Tonight NC State visits Clemson in a key ACC match up . The Tigers and Wolfpack are both 6-6 in conference play and tied for 6th in the standings. The winner will move to only one game behind a struggling Pittsburgh team with a real chance to move up a spot or two in the conference before the season ends. With the addition of Syracuse and Pittsburgh this season, the ACC has returned to a top tier conference and positioning within it will be key for bubble teams, like Clemson, come Selection Sunday. A win over NC State, who improved to a RPI of 51 would put the Tigers back on track to climb the standings and once again be a contender to make the tournament.
Both Clemson and NC State suffered close, heartbreaking losses this weekend against the conference’s top two teams in Virginia and Syracuse. Whichever team can recover best emotionally from these losses will have an advantage going into the game. Both teams have similar offenses, and both rely very heavily on their star players to carry the team on the offensive end. As usual, KJ McDaniels will likely have to put up a lot of points Tuesday night to give the Tigers a chance. However, Clemson’s biggest concern will be shutting down the Wolfpack’s star sophomore, TJ Warren. Warren has had an amazing season, leading the conference in scoring with an average of 23.1 points a game, almost 4 for more than Duke’s Jabari Parker. If Clemson can limit Warren’s attack, the rest of the team will struggle to produce offensively. Fortunately, the Tigers have the nation’s second best scoring defense, and Warren has had problems facing top defenses. When NC State played Virginia (the nation’s leader in scoring defense) TJ Warren was held to a measly 4 points on 1-9 shooting and NC State only scored 45 in the game. Clemson has a very strong and athletic defense core and should be able to slow down Warren and, therefore, the Wolfpack.
Clemson also should be able to deal with NC State’s height, something that has given a lot of teams issues. The Wolfpack have Jordan Vandenberg, a 7’1″ center, whose height can seem imposing on paper. However, Vandenberg only averages about 5 points and 5 rebounds a game, very low statistics for a center his size. Clemson has three forwards that are 6’10”, and each is more athletic than Vandenberg. Ultimately, the game will come down to the performances of Warren and McDaniels. If one has a better game than the other, their team has a definite edge. If they both have similar games, their supporting casts will make the difference, an option that likely does not favor Clemson.