After a difficult double overtime loss on the road against Notre Dame, the Clemson basketball team returns home to Littlejohn Coliseum to face the 17th ranked Virginia Cavaliers. The Tigers (15-8, 6-5 ACC) have fallen to 7th place in the conference and run the risk of dropping to .500 for the first time in ACC play all season. Though they face a tough opponent in Virginia, a win would be huge for Clemson’s season, giving them a second win over a ranked opponent and a third over a top 50 RPI team.
The game will almost certainly prove to be a defensive struggle as Virginia and Clemson have had the nation’s top two scoring defenses in terms of points allowed all season long. Both teams rely heavily on their defensive strength, but Virginia has the edge because they have a better offense with more talented scorers all around. The Cavaliers come into the game alone in 2nd place in the ACC with a record of 20-5 (11-1 ACC) and an eight game win streak. However, they have looked vulnerable in the last two games against Georgia Tech and Maryland. Though they ultimately won both games fairly easily, they went into the half of both games trailing their opponent. Clemson should not have a problem slowing down the Virginia attack, but the key to beating the Cavaliers will be whether or not the Tigers can execute on offense.
Unfortunately for Clemson, they do not match up very well with Virginia. KJ McDaniels, who has had advantages over just about every defender he has faced thus far this season. However, Virginia has Justin Anderson, a 6’6″ PF whose athleticism nearly equals that of McDaniels. Clemson’s leading scorer may have trouble putting up another 30 points like he did against Notre Dame, and the Tigers will likely need to find scoring from elsewhere to be competitive. Clemson will have somewhat of a size down low, but that will be neutralized by the Cavaliers’ Center, Mike Tobey, who is taller than anyone on the Clemson roster at 6’11″. However, when Tobey is not on the floor, the Tigers will need to take advantage of the lack of size in the remainder of Virginia’s big men. Clemson’s guards will also need to find a way to do what they have struggled to do all year: shoot well from three. Virginia’s defense often double teams their opponent’s post players, potentially leaving guards open from beyond the arc. If Clemson’s back court can make some big shots they should be able to hang with the Cavaliers. Fans should expect Brad Brownell to have his Tigers well prepared for one of the best remaining chances for a big, resume building win. A win against Virginia would get Clemson right back into the tournament discussion.