Virginia at Clemson
Virginia (19-5, 6-4) at Clemson (12-12, 4-6), 7:00 PM, ESPNU
Virginia doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of in an 18-point loss at North Carolina; the Cavaliers made things difficult for the Tar Heels with their defense, even though they couldn’t buy a shot on their own end. And now an already-thin Virginia team has been hit with another injury as swingman Joe Harris has a broken bone in his non-shooting hand and is a game-time decision. But the Cavaliers can’t afford to lose this game: two games against Maryland and home match-ups with Florida State and North Carolina remain. Clemson has had some really good games in ACC play (two 20-point wins and an 11-point win) sandwiched around some rough offensive outings. It doesn’t get any easier facing Virginia, but maybe they can build on their offensive success, particularly since they’re at home.
Stat to watch: Clemson’s two-point attempts. This is not because of Clemson – the Tigers don’t generally get too three-point happy offensively – but because of Virginia’s pesky defense. Virginia is happy to let you jack up three-pointers, which is probably why Clemson attempted 21 – their most attempts in ACC play – in their first meeting. It wasn’t pretty, but North Carolina decided it wasn’t going to win by jacking up three-point attempts (the Tar Heels were 1-of-10 from three), so they just took shot after shot inside the paint until they went in, scoring 40 points in the paint (the most Virginia has allowed this year). Clemson doesn’t have the athletes that the Tar Heels do across the board, but big men Devin Booker and Milton Jennings are more than capable of scoring inside. And it’s not like the Tar Heels shot a high percentage from two (just 39.7%) but they took 58 two’s, the most all season against Virginia. Only N.C. State (42 two’s) has attempted close to as many against the Cavaliers. But Clemson will have to be able to pound the offensive glass, and Virginia is not going to want to let that happen after North Carolina dominated the offensive boards on Saturday. Clemson has to make sure it stays disciplined and takes the shots it wants.
Most important players: Jontel Evans, Virginia and Milton Jennings, Clemson. Jennings didn’t play in the first matchup, but he has averaged 10 points against Virginia in two games over his career and he might have made a difference in that close contest. He had been suspended by head coach Brad Brownell for the second time this season. Since his return, he’s averaging 14.5 points on 11-of-19 shooting (4-of-6 from three) and adding 5.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists 24.5 minutes. Maybe the junior has bought in and maybe he hasn’t, but Clemson is 0-3 in games Jennings has been suspended for and they really need him to show up in this one.
Virginia’s point guard Jontel Evans is built like a bowling-ball running back, and the senior uses his strength – and deceptive quickness – very well to get into the lane. He’s been more and more aggressive lately for Virginia, and the Cavaliers are going to need that. Of his 155 points this year, 59 have come in Virginia’s last seven games, all after the Cavaliers lost Assane Sene to injury. Now with Harris’s injury, Evans is going to have to continue being aggressive. He was dominant against North Carolina at times and had a season-high 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting (4-of-4 from the foul line). He’s also averaging 5.0 assists in the last four games, which is great for a Virginia offense that might find things increasingly difficult as their already-thin depth gets even thinner.
Random stat: Clemson might want to save up some of its offense. In two of Clemson’s convincing ACC wins (Florida State and at Wake) the Tigers have shot 53.8% from the floor (41.7% from three) and averaged 78.5 points. In their other eight league games, Clemson has shot 40.7% (29.8% from three) and averaged 64.9 points. Considering how many close losses the Tigers have had, they might have wished they had a few of those buckets from their 20-point wins over FSU and Wake in some other games.
Prediction: Virginia 62, Clemson 59
Last week: 7-4
Season: 107-37 (43-18 ACC)