Clemson at North Carolina
When: 2:00pm, Saturday, February 11th
Where: Dean Smith Center “Dean Dome” - Chapel Hill, NC
TV: ESPN 2
North Carolina was once ranked No. 1 in the country. Clemson was once 10-1 in the ACC and well-positioned to win just their second-ever ACC Regular Season Championship. Now both are looking to rebound from losing streaks.
Clemson just dropped back-to-back games for the first time all year. They went to Boston College on January 31st and built an early advantage, blew the lead and fell behind by double-digits, and then rallied only to come up just short. Boston College’s relentlessly aggressive defense seemed to fluster Clemson.
Losing to Boston College is a big ding on the resume, but the Eagles are playing much better lately. They’ve won four of their last six including a win over Virginia Tech, who continues to be a NET darling ranking at 55th (likely thanks to an exceptional season last year) despite being 4-9 in ACC play.
Clemson then lost to Miami in Littlejohn Coliseum. While losing home games is devastating given how hard it is to make it up on the road, Miami is excellent. They’re 10-4 in the ACC and followed up their win over Clemson with a win over Duke. The NET rightly ranks them in the top 30.
Even if Clemson’s back-to-back losses don’t spell doom, a third loss may. Clemson is surprisingly 2-1 in their last three contests against the Tar Heels including a win in their last trip to the Dean Dome. The analytics haven’t been kind to Clemson this year, but they don’t love UNC either. NET ranks North Carolina just 45th. The Tigers should be fully healthy with Brevin Galloway, Chase Hunter, and Alex Hemenway all in the lineup.
North Carolina is just 7-6 in ACC play, but they’re 5-1 at home and have some star power. Armando Bacot is their biggest name. The 6-foot-11 senior from Virginia leads the Heels in points (17.5) and rebounding (11.3). He can be a monster around the basket and the Tigers will need PJ Hall and Ben Middlebrooks to come ready for battle. Coach Brownell has pulled Hall in late game defensive situations at times this year. As such, it’ll be interesting to see if he can limit Bacot without getting into foul trouble.
Caleb Love and RJ Davis are the UNC guards to watch. Both average right around 16 points and 3 assists. Love is only shooting 29.4% from 3-point territory but averages a whopping 7 attempts per game. Unfortunately, he has made 10-27 in the last three games so he comes in shooting well and won’t be shy.
I am not going to pick Clemson to go to Chapel Hill and beat the Tar Heels, but it is not out of the question. This is as much of a must win as a game there can ever really be for Clemson when playing in Chapel Hill. Clemson’s next five games after this are all very losable, especially road games at NC State and Virginia. In a sense, this is their last stand for an ACC regular season title. If they win, they remain in control of their destiny. A loss drops them into a third place tie with Miami (who holds the tie-breaker). I’d go as far as saying they won’t earn a double-bye in the ACC tournament if they drop this contest. It is that big.
Clemson guard Chase Hunter had 26 points in the win over Florida State, but just a combined 18 points in the Tigers’ losses to Boston College and Miami. Clemson’s post players are the steady contributors that keep them going, but they will need one of the guards to step up and have a big day to earn this road win. Chase Hunter may need to be that guy if Clemson is to win two in a row in Chapel Hill.