Clemson at Virginia
Clemson (11-9, 3-3) at Virginia (17-3, 4-2), 7:00 PM, ESPN2/ESPN3
With the huge road win at N.C. State on Saturday, Virginia has a legitimate shot at winning all but two games remaining, leaving them in the hunt for the ACC regular-season title. But the Cavaliers still have North Carolina and Florida State two more times each, meaning they can’t afford to lose games like this one against a scrappy Clemson team. But this is a bad matchup for Clemson. The Tigers already struggle to score, and they’re going against a team that makes scoring very difficult even for very good offensive teams. Even worse, Clemson’s ACC schedule is mostly backloaded: six of their final ten games are against teams in the top six of the standings. And Milton Jennings has been suspended again (for academic reasons).
Stat to watch: Three-point shooting. Teams don’t shoot a ton of two-pointers against these two defenses. In fact, Clemson and Virginia are second and third (respectively) in the percentage of three-point attempts (out of total field goal attempts) by their opponents in ACC play. Clemson’s ACC opponents attempt 34.8% of their shots from three and Virginia’s pack line defense has forced ACC opponents to take 34.6% of their shots from behind the arc. The difference? Virginia’s opponents have made just 25% (25-of-100) while Clemson’s have made 39% (42-of-109).
After a horrid three-point shooting drought to open ACC play, Virginia has caught fire. The Cavaliers shot 13-of-59 (22%) in their first four league games. In the last two, Virginia has hit 11-of-25 (44.0%). With Mike Scott playing as well as he is and Virginia’s defense being so dominant, that’s more than enough to win most ACC games, including this one. Clemson has had a similar slump: the Tigers shot 26.1% in their first four ACC games (going 1-3) and have shot 14-of-32 (43.8%) in their last two games, both wins. After beating Florida State (despite shooting just 3-of-14 from three) Clemson shot 15-of-55 from three in its next three games, all losses. Since, they have cut down on the three’s a bit and are averaging 16 attempts in the last two.
Virginia loves nothing more than for a team to take a three-pointer rather than get the ball inside for a good look. The Tigers could be easily lured into jacking up a ton of three’s. Virginia has to be wary of that trap too, though: Clemson’s last two opponents have shot just 31-of-74 from inside the arc (41.8%) and 12-of-28 outside it (42.9%). Really, both teams could use some sort of consistency in their perimeter shooting and it will be interesting to see which team can maintain that.
Most important players: Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia and Devin Booker, Clemson. For awhile, it seemed like Devin Booker only showed up in the big ACC games with his only double-digit effort coming against Duke. But he showed up with 16 points against Wake Forest (his ACC-season high). Averaging 12.5 points in the last two games (both Clemson wins), his recent resurgence has been mostly due to being able to draw fouls: he has averaged 5.0 attempts in the last two games. In games when he attempts four or more foul shots this year, Clemson is 8-1. His minutes are up, his fouls are down (he averaged 3.8 in the first four games and just 2.0 in the last two) and his rebounding is becoming more consistent (7.5 in the last four games). That’s really all Clemson needs from him, but he can’t disappear like he did against Miami.
Brogdon came in known primarily as a shooter, but he’s not shot particularly well from three (just 30% on the season and 21% in ACC play) in his freshman campaign. But he’s the “x” factor for Virginia going forward. You know what you’re going to get out of almost everyone else on the roster, but the flashes he’s shown are tantalizing. His best game of the year was against Michigan (16 points on 5-of-7 shooting), but since, he’s had just one double-digit scoring night. He’s shot over 50% from the field just twice since. He’s started shooting more two-pointers in league play and the willowy 6-5 swingman finds some creative ways to get to the rim. He has shot 7-of-11 from inside the arc in the last three games after making 19-of-54 in his first 17 games. UVA needs that from him, and if he could start making a few three’s, that would be nice too.
Random stat: Virginia’s Sammy Zeglinski has struggled against most ACC teams throughout his career, shooting above 40% from the floor in his career against just two ACC teams and averaging more than 7.5 points against just five teams. Clemson is one of those teams, as he is shooting 53.1% from the floor in four career meetings and 8-of-16 (50%) from three. He isn’t shooting above 42 % against any other ACC team and he hasn’t made 45% from three against any other ACC team. He’s also averaging 10.5 points against Clemson; second only to Florida State (9.8) and North Carolina (9.0). In Virginia’s wins over Clemson, it’s been even more lopsided (10-of-16, 6-of-10 from three and 13.5 ppg as opposed to 7-of-16, 1-of-6 from three and 8.5 ppg in losses).
Prediction: Virginia 63, Clemson 51
Last week: 12-0
Season: 90-31 (26-12 ACC)