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Clemson Basketball: ACC Tournament Preview

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Clemson is in a surprisingly good place coming into the ACC Tournament. Will it matter?

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 05 Virginia Tech at Clemson Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

(Rolls out television cart)

Welcome to the ACC tournament. If any of y’all had a coach for a history teacher in high school, you know what this means. We’re doing nothing for the rest of the week but watching copious amounts of basketball. In the past, that meant several days of incredible basketball with epic matchups. This year it means we all have access to the same horrifically bad basketball we’ve suffered through all season in the ACC. I’m not one to get in the way of tradition, but I’d rater learn about history than watch the ACC this year.

Even the good teams are average.

Clemson (16-15, 8-12 ACC)

1st Round

Opponent: NC State (11-20, 4-16 ACC)

Where: Barclays Center, Somewhere Up North (New York probably?)

When: 4:30 EST

What Channel: ACC Network

Clemson

In theory, this is how you want to enter the ACC tournament. The Tigers have reeled off 4 straight, are healthy for the first time in months, and dare I say, playing decent basketball (at least in spurts, which is enough this year).

P.J. Hall and Hunter Tyson are back from injury. Chase Hunter has finally found his game (at times). Al-Amir Dawes has turned into instant offense off the bench. Ian Schieffelin and Ben Middlebrooks look capable of providing post depth. This is the team I thought we would see this season.

Vs NC State

On top of Clemson peaking at the right time, the draw isn’t bad until they get to the quarterfinals. NC State is dreadful and are in an death spiral. They’ve won 1 (Georgia Tech) of their last 10 games, and haven’t been competitive in most of those losses. Clemson knocked them off 70-65 in Raleigh on January 8th.

The Wolfpack aren’t just circling the drain, they’re on their way to the sewage treatment plant. KenPom has them ranked 139th in county (Clemson is a robust 81st). What you need to know about the Wolfpack is they steadfastly refuse to play defense. They’re not bad on offense. Dereon Seabron(17.3), Terquavion Smith(16.5), and Jericole Hellems(13.7) all average in double figures, but they are one of the worst defensive teams in the country.

According to KenPom, their adjusted efficiency on defense puts them at 257th in the nation on defense. That’s bad, but it gets worse for the Wolfpack. They are allowing teams to shoot 36.2% from 3 (307th) and 53.3% from 2 (306th). In the past 3 games, they’ve given up 84 to North Carolina, 101 to Wake Forest and 89 to Florida State. While Clemson is peaking, NC State is cratering. I caught a little of their game against FSU, and they didn’t even seem interested in playing defense. It was just something that got in the way of their isolation offense.

Clemson should win this game. I won’t say they should win it going away, because nothing Clemson basketball does is easy, but they should win. The Tigers aren’t great on defense, but they’re good enough (119th Adj efficiency) to slow down the Wolfpack enough to keep them in the 70s. That should be enough to win (he says, with much trepidation).

Predictions

KenPom: Clemson 76 - NC State 71 (68% Confidence)

Drew: Clemson 81 - NC State 73 (0% Confidence)

Second Round

Opponent: Virginia Tech (19-12, 11-9 ACC)

Where: Barclays Center, Somewhere Up North (New York probably?)

When: Wednesday, March 9th, 7 EST

What Channel: ESPN2/ESPNU

VS Virginia Tech

Not sure Clemson could draw a better 2nd round matchup than Virginia Tech. Clemson knows they can beat the Hokies, because they beat the Hokies 63-59 last Saturday (March 5th).

The Hokies are led in scoring by forward Keve Aluma (15.4), followed by Justyn Mutt(10.3) and Nahiem Alleyne (10.2). On Saturday the Tigers clamped down on Aluma and his inside game, limiting him to 7 points. Of course that means that Mutts and Alleyne, both being tall guards/wings, went off for 15 and 17 respectively, because Clemson can’t guard tall guards/wings.

That will probably be the game plan for the Tigers in this hypothetical matchup. Limit Aluma and hope Mutt and Alleyne miss enough shots for Clemson’s offense to win the game. Last Saturday, Clemson went with a balanced attack on offense, with Hall leading the way with 12 points (in 14 minutes), followed by Hemenway(?!) with 11, and David Collins and Al-Amir Dawes with 10. This time around, they’re probably going to get more Hall, but I wouldn’t expect Hemenway to put up 11 points in 16 minutes. It’ll probably take Chase Hunter figuring it out and putting up more than 1 point in 27 minutes for the Tigers to have a chance.

One thing that favors the Clemson is Virginia Tech’s desire to play the game at a glacial pace. Their adjusted tempo is 345th in the nation. They want to get into grind-it-out rock fights. Despite their defensive issues this year, if you want to get into a rock fight, Brad Brownell and Clemson are always down. Ugly basketball is to Clemson what summer heat and humidity is to crabgrass. When things get ugly, Clemson thrives.

This will end up being a miss or make game for the Hokies. They want to slow the game down, play decent defense, and hit enough 3’s to win. They’re currently 4th in the nation in 3 point shooting at 38.8%. If their shots are falling, they win this game. Last Saturday, they shot 30% and lost. That’s what Clemson is going to need on Wednesday, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility. The Tigers will have a warm up game under their belt and Virginia Tech will be coming in cold to a gym most have never played in before. That’s not always great for shooters.

Clemson should keep this thing close (because Virginia Tech tends to keep every game close) and have a shot to win it down the stretch (gulp).

Quarterfinals

Opponent: Notre Dame (22-9, 15-5 ACC)

Where: Barclays Center, Somewhere Up North (New York probably?)

When: Thursday, March 10th, 7 EST

What Channel: ESPN/ESPN2

Vs Notre Dame

I would have much rather had Duke than Notre Dame in this game. I don’t even know what to say other than there is a distinct possibility that Clemson gets run out of the gym if they make it this far. They’ve faced Notre Dame twice this season, and lost 72-56 in South Bend and 76-61 in Clemson. Neither games were as close as the score indicated.

Clemson’s issues against Notre Dame are two fold. The Tigers can’t figure out how to play offense against a zone, and they can’t stop tall wing scores. Notre Dame plays a zone and has tall wing scorers. It’s been a perfect recipe of suck in the first two matchups this season.

The Irish are led in scoring by Blake Wesley (14.8), followed by Dane Goodwin (14) and Paul Atkinson (12.6). Wesley and Goodwin are 6’5” and 6’6” respectively and Clemson has had absolutely no answers for either. In the first matchup, Wesley went for 20 and Goodwin contributed 21 . They switched it around in the second matchup. Wesley went 21 and Goodwin pitched in with 20. If Clemson wants any chance to win this (hypothetical) game, they’ll need to slow down one of these two.

The frustrating thing about Notre Dame is they’re not that great on paper. KenPom currently has them at 47th overall. They’re good in most areas (37th in adj. efficiency on offense and 70th on defense), but not great in any. On defense, they hang out in their zone and ask you to hit shots. They don’t pressure the ball, they don’t force turnovers, and they don’t block shots. They force you into a game of toss the ball around the perimeter and then close out late to 3 point attempts with their long wings. This does not bode well for Clemson’s short guards, who love to throw the ball around the perimeter against a zone and then try and hit late shots from the outside.

The only thing Clemson has going for them in this game is a bit of what they have going for them against Virginia Tech. Notre Dame needs to hit shots from the perimeter to win, and that’s not always easy in a tournament setting. Clemson will have a 2 game head start, and will be more comfortable shooting in the Barclay’s center. When Notre Dame loses, it’s because they go cold from the perimeter and the other team gets hot. That happened in their FSU loss when the Noles hit 41.4% of their 3s and the Irish hit 26%. This is the way forward for Clemson. They’ll need a big night from Dawes and some combination of Hemenway/Honor/Tyson from the outside, paired with a dominant performance on the glass by P.J. Hall.

If Notre Dame brings their A game, they win, regardless of how Clemson plays. It’s going to take Notre Dame’s C game, paired with Clemson’s A game for the Tigers to pull this thing out. That’s never a good thing, especially considering the terrible style match up, but stranger things have happened.

Final

Opponent: ?

Where: Barclays Center, Somewhere Up North (New York probably?)

When: Saturday, March 12th, 8:30 EST

What Channel: ESPN/ESPN2

Vs ?

If Clemson makes it to the final, I’ll put out another preview. Since we’re currently living in the fantasy timeline where Clemson makes it to the finals, I’m going to go ahead and hope for Duke.

Why Duke?

There would be nothing sweeter than beating Coach K. in his final ACC tournament game. The look on his face alone would be worth a 10 year Brad Brownell extension.