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Basketball Preview: Clemson at Miami

NCAA Basketball: Stonehill at Miami (FL) Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson 11-1 (1-0) at Miami 10-2 (1-0)

When: Wednesday, 8pm
Location: Watsco Center - Coral Gables, FL

Clemson finished off non-conference play with a dominant win over a decent Radford squad to reach 11-1 including an ACC win at Pittsburgh. After being punished for a weak non-conference schedule last season, they challenged themselves with five games against top-75 opponents (per KenPom) in their 11 non-conference games. It gets tougher though as they now enter conference play in what appears to be an improved ACC. It begins at Miami.

The Miami Hurricanes were a Final Four team last season, only falling when they finally faced the unbeatable UConn Huskies. They lost their two leading-scorers in Isaiah Wong and Jordan Miller, but still have Wooga Poplar, Norchad Omier, and Nijel Pack.

Miami’s results so far this season haven’t showed us much. They faced a weak non-conference schedule — reminiscent of Clemson’s slate a year ago. The Hurricanes beat Georgia and Kansas State at a neutral site, but were blown out in their only two games against top competition — vs. Kentucky and Colorado.

Offense hasn’t been a problem for the ‘Canes. Their adjusted offensive efficiency ranks 27th nationally. Wooga Poplar, a 6-foot-5 junior from Philadelphia, leads the way with 17.5 points per game. He isn’t primarily a 3-point shooter, but he has deadly efficiency from deep. He is 30-59 (50.8%) from 3. He rolled his ankle in Miami’s contest against North Florida last Saturday, so if he plays he may be less than 100%. That’s a break for Clemson, but Poplar isn’t their only option.

The biggest name player on Miami may be Norchad Omier. With Poplar sidelined for most of their last game (vs. North Florida) with the ankle injury, Omier went off for 27 points and 10 rebounds. He did that while going 11-12 from the field. He is the ‘Canes leading rebounder averaging just a tick under 10 per game. At 6-foot-7, he gives up three inches to PJ Hall, but doesn’t give up anything in terms of weight. Omier vs. Hall will be an elite ACC battle.

One thing that should give Clemson fans confidence is Chase Hunter’s “get-right game” against Radford. He finished 5-8 with 16 points and 5 assists. He had been struggling for several games and seemed to break free from the doldrums. The Tigers have more depth than ever, but they’re already using it to overcome injuries to Alex Hemenway and Jack Clark.

Chase Hunter will match up with Nijel Pack in a great ACC guards matchup. Pack is averaging 12.6 points and 4.2 assists. Like Poplar, he doesn’t shoot a ton of 3-pointers, but he is highly efficient with them (19-44, .432). That’s generally the case for the Hurricanes who are just 184th in terms of three-point shot attempts as a proportion of all shots, but 5th in 3P% at an excellent 41.2%.

KenPom lists Clemson as the slight favorite giving the Tigers a 58% chance to win in Coral Gables. If Miami is without Wooga Poplar, I’d concur, but even if they’re not, it is hard to bet against Clemson right now. The defense looked solid against Radford after so-so performances against Memphis and Queens (allowing a season-high 79 points in each contest), and the offense is rolling. It’s more or less a toss-up, but I’ll pick Clemson in a high-scoring exciting affair, 78-74.