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Louisville at Clemson Basketball Preview

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Louisville 6-14 (1-8) at Clemson 13-6 (3-5)

Location: Littlejohn Coliseum - Clemson, SC
Date: Tuesday, January 30th
Time: 9:00pm
TV: ACC Network

Clemson battled Duke to the finish on Saturday and held a late lead despite a strange technical foul on Jack Clark that the TV crew called “ticky-tack” and a no-call when Kyle Filipowski jumped on the much smaller Joe Girard and not only knocked him to the ground but landed on him. It would have been a disqualifying fifth foul, but instead he stayed in the game and converted a crucial 3-point play in the final minute. Of course, on the final play of the game, the referees gave Duke a fortunate 50-50 call that allowed them to tie and then win the game at the free throw line with one second to go.

In the post-game new conference, Coach Brownell had the following to say about it:

We’ve had some history with that official. There was a lot of emotion from our bench because we’re a passionate group and we felt the game was maybe taken from us a little bit. It shouldn’t be decided like that.

Now, he has to ensure that they don’t let Duke beat them twice, and Coach Brownell knows that’s not a given:

We have a quick turnaround Tuesday. We’ve got a hard game against Louisville. Tomorrow, we’ve got to get past it. We’ll begin on Louisville tomorrow morning. Hopefully, I have I mature group that will handle that, but this will be hard.

Louisville has lost 11 of their last 13 games. Among those losses are ugly ones against DePaul and Arkansas State. This is a far cry from the Rick Pitino Cardinals teams that were consistent in the top five in defensive efficiency. If Clemson needs a soft landing after the brutal finish in Durham, this is the best the ACC can offer in that regard.

The Cardinals rank 205 in the KenPom rankings and their big weakness is the defense. They rank 250th in defensive efficiency. Louisville has allowed 78.1 points per game this season including 80+ points in six of their last nine games. Two of the three times they didn’t it was because they were losing defensive slogs to the famously slow-paced Virginia Cavaliers.

They’re an extremely young team ranking 306th in KenPom’s experience metric. Said in a more straight-forward way, of their top six players, only one is a junior and none are seniors.

Mike James, a 6-5 sophomore wing is the player to watch. He is averaging 14.0 points per game while averaging a .388 3P%. He’s their primary threat from 3-point territory and you’d think he will have to get hot for the Cardinals to pull the upset in Littlejohn — that is of course assuming Clemson doesn’t come out flat.

This game is really all about Clemson’s maturity. The Tigers are the better more experienced team. They proved they’re every bit as good as Duke, but they also showed some immaturity down the stretch as they committed three bad turnovers late in the game when they had a chance to ice it. Yes, the referees swung the game, but they could have won it anyway. Now can that team refocus, come home, and blast an inferior opponent?

Clemson is 2-5 in their first seven ACC games excluding the early in-the-middle-of-non-con road trip to Pittsburgh. Despite that, they’re still solidly in the NCAA tournament if the season ended today. Now, they need to go out and put Louisville away before the 10-minute mark of the second half. It’s a 9:00pm tip-off and my hope is that we can head to bed by 10:30pm.

Clemson is predicted to win (by KenPom) in 10 of their next 11 games including this one. This season is very far from over. Clemson can and should make a statement about their maturity, focus, and talent against an young, overmatched Louisville team. Then they need to beat Virginia at home, a team that’s always given them trouble but one that they are better than (KenPom gives Clemson a 71% chance in that game). The following road trip to Chapel Hill is unlikely to yield a win, but the schedule opens up after that and they have a chance to get rolling. KenPom still projects them to finish 11-9 in the ACC and they very realistically could reach 12-8 despite their current 3-5 record.

It starts late Tuesday night vs. Louisville. We’ll see how mature this team is. A loss would be a huge pockmark on the resume similar to the loss they took to a hapless Louisville squad last year, only worse because this one is at home. Fortunately, I think they either assert themselves and win with dominance or make it painful but still find a way to win. Either way, I don’t see Clemson actually losing this game.

KenPom:
Clemson: 85 - Louisville 67 (94% chance of Clemson win)

Ryan:
Clemson: 84 - Louisville 71