Clemson (21-8, ACC 13-5) vs #13 Virginia (21-6, ACC 13-5)
UVA on Offense
This is a typical UVA team in many ways. They want to play as slow as possible. Their adjusted tempo of 62 is 360th in the nation (out of 362), with an average offensive possession length of 19.3 seconds is 337th (the longer the possession the lower the ranking). Once they have the ball, they don’t turn it over, their 13.8% turnover rate is the 6th best in the nation. Like all Tony Bennett UVA teams, they covet with basketball, and only relinquish it when the shot clock requires they do so. It’s a frustrating style to play against, because it increases the value of every possession. Their are no throw away possessions for your offense, because it’s going to be a while until you see the ball again.
While this team plays like a traditional Tony Bennett team, they don’t shoot like one, and that’s where Clemson can make a move. They are currently shooting 49.5% (218th in the nation) from 2 and only hit free throws at a 69.8% clip (253rd). They somewhat make up for their poor interior and free throw shooting by hitting 36.3%(60th) of their 3’s. Clemson must run them off the line tonight. UVA is almost impossible to beat when they’re shooting well from the outside. Since every possession means more against their slow down style, every 3 pointer is also amplified. If they’re hitting 3’s and you’re hitting 2’s, they win, because you won’t get enough possessions to make up the difference.
Indiana transfer Armaan Franklin leads the way for the Hoos balanced attack, averaging 12.4 points a game. He’s hitting 41.3% of his 3’s on the year, many of the shot clock winding down, back breaking variety. Clemson can’t lose him on defense, or he will make them pay from deep. He’s joined by veteran point guard Kihei Clark in the back court. Clark and Hunter Tyson can meet up after the game and discuss their achy knees and 401K because he’s been running the show for Tony Bennett for approximately 20 years. He’s the last remnant of their National Championship team. Never a prolific scorer, he has saved his best for last (allegedly, I’ll believe he’s gone when I don’t see him on the court next season), averaging 11.5 points a game and hitting 40.2% of his 3’s (both career highs). He also averages 5.7 assists and only 2 turnovers. Clemson must find a way to disrupt him. At 5’10”, 167, he’s a slightly built player who can by bullied by bigger guards. Chase Hunter has to lean on him and make his life difficult, because Clark is the key to their attack. He makes their late clock decisions, when making the correct pass is the difference between a good and bad shot.
On the inside, East Carolina transfer Jayden Gardner leads the way. He’s not typical 4 at 6’6” but his burly 235 pound frame helps him carve out space on the interior for both scoring and rebounding (his 5.4 boards a game leads UVA). He’s adept at powering through contact, finishing at the rim, and drawing contact. Hunter Tyson will get the first shot at guarding him, but I’m concerned about foul trouble. Clemson needs Tyson on the floor, but with UVA’s 3 guard attack, I’m not sure where else to put Hunter. He’ll have to be smart and make his fouls count.
Overall, Clemson has to remain patient on defense. UVA wants to put you in rotation early in a possession to punish mismatches late. The Tigers can’t get caught scrambling because Clark will beat them with a pass late in the clock if all 5 defenders aren’t working in unison. Against UVA, it’s a miss/make proposition. They’re going to get a shot off late, and Clemson needs to make it as difficult as possible.
They need misses.
UVA on Defense
Welcome to pack line defense hell. UVA’s vaunted defense, after back-to-back below average seasons(for UVA), has an 95.8(27th) adjusted efficiency. They are back to smothering opponents, only allowing 3 teams to score over 70 on them this season. Their offense keeps teams out of transition because they don’t turn the ball over or take bad shots. Once the ball slows down in the half court, they build a wall in front of the paint and force you to hit deep or mid-range shots to beat them. While their 19.8 (88th) turnover percentage isn’t elite, because of their style of play, each turnover almost counts double. They’re not going to give you possessions back on offense. Each turnover is a sentence to another 30 seconds of guarding their offense.
They make life tough in the paint. Teams are shooting 46.6 (46th) against them inside the arc. They’re determination to stop teams from scoring inside does open them up to outside shooting. Teams are shooting 34.7(225th) from deep. In their recent loss to UNC, the Tarheels hit 10-22 (45.5%) from 3. UNC only attempted 47 field goals, to UVA’s 68, but UNC’s 3 point shooting, paired with UVA’s inability to hit from deep, allowed the Heels to carry the game. Clemson hit 10-19 from deep against NC State the last time out, with Brevin Galloway leading the way , hitting 4 out of 5. It’s going to take a similar performance this time out to knock off UVA at home.
X-Factor - Home Court Advantage
UVA looks vulnerable. They’re on a 2 game losing streak, and haven’t looked good in either loss. If this game was at Littlejohn, I would like Clemson’s chances to pull the upset. Unfortunately, it’s at John Paul Jones Arena, where Virginia hasn’t lost in ACC play. Their only home loss of the season came on December 17th when now #1 ranked Houston came to town and knocked them off, 69-61. That said, a bad Notre Dame team took them to the limit before losing 57-55 in their last home game. Duke took them to overtime on February 11th before succumbing 69-62.
Clemson has a veteran team. They should be able to navigate a hostile arena. That hasn’t been the case this season. They’ve lost 3 of their last road tests, including crushing losses to Boston College and Louisville. On a positive note, they’re on a 1 game road winning streak after burying N.C. State in Raleigh. Clemson is 2-0, and has put up 90 points in both games, after Louisville seemingly ended their NCAA Tournament hopes. I don’t think they’ll hit 90 tonight, but if they can scrape together 70 on the road, they’ll have a legit shot to pull the upset.
UVA - 69
Clemson - 63
UVA - 69
Clemson - 67
Kem Pom and I see this game the same way. Clemson will need to get into the 70’s to win. UVA will turn them over enough, and the Tigers will miss enough open 3’s to keep that from happening. Thus ending any NCAA hopes of an at-large bid.
I hope I’m wrong.