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Clemson Basketball: Virginia Preview (Game 2)

Can the Tigers get a remarkable season sweep of the Hoos?

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Virginia at Clemson

When: Tuesday 9pm
Where: Littlejohn Coliseum - Clemson, SC

Hello STS readers and Happy New Year! Now that Clemson football has finished off yet another 10 win season after a great win in the Cheez-It Bowl, the sporting season now firmly begins to shift to basketball beyond the National Championship Game between UGA and Alabama next week. Clemson has had an unexpected break due to Duke having a COVID-19 pause, so the Tigers now host the last team they played with UVA coming to town.

Although it was unlikely that the Tigers were going to beat the loaded Blue Devils, they probably didn’t like having a break after playing so well in Charlottesville and notching an unexpected blowout of a big nemesis. That game was a role reversal of sorts where Virginia was the team who couldn’t throw it in the ocean standing on the beach while Clemson steadily pulled away with unexpected offensive efficiency vs. the Cavaliers’ vaunted defense. This is not one of the strongest UVA teams of the Tony Bennett era, but beating them is never anything to sneeze at — especially on the road. 2008 was a long time ago and there have been a lot of really poor performances up there between then and Dec 22nd.

Clemson is in good shape inside of KenPom’s top 50 (ranked 37th currently). Although the ACC is having a down year by its standards, the Tigers are in position to make another NCAA tournament if they can just stay the course through league play. That Miami loss was bitterly disappointing, but the Hurricanes have since won five straight and are 3-0 in the conference.

Clemson has been surprisingly very good offensively, particularly by Brad Brownell standards, and boast the 25th-ranked offense according to KenPom’s efficiency ratings. I just hope Clemson can be inside the top 80 on offense so this is well ahead of that curve. It helps when you can make perimeter shots, and this team is doing it better than really any Clemson team has done it in my lifetime. If you had told me the Tigers would be shooting 41% from 3 as a team going into January, I would have probably laughed hard enough to hurt something. Yet, here they are. It is a welcome sight for a team that really lacks a lot of inside punch beyond PJ Hall. We’ve seen the last few Brownell teams shoot a lot of 3’s and many have lamented it, but that approach finally seems to be paying dividends thanks to veteran players showing vast improvement in that area.

If you want to beat the pack-line defense that UVA plays, you better make shots. They make life difficult inside trying to get to the rim and want to hold you to one contested jumper per possession. Clemson made its biggest push of the first game featuring Al-Amir Dawes at 1, Alex Hemenway at 2, and David Collins at 3. Hemenway is currently shooting the lights out having made 11 of his last 14 3-pointers after playing just six combined minutes against Rutgers and Miami, Florida (both losses, of course). While Hemenway is not as strong an on-ball defender as Nick Honor, Dawes, or Chase Hunter, his offensive punch is undeniable. The Honor/Dawes pairing has its limits due to their relative lack of size. Honor in particular struggles to make plays off the dribble and is not a particularly effective finisher around the rim. Clemson got excellent bench production against UVA in game 1 from Hemenway, Naz Bohannon, Ian Schieffelin, and Chase Hunter.

Defensively this is not one of the best Clemson teams in recent memory, but they are still relatively stingy. Clemson did an excellent job making a role player do the majority of the heavy lifting for UVA in game one. While Reece Beekman had a career night, blowing away his previous career high in points with 20, the remaining Cavaliers had a horrific outing with every other player having an offensive rating well below 100 for the game. Clemson will make that trade every time.

I certainly expect a much tighter game this time around, but the good news is the Tigers are at home. There have to be seeds of doubt with the UVA players even though they did bounce back to beat Syracuse on the road this past Saturday. The first ten minutes should tell us the story. Can Clemson shake off game rust quickly and set the tone like they did in Charlottesville when they started 3-3 on 3-pointers? Can P.J. Hall stay out of foul trouble? Clemson is in a bad spot when Hall has to sit for extended periods.

It is very hard to call this game considering the long layoff for the Tigers. KenPom likes the Tigers 64-58. Once again it should come down to the first team to hit 60.