When: Tuesday, 6pm
“Welp.” Not a real word but an expression of having some hope quickly doused. That’s where I find myself after Clemson’s disheartening loss at Georgia Tech on Saturday. It was a loss they simply couldn’t afford against what had been a struggling, bottom feeder team in the league. UNC is having problems of their own, which is more entertaining considering how much they care about men’s basketball, but I can’t help finding myself on a constant cycle of pessimism followed by brief optimism followed by a general apathy. I’m shifting my focus to rooting for dealing painful losses to hopeful teams. Clemson should be able to pull this off a time or two down the stretch before missing the postseason or scraping an NIT bid.
Hunter Tyson’s absence is huge for a program that really can’t afford to lose one of its best players and unquestioned leader. It is much easier to zone Clemson, as GT did with great effect in the first half last game, when your 4 is not a three point shooter. Tyson can make perimeter shots and is better at attacking the rim from the baseline than Naz Bohannon. Naz is a good compliment to Tyson but this team takes a half a step back with his having to assume a leading role. As we all know, Clemson isn’t good enough to take any half steps back and win in this league.
UNC is having a tough year by their standards. They join Clemson in not having a single Quad 1 victory this year. They are fresh off a butt whipping from rival Duke. However, the Tarheels are still well above Clemson in the ACC standings at 8-4 in the league. They can and have feasted on the lower end teams in the conference, where the Tigers are now entrenched. They also, as usual, sport superior size against a team missing one of its best post players, albeit a relatively undersized one, in Hunter Tyson. They are well equipped to attack P.J. Hall inside and try to get him in foul trouble and out of the game. There is always a lot of pressure on Hall to perform to make this Clemson team good, but that pressure goes up in a game like this.
Dawson Garcia’s absence due to personal reasons has hurt the front court depth for the ‘Heels, but when they are rolling, it is usually through Armando Bacot. Bacot has had some monstrous games, such as his 29 point/21 rebound performance vs. Virginia or his more recent 19 point/22 rebound outing over Louisville. Clemson has to find a way to keep him from dominating like that, obviously, because it won’t only hurt on the stat sheet but likely will mean Hall is sitting with fouls. Conversely, if Hall can get Bacot out of the game, that would be a big blow to UNC’s efforts.
UNC has very sporadic guard play. They have had some games where opposing guards just out toughed them and beat them up, such as when Tennessee, Miami, Wake, and Duke throttled the ‘Heels. Can Clemson’s guards turn that trick as well? I’m skeptical, of course, but Al-Amir Dawes played in that game that broke the streak in Chapel Hill. Dawes and Honor played heavy minutes in last year’s 63-50 win over UNC. This would be a pretty devastating loss to UNC as they hope to secure an NCAA birth, which would make it all the sweeter.
To be honest, it is very hard to know what Clemson or what UNC will show up for this game. Both have had some very impressive stretches of play, but both have also flamed out in ways to make you question if they are really any good. UNC has had more dominant performances than the Tigers this year, but they have also been blown out worse. To me, this game comes down to Hall vs. Bacot. Both teams want to make the other win with their guards. If the Tigers had Tyson, I’d feel a lot better, but I’m sure UNC folks feel that way about Garcia when he is out. I guess one positive is UNC rarely, if ever, plays zone defense...