Clemson at Wake Forest
Clemson (11-12, 3-6) at Wake Forest (11-13, 2-8), 4:00 PM, RSN/ESPN3
The fact that these two teams’ overall records are nearly identical is somewhat surprising. But Clemson not only can’t score for long stretches, but also can’t quite claw their way all the way back into games. The Tigers have now lost three in a row by a combined margin of eight points and two straight by a total of four points. Clemson is 3-9 this year in games decided by eight points or less and 1-7 in games decided by three points or less. That’s probably why they’re still the unluckiest team in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy, who has the Tigers 98th in his rankings and Wake at 203rd despite similar records. Wake has lost five in a row – including at Clemson – but considering they’ve fought hard to stay in games against some good opponents this year as well, there’s no telling how they’ll play against a struggling Clemson team.
Stat to watch: Blocked shots. According to Ken Pomeroy, Wake Forest is 41st nationally in block percentage defense (12.8%) and Clemson is 49th (12.2%). But Clemson’s offense is 23rd in terms of fewest shots blocked (6.6%) and Wake’s is 332nd (13.0%). And Wake has been struggling to block shots in the last few games – since blocking ten in a win at Boston College, the Deacons have had just 21 blocks in the last five games and just five in the last two games. On offense, North Carolina swatted 12 of their shots while N.C. State had six blocks. Virginia, a team that doesn’t get a ton of blocks, had three against them and Clemson blocked seven shots in the first meeting (Wake had five blocks). After Clemson had just one block at Virginia, the Tigers have averaged 6.5 blocks in the last two games and their opponents have averaged just 3.0. Maryland had only two blocked shots and while they’ve never held an opponent without a block, they’ve held four ACC opponents to two or fewer blocks. Clemson misses enough shots on their own without getting them blocked, but Wake Forest has been struggling so much offensively that it might energize the Tigers on the other end to get a few blocks. And vice versa – if Wake can get its shot-blocking going again, maybe they’ll find an offensive spark and be able to outlast a Clemson team that can’t seem to score for long stretches.
Most important players: Andre Young, Clemson and Tony Chennault, Wake Forest. Poor Andre Young. The senior point guard has played valiantly this year but with a chance to potentially tie or take a lead against Maryland, Young – an 86% free-throw shooter this year – hit just 1-of-3 free throws. “It hurts when a kid like Andre misses his chance because you know how much work he’s put into it,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. “He wants to win and he wants to be in those situations. He’s not going to be okay tomorrow. You want guys like that, because it means he cares…. We just have to make sure he recovers from it.” Young is not shooting well the last few games, but his last great performance was a 19-point outburst against Wake at home on January 28th on 7-of-12 shooting. Young had shot just 5-of-26 in four career games against Wake before that, adding 2-of-18 three’s and had eight assists to six turnovers. He made 3-of-6 three’s this year to go with five assists and no turnovers. The Tigers will likely need that from him again as no one else on their roster seems to be able to step up consistently on offense and help.
Wake’s sophomore point guard Tony Chennault had a nice game against Florida State on January 25th with 11 points. Since, he’s scored a total of 17 points in four games on 7-of-24 shooting (2-of-4 from three and 5-of-20 from two), hitting just 1-of-5 foul shots (all attempted against Clemson). He has added 15 assists and 13 rebounds in that span, but he has committed 14 turnovers. Chennault’s drought – particularly at Virginia, where he had no points on 0-of-5 shooting – is really killing the Deacons right now. They are offensively-challenged enough without Chennault struggling as well, and he’s capable of having some nice games. But this may not be the best matchup for him: in two career games against Clemson, Chennault has shot just 2-of-14 from the floor and had a total of five points, four assists and four turnovers in 50 minutes. Wake needs him to get going, though.
Random stat: Clemson has played well against Wake Forest recently, winning two of the last three, but Wake Forest owns the series 98-54 (winning 17 of the last 22) and leads 53-12 at home. Wake has beaten Clemson 18 straight times at home. Clemson’s last win at Wake Forest came in the 1989-90 season, which is also the first and only time Clemson won the ACC regular-season championship. That was the first year in the history of Lawrence-Joel Coliseum, Wake’s home arena, as well and it’s been a house of horrors for Clemson ever since as the Tigers haven’t broken 70 points in 18 straight trips to Winston-Salem.
Prediction: Wake Forest 66, Clemson 62
Last week: 10-2
Season: 103-36 (39-17 ACC)