Home Preview: What Virginia Basketball fans need to know about Clemson

Preview: What Virginia Basketball fans need to know about Clemson

Chris Graham
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Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

Clemson led shorthanded Louisville by 24 with 12:15 to go on Tuesday night, but let the Cardinals get within four twice in the final minute before holding on for a 70-64 win.

The Tigers (14-6, 4-5 ACC) are guilty of having taken the ol’ foot off the gas pedal there.

Looking ahead to Saturday’s game with Virginia (2 p.m. ET, ESPN), this is a Clemson team that looks good from a metrics perspective (10 in KPI, 29 in Strength of Record and the ESPN BPI, 31 in KenPom, 33 in NET), but otherwise …

The Tigers are a meh 5-6 since getting out to a 9-0 start, including a string of double-digit losses (Miami, UNC and Virginia Tech), a double-OT loss at home to Georgia Tech, and a screwjob loss at Duke last weekend.

Coach Brad Brownell knows from experience that it doesn’t do you much good to be sitting pretty in the metrics in early February.

His 2022-2023 team was 18-5 overall and 10-2 in the ACC at the flip of the calendar from January to February, went 5-5 down the stretch, and was left out of the 2023 NCAA Tournament field after getting blown out by Virginia in the ACC Tournament.

A side note here: Brownell’s resume is a bit of a head-scratcher. He’s in his 14th season at Clemson, has a 255-183 record at the school, but he’s only taken the program to three NCAA Tournament appearances, and two tournament wins, both in the school’s Sweet Sixteen run in 2018.

Clemson’s starters, rotation

The offense revolves around 6’10” senior PJ Hall (19.9 ppg, 7.1 rebs/g, 1.9 blocks/g, 50.9% FG, 31.1% 3FG), whose offensive game is diverse – roughly 40 percent post-ups (he shoots 53.6 percent on those), a fair amount of pick-and-roll and backdoor cuts (54.7 percent shooting on those), and he’s a finisher at the rim (72.5 percent, averaging four makes at the rim per game).

In two games against Virginia last season, Hall averaged 16.0 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, on 54.2 percent shooting.

You might remember the shooting guard, 6’2” grad senior Joe Girard (14.8 ppg, 3.2 assists/g, 41.4% FG, 41.2% 3FG), from his four years at Syracuse, where he averaged 16.4 points per game last season.

Girard shoots threes at a high volume (6.8 attempts per game).

The point guard, 6’4” grad senior Chase Hunter (12.0 ppg, 2.8 assists/g, 41.0% FG, 28.2% 3FG), is a fifth-year Tiger who has been a double-digit scorer the past two years.

Brownell goes big across the front line – with Hall at 6’10” at center, and 6’10” sophomore Chauncey Wiggins (7.2 ppg, 45.8% FG, 36.1% 3FG) and 6’8” junior Ian Schieffelin (9.3 ppg, 9.6 rebounds/g, 59.8% FG) at the two forward spots.

Brownell also uses two other bigs off the bench – 6’8” sophomore RJ Godfrey (6.9 ppg, 3.4 rebs/g, 16.0 mins/g) and 6’10” senior Jack Clark (2.9 ppg, 2.9 rebs/g, 13.7 mins/g).

The other guards that you’ll see are 6’3” sophomore Josh Beadle (3.3 ppg, 11.7 mins/g) and 6’3” sophomore Dillon Hunter (3.0 ppg, 19.5 mins/g).

How this one plays out

Key to this game for Virginia will be the ability of 6’8” grad senior Jordan Minor (9.2 ppg, 5.2 rebs/g, 55.3% FG in six starts) to defend Hall, and also stay out of early foul trouble.

Minor did a solid job in the 59-53 OT win over NC State on Jan. 24, with 10 points and nine boards, and tough post defense on State big man DJ Burns, but then had his minutes limited in the 69-52 win at Louisville last weekend, picking up two early fouls, which contributed to him getting just 10 minutes of playing time on the day.

Hall, because of his ability to shoot the three, will be a challenge for Minor, who will need to be able to bang in the post and then also chase Hall out to the three-point line.

Look for 6’11” freshman Blake Buchanan (3.7 ppg, 3.3 rebs/g, 14.3 mins/g) to play a big role in spelling Minor on Hall, who is getting 31.7 minutes per game in ACC action, and I’d expect to see him get more than that, barring foul trouble.

Because Clemson goes big, expect to see more minutes also for 6’9” grad senior stretch four Jake Groves (7.3 ppg, 48.2% FG, 48.4% 3FG); it wouldn’t surprise me to see him getting the start, with 6’8” sophomore Ryan Dunn (9.7 ppg, 7.1 rebs/g, 2.2 blocks/g, 58.3% FG, 24.0% 3FG) sliding over to the third backcourt spot on offense.

This would mean 6’6” Andrew Rohde (5.0 ppg, 3.0 assists/g, 31.3% FG, 26.0% 3FG) would come off the bench, which coach Tony Bennett has been loath to do, despite the obvious.

It’s time, Tony, if only because, in this case, the matchups seem to dictate it.

I would expect to see Bennett use 6’4” sophomore Isaac McKneely (11.6 ppg, 40.7% FG, 48.1% 3FG) on Girard, and 6’3” senior Reece Beekman (13.3 ppg, 6.2 assists/g, 2.5 steals/g, 45.4% FG, 32.3% 3FG) on Hunter.

Junior guard Dante Harris (3.1 ppg, 16.8 mins/g), generously listed at 6’0”, could get spells as a changeup on Hunter, just to get up under him, Kihei Clark-style.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].