Clemson (12-12, 4-9 ACC) vs Notre Dame (17-7, 10-3 ACC)
When: 7 PM EST
Where: Clemson, South Carolina (home of an excellent softball team)
What Channel?: ACCN
“How could things get any worse? Take a look around here, Ellen. We’re at the threshold of hell!”
Renowned American philosopher Clark W Griswold made this observation in the ground breaking cinematic trestise on the perils of hosting a family Christmas, and I feel it is apropos for the current state of Clemson basketball. Clemson is teetering on the threshold of basketball hell, and any slight breeze could send them toppling into the abyss.
The Tigers are on a three game losing skid, and have won 3 of their last 10 games. Hunter Tyson’s collar bone exploded a few games ago and David Collins is suspended after his brain shorted out against Duke. A team with no margin for error on their best day faces even more adversity today when they face off against Notre Dame, who is tied for first place in the ACC, and has everything to play for. Not going to lie, this looks pretty bleak.
Before I continue this dirge to Clemson basketball, I would like to point out a few positives. P.J. Hall is that dude, Chase Hunter has emerged as a legit player, Ian Schieffelin looked solid with extended minutes against Duke, and Naz Bohannon continues to justify my fan club membership. It’s possible to hate the results while still acknowledging individual accomplishments. These guys care and put it on the line every game.
Now then...back to the lament.
This is a weird Notre Dame team. If you look at their advanced stats, they don’t appear that impressive. In conference play, they’ve feasted on a woeful ACC. They are 8-2 in their last 10 games, losing to both teams they faced ranked in KenPom’s top 50. All their wins in this stretch have come against teams outside the KenPom top 60. At the same time, who cares, just win. Clemson has also played bad ACC teams, but haven’t been nearly as successful (I guess that makes them one of the bad ACC teams).
There isn’t anything that stands out with this Notre Dame team. They’re Ok with their offensive (77th) and defensive (64th) efficiency, and they don’t turn the ball over (28th). They play at a snails pace (290th tempo) and make teams value every possession.
Dane Goodwin leads them in scoring, averaging 14.5 points a game, including shooting 46% from deep. He lit up the Tigers for 21 in their first matchup, and Clemson is even less equipped to cover the 6-6 guard with Collins out. 6’5” freshman guard Blake Wesley is right behind Goodwin in terms of scoring, averaging 14 points a game. He torched Clemson for 20 in their last meeting. A team with 2 athletic wings is the absolute worst case for the Tigers. Collins is the only player remotely capable of guarding a tall wing, and he’s sitting this one out to think about what he’s done. Not great Bob.
The third cog in their 3 pronged scoring machine is senior forward Paul Atkinson. The burley 6’9”, 230 post player averages 12.5 points a game and leads Notre Dame in rebounding with 7.1 a game. He’ll body up on P.J. all game and try and force him to extend his range outside the paint. I’m interested to watch how Clemson’s young stud handles a guy capable of rooting him out of the post.
Outside of the above mentioned players, it’s scoring by committee. They have 3 players that average between 5-10 points a game. This Notre Dame team wins with balance. They’re not great at any one spot, but their top 7 players are all solid. Speaking of which, at least Notre Dame only regularly plays 7 guys. Clemson is short handed, but Notre Dame is in the same boat and likes to play at a glacial pace. They shouldn’t be able to run the Tigers off the court. What they can do is get hot and shoot Clemson off the court. That’s what they did in their 72-56 dismantling of the Tigers earlier in the season. They hit 10 3’s, shot 38.5%, pulled away in the first half and the outcome was never in doubt in the second half.
What to Watch
Clemson will be without 2 of their top 3 rebounders with Tyson and Collins out for the game. Hall can bang on the boards, but it’s going to take more than P.J. to hold down the fort. The Naz/Schieffelin power forward combo better show up with their rebounding shoes on today. When you give up an offensive board to Notre Dame, they’re going to pull the ball out, chew even more clock, and the slow the game down even further. If Clemson wants to compete, they have to keep them off the offensive glass. They only allowed 8 offensive rebounds to Notre Dame in the first matchup, and will need to keep that up, with a significantly smaller lineup.
If Clemson can’t compete on the boards against Notre Dame, this one won’t be in doubt.
Clemson Wins If...
Honestly, I don’t know how Clemson wins this game. I assume it would involve a 20+ point performance from P.J. paired with one guard getting hot and the guards not being awful. That hasn’t happened recently. Clemson’s guard play, a supposed strength coming into the season, has been putrid. Dawes is either real hot or real cold, Nick Honor has been in a horrific slump, to the point where I’m not even sure he’s playable, and Alex Hemenway wouldn’t be playing if there were any other options available. Both Hemenway and Honor have significantly regressed this year in almost every facet of the game.
This probably needs to be a Chase Hunter break out game for the Tigers to have any chance. He came into Clemson with the reputation of a scorer, and we’re finally seeing what all the fuss was about. He could give Notre Dame issues with this ability to drive the ball to the basket.
Notre Dame Wins If...
They keep playing steady basketball. I don’t see how Clemson wins this game without Notre Dame helping out, and that’s not what the Irish do this year. They might not be great in any one area, but they’re good together and they don’t beat themselves. That goes a long way in the 2022 vintage of ACC basketball.
Clemson 70 - Notre Dame 67 (41%)
Clemson 57 - Notre Dame 65