Clemson at North Carolina
Clemson (13-12, 5-6) at North Carolina (22-4, 9-2), 4:00 PM, ESPN/ESPN3
The Streak is now a nationally-known entity: Clemson has never won in Chapel Hill in 55 tries. Both teams claim its not in their heads (as they should), but it’s a pretty insane record. At some point, it will end. Clemson is playing well right now and after a dominating road win at Wake Forest last weekend, it’s not as if the Tigers lack confidence. And they are actually averaging more points per possession in ACC play than North Carolina is right now. The Tar Heels need to win to keep pace atop the league, but they also need to find some kind of a rhythm offensively.
Stat to watch: North Carolina’s two-point percentage. The Tar Heels can’t seem to hit a three-pointer to save their lives right now, but they’ve been fairly dominant in the paint and have scored 61.8% of their points from inside the arc (ninth nationally) compared to 17.8% from three (339th nationally). But Clemson doesn’t allow many points from two: their opponents shoot 45.9% from inside the arc. ACC that have beaten Clemson have shot 42.1% from three and scored 33.4% of their points from beyond the arc compared to 22.9% of their points from three and 28.9% shooting in Clemson’s ACC wins. North Carolina has shot better than 42.1% from three just twice in ACC play but in those games, they scored 23% of their points in those two games combined from three. The Tar Heels are going to have to get some offensive balance at some point, and it might have to start today.
Most important players: Tanner Smith, Clemson and Harrison Barnes, North Carolina. Harrison Barnes has been dealing with a sprained ankle, but he said Friday that he was at about 90% and it showed against Miami. As he did many times last year, Barnes simply took over the second half and was dominant, finishing with 23 points on 19 shots. It was the most shots he has attempted this year, but he was efficient for the most part, shooting 47.4 percent. He also made 3-of-7 three’s, his most three’s in a game since January 29th. The Tar Heels have been ice cold from the perimeter, but if Barnes can knock down some three-pointers – while also driving to the basket for a lay-up or a pull-up jumper, it will at least keep defenses honest. In three games against Clemson, Barnes has averaged 24.3 points on 59% shooting, including his personal career high of 40 in the ACC Tournament semifinal win last year.
Tanner Smith is quietly having one of the hottest stretches of any ACC player this year, and that’s not an exaggeration. He’s averaging 16.5 points on 13-of-18 shooting (4-of-8 from three). He’s also averaging 4.5 assists, 3.0 steals and 3.5 rebounds in that span. Smith is a do-everything type of player for Clemson, and always has been able to give the Tigers a boost in an area of need, whether it be rebounding, steals or even blocks. But now, the Tigers need offense and he has come through. He has also had some success against the Tar Heels: he averaged 12.5 points in two games against Carolina last year (he went out of the first matchup early with an injury after just nine minutes). More importantly, though, he hit 6-of-11 three’s over those two games and absolutely killed North Carolina at times with his ability to knock those down.
Random stat: Clemson has had plenty of chances in the last few years in Chapel Hill, even in the last few years. The Tigers lost by double digits to the 2002 team but fell in Chapel Hill by just two in 2003. Then in 2008, Clemson led for much of the game but fell in double overtime. In 2011, Clemson lost by ten but the final score was deceptive as it was close throughout.
Prediction: North Carolina 81, Clemson 69
Last week: 7-4
Season: 111-39 (47-20 ACC)