Clemson at Miami

Clemson (9-8, 1-2) at Miami (9-6, 0-2), 7:00 PM, RSN/ESPN3

T.J. Sapp has had some nice games this year, but Clemson needs consistency from him and the other freshmen.

This is a big one for both teams. Clemson played very well at home in a narrow loss to Duke, and the Tigers have a very manageable schedule coming up (hosting Georgia Tech and Wake Forest). Miami hosts Clemson and N.C. State before playing three of their next four on the road. Miami has the potential to be a top-four ACC team (for whatever that’s worth), and Clemson has shown it can at least hang with anyone on its ACC schedule, particularly at home. But neither can afford many more ACC losses, and this is a winnable game for each.

Stat to watch: Two-pointers/points in the paint. Miami had 36 points in the paint against Carolina, their second-highest mark this season. They also shot 51.3% from two-point range. Before Reggie Johnson returned, Miami shot over 50% from inside the arc just once (against Rutgers) and since his return they’ve done it five times in six games. Clemson’s defense is capable of being as good as Virginia’s, which held Miami to 38.2% shooting from two, their second-worst mark this season. Clemson’s defense has slipped in recent games as well, allowing Boston College of all teams to shoot 57% from inside the arc. Duke shot 17-of-34 (50%). Duke put up 32 points in the paint on Clemson, the most the Tigers have allowed in regulation since December 10th. In Clemson’s losses, they have allowed 54.2% shooting from inside the compared to 36.6% in their nine wins.

Clemson has struggled to score from inside the arc as well. They have shot over 50% from two just seven times this year and just once in the last seven games (against FSU, go figure). But the Tigers always manage to get some points in the paint and they have averaged 30.7 in ACC play as Milton Jennings and Devin Booker are finding some confidence down low. And if those two can score well against Florida State’s length and Duke’s Plumlee brothers, they should be able to hit some baskets in the paint against Miami as well. But Miami had held five straight opponents to 46% shooting or worse from inside the arc until North Carolina shot 55% last week. Carolina’s 48 points in the paint were also the most Miami has allowed this year. But the Hurricanes will be rested and Jim Larranaga won’t have been too pleased about their defense over their off week.

Most important players: Reggie Johnson, Miami and Clemson’s freshmen. It’s a collective group for Clemson as the freshmen aren’t really contributing right now. And they need them. Greg Wallace (@aimclemson on Twitter) of Orange and White wrote about the strange dynamic between the upperclassmen and the freshmen. As Wallace pointed out, Clemson’s upperclassmen scored 59 of Clemson’s 66 points on Sunday against Duke. Four of the other seven were scored by K.J. McDaniels, who saw just eight minutes against Duke. In T.J. Sapp’s 27 minutes against Duke, he missed his only shot and had one rebound, a foul and three turnovers. Rod Hall’s minutes have decreased; he played 28 against Florida State (and had 11 points) but has played a total of 22 in the last two games and scored nine points. He had just two points against Duke in seven minutes to go with one rebound and a turnover; he shot 2-of-4 from the foul line and didn’t attempt a field goal.

The good news for Clemson is that their freshmen have played well on the road. McDaniels was the lone bright spot in losses at Arizona and Hawaii, averaging 7.5 points in just 16 minutes. Hall scored seven points in just 15 minutes at BC on 3-of-4 shooting. Sapp has had some big games in road wins (shooting 8-of-15 and 4-of-8 combined in wins at Citadel and Iowa) and bad games in losses (4-of-16, 3-of-9 at Arizona and Hawaii). He did play well in his first ACC road game though, scoring 11 points in just 24 minutes. Sapp is from Fort Lauderdale, so this will be a homecoming of sorts for him and that can have all kinds of implications for a freshman.

Eight days off has to have helped Reggie Johnson get a bit more comfortable on the court and will give his teammates some rest as well. Johnson still managed 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting against Carolina (plus nine rebounds) in 30 minutes. But it was a quiet 12 points, if that’s possible from the big guy, particularly in the second half. He needs to be an impact player for the entire game as much as he physically can. And Johnson has been a non-factor in his career against Clemson, averaging six points on 5-of-11 shooting. Without Jerai Grant defending him down low this time, he should be able to have a bigger game.

Random stat: This is an odd series: Clemson leads it 11-6, but after winning the first five meetings (starting in 1956), it dropped the next five. Miami won four straight after joining the ACC but Clemson has won five in a row and six out of the last seven. The teams played seven times in Miami’s first four seasons in the ACC (Miami held a 5-2 edge in that span) but have played just four times in the last three seasons (Clemson leads 4-0). They will face each other just once this year. Since joining the league, nine of their 11 meetings have been decided by ten or fewer points. Last year’s two meetings (both Clemson wins) were decided by 11 points combined.

Prediction: Miami 65, Clemson 58


Last week: 6-5

Season: 71-27 (10-8 ACC)


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