Game Preview: With #1 UVA in town, Clemson looks to avoid 0-3 ACC start
Clemson was a five seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament, and made it to the Sweet Sixteen. This year’s Tigers have four seniors in the starting lineup, but somehow look nothing like the group that had all that success a year ago.
Clemson (10-5, 0-2 ACC) has had a bad draw in conference play to date, opening on the road at Duke and Syracuse, then returning home to face Virginia.
Two #1 teams and a Sweet Sixteen from last season. Somebody in the ACC office must not like Brad Brownell.
The odd thing is that the Tigers are really only missing one guy from the group that helped them make their late-season run: Gabe DeVoe, the team’s second-leading scorer (14.2 points per game) and perimeter defensive stopper.
Donte Grantham is also gone, but Grantham went down to a torn ACL in January.
Clemson has talent: starting with 6’3” guard Marcquise Reed (19.3 ppg, 5.2 rebounds/g, 47.9% FG) can put the ball in the hoop, and 6’9” center Elijah Thomas (13.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 67.3% FG) is a classic back-to-the-basket post scorer.
The problem for Clemson is that it doesn’t shoot well from beyond the arc, connecting on just 31.6 percent of their three-point attempts, 11th in the ACC, and even with Thomas being so efficient in the post, the Tigers have been shooting 43.2 percent on two-point shots in ACC games, just 13th in the league.
David Skara is the best option from deep, at 40.5 percent, but he’s only averaging one made three per game this season, and Skara, a 6’8” stretch four, is a liability on the defensive end, with a defensive rating of 99.8, second-worst on the team among the rotation guys.
The worst: Shelton Mitchell, a 6’3” junior who is third on the team in scoring (13.0 ppg), but is shooting just 39.5 percent from the field, 27.5 percent from three-point range (on a team-high 4.6 three-point attempts per game), and a defensive rating of 100.4.
Clemson is still a more-than-respectable 24th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com, allowing opponents to score .926 points per possession, but in their losses in ACC play at Duke and Syracuse, the Tigers allowed 1.025 points per possession, eighth best in conference play so far.
The best defender is Thomas, who is tied for ninth in the conference with 1.5 blocked shots per game, with excellent positional defense making up for a relative lack of explosion in his legs.
Clemson has a 7-1 record at home this season, the lone loss coming in the ACC/B1G Challenge, 68-66 to Nebraska back on Nov. 26.
The Tigers have just one win over a team currently in the Top 100 in the KenPom.com team rankings, a 64-49 win over Georgia (KP 90) on Nov. 20.
Preview by Chris Graham