh...consider this progress.

P.J. Hall is a light in the darkness for the Tigers. He’s stuck in the swamp of sadness that is 2022 Clemson basketball, but he must keep fighting. The 6’10” sophomore continues the Sisyphean task of attempting to drag Clemson to victory, and will once again start at the bottom of the hill tonight. Against Syracuse, the offense showed up, but the defense stayed home. If you told me a Brad Brownell team scored 78 points against Syracuse, I would be fairly confident the game ended with Clemson on top. Instead, they allowed Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard to go off for a combined 48 points. In fact Syracuse had the #1, 2, 5, and 6 leading scores in the game. Not going to win many when you let the other teams top two guys go off, and you let their role players go off as well.

Needless to say, what this team lacks in talent, they also lack in heart, basketball I.Q. and basically anything else required to be a consistent basketball team. They don’t defend, and if they’re not hitting 3’s, they’re not scoring. Dawes went 2-7 against Syracuse and also went 2-7 from deep. I would like to have words with whoever convinced the once quick, penetrating guard with ability to get into the heart of the defense that he is Steph Curry. The guy who pushed the ball the length of the court to knock off FSU is not the same guy playing for Clemson today. I miss the old Dawes.

The only bright spot that I can find over the last several games, outside of P.J. and the steady David Collins, is the emergence of Chase Hunter as an actual ball player. I was high on his ability coming out of high school, but he’s never been able to translate what I saw on film to the college hardwood. He’s still not there, but he’s gone from not good to decent, and I hope he starts grabbing minutes from both Dawes and Honor. Hunter still has room to grow, and with the NCAA tournament off the table, the rest of this year should be focused on getting the younger guys ready for next year (although who knows if they’ll even be on the squad next year).

Pitt

Fortunately for the Tigers, Pitt is also a basketball pit of despair. KenPom has them ranked 173rd, which isn’t great. That said, Clemson has lost games to the 81st ranked KenPom team (St. Bonaventure), the 93rd ranked KenPom team (Rutgers), the 87th ranked KenPom team, Virginia, and the 142nd KenPom team (Boston College). If the Tigers are looking for rock bottom, losing to this Pitt squad is bedrock.

With that being said, Pitt hasn’t been winning many games, but they’ve been playing teams close. They’ve lost 3 games by 1 point (Minnesota, UVA, Notre Dame). and 3 by 5 or less (Monmouth, Louisville, UVA). The Panthers have been close, but haven’t managed to hit shots when it matters most. They’re not good at basketball, but they try hard and make teams work for their wins, which is more than you can say about Clemson recently.

They are led by 6’9” sophomore forward John Hugley. He paces the Panthers in points (15.8) and rebounds (8.1). He’s a bit of a throwback player who actually operates inside the arc, and spends a good bit of time at the free throw line. That could be an issue for a Clemson team desperately thin on players over 6’6” who are prepared to play college basketball.

Match Up To Watch

Hunter Tyson vs John Hugley

I think this one tells the story. If Tyson can stay out of foul trouble and keep Hugley in check, Clemson wins this game. Pitt likes to play Hugley at center, but it would be a serious mistake to have P.J. guard him. I expect to see Tyson on Hugely and P.J. on 6’10” power forward Mouhamadou Gueye. That changes if Hugley get Hunter out of the game. The only other option to guard him is P.J. Hall, and if that happens, look for the Panthers to go at him every possession until they knock him out of the game. I love P.J.’s game, but in a weird way, he almost plays too hard and picks up hustle related fouls. When he’s not on the floor, Clemson goes from an average team with a puncher’s chance to win most games, to team that folks who sat through the Shyatt era find very familiar.

At the same time, if Tyson can get aggressive on offense, which he is capable of doing once every 4 or 5 games, and gets Hugley in foul trouble, it could be smooth sailing for the Tigers. Basically, Hugley is Pitt’s equivalent to P.J. Hall. When he’s not in the game, they are hot garbage and struggle to do score and rebound. Hopefully this is the game Tyson remembers he’s actually a good athlete with a solid skill set and not a role player being forced to start.

Clemson Wins If....

This is basically a copy and paste from every preview I write.

P.J. Hall stays out of foul trouble and the Clemson guards do something other than chucking 3’s towards the general vicinity of the rim, while getting 3’s shot directly in their eye on defense. Avoiding turnovers would also be nice, but I’ll take not chucking while getting lit up by their opposite number today.

I thought the Tigers would be better at executing this game plan, and remain both frustrated and disappointed. Clemson is the better team by almost every metric, but that hasn’t mattered this season.

Pitt Wins If...

Hugely controls the interior, gets Hall in foul trouble and the Clemson guards help them out. They’re going to need Clemson’s help to win, but Clemson’s back court (David Collins excluded) has been more than willing to lend a hand this season. If this game is a referendum on basketball skills, Clemson should win. If it’s a referendum on toughness and GRIT, the edge goes to the Panthers.

This is a soft Clemson team and the Panthers will need to exploit that.

Prediction

KenPom

Clemson 73 - Pittsburgh 62 (16% confidence)

Drew

I refuse to predict any more Clemson games.