Akil Mitchell and the Hoos have won 12 straight home games.
After fading late in a 66-60 road loss at Georgia Tech, the Virginia Cavaliers (15-6, 5-3 ACC) return home Thursday night for a second encounter with the Clemson Tigers (12-9, 4-5 ACC). Will the Wahoos remain unbeaten at home in ACC play or lose the season series to the Tigers? Find out in the Clemson Primer.
1. Team Introduction. After taking Clemson to the NCAA Tournament in his first year in the ACC, Brad Brownell willed the Tigers to an 8-8 ACC mark last season after the team went 8-6 in out-of-conference play, with the ACC record including a 60-48 home win against UVa and a 65-61 loss at the John Paul Jones Arena. After subsequently losing most of their key backcourt players, the Tigers were picked to finish No. 8 in the ACC preseason media poll, and they didn’t do much of merit during their non-conference slate.
Clemson’s most impressive win by far was a neutral site win at the Old Spice Classic against a 12-8 UTEP squad whose No. 74 rank in the RPI seems a bit inflated. Otherwise, the 6 remaining wins came against teams ranked No. 199, No. 301, No. 319, No. 331, No. 337, and No. 343 in the RPI. A few of Clemson’s out-of-conference losses are understandable. The Tigers hung with both Gonzaga and Arizona for a while before losing those games, 57-49 and 66-54, respectively. But they were also never competitive with Purdue in a 73-61 home loss in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge, and they got shellacked by Coastal Carolina (RPI No. 265) for a second straight season. After opening ACC play with a home loss to Florida State, Clemson has won all of its home games (against UVa, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech) and lost all of its road games (against Duke, NC State, Florida State, and Boston College). On the season, Clemson is No. 81 in KenPom, No. 73 in TAPE, and No. 141 in RPI.
2. Offense. Brad Brownell is an Indiana native, and his offense is a version of the motion offense that Bobby Knight used to run in Bloomington. Brownell’s offense is typically run out of a “3-out, 2-in set” that utilizes a variety of down- and off-screening to create spacing for posts as well as 3-point shooters. In last year’s Clemson Primer, I posted some notes (PDF file) from a Brownell clinic to show how he attacks a sagging defense that is similar to the Pack-Line. One option is early offense, which UVa usually stifles pretty well. Some of the other options, such as flare screens, ball reversals, and crosscourt passes, have caused Virginia some difficulties since Tony Bennett has taken over, and that was certainly the case in the loss at Littlejohn earlier this season.
With an entirely new backcourt, Clemson has struggled to generate offense all year, leading to a No. 138 ranking in adjusted offensive efficiency. The key to Brownell’s motion offense is the 3-ball, and Clemson is merely No. 170 in the nation in 3-point shooting percentage at 33.5%. And while the Tigers are a bit better in terms of effective field goal percentage (49.1%, No. 142), they’re pretty poor from the free throw line (67%, No. 228), a statistic that could come back to haunt them in a game that should be played at a glacial pace and feature few possessions – Clemson is No. 313 in adjusted tempo while Virginia is No. 343.
3. Defense.. Brad Brownell’s teams are always at least decent on the defensive end, and this year is no exception, with Clemson ranking No. 52 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Clemson plays pressure man-to-man defense, which has caused the Hoos problems during Brownell’s tenure. In last season’s loss at Littlejohn, it was 18 turnovers that sunk the Cavs. This season, it was the inability to hit a shot as Virginia finished a mere 35.4% from the floor. The one thing to watch here is 3-point shooting. Clemson is only No. 165 in opponent 3-point shooting while UVa ranks No. 23 in 3-point shooting, connecting on 38.5%, with better accuracy at home than on the road. A big reason for the loss at Clemson was Virginia’s 5-17 (in)accuracy from behind the arc while Clemson (33.5% on the season) went 6-10.
4. Player Turnover. As noted, Clemson lost most of its key backcourt players from a season ago: Point guard Andre Young, shooting guard Tanner Smith, and small forward Bryan Narcisse. Young and Smith were the top two scorers (13.3 and 11.2 PPG) and assist-men (3.1 and 4.1 APG) on last season’s team while Narcisse was a glue guy at the “3,” getting 17 starts. The Tigers also lost back-up shooting guard Devin Coleman to a torn ACL in the offseason. Then, after starting Clemson’s first 7 games at the “2” this season, T.J. Sapp decided to transfer to Murray State. In the frontcourt, the only loss was backup center Catalin “Bobo” Baciu, who averaged 10.6 minutes and 4.1 points per game last year. It should also be noted that Jaron Blossomgame, widely considered to be the best player in Clemson’s 2012 recruiting class, is redshirting this year after breaking his leg.
5. Possible Starters. A look at the players likely to start the game …
Point Guard: Rod Hall (No. 12), a 6’1″, 210-pound sophomore, has started all 21 games for Clemson this season. Hall is a wrecking ball who likes to get into the lane and rarely takes a 3-point shot (4 attempts on the season). Indeed, Hall’s 47.7% field goal percentage is a bit misleading as he doesn’t have a great jump shot and instead scores most of his points on layups. In fact, Hall doesn’t take very many shots, which is why he is averaging only 6.3 points per game, a number that’s not helped by his mere 64.3% accuracy at the free throw line. Hall’s handle has improved in the offseason, and he’s very solid at setting the plate for other players, averaging 3.8 assists against only 1.8 turnovers per game. Where Hall really earns his stripes, though, is on the defensive end, where he is tough and tenacious, forcing 1.8 turnovers per game. In the first meeting, Hall scored an efficient 8 points on 4-of-4 shooting with 2 assists and no turnovers.
Shooting Guard: Damarcus Harrison (No. 21), a 6’4″, 200-pound sophomore averages 21.2 minutes of floor time for Clemson and has started the Tigers’ last 6 games. The former UVa recruit landed at Clemson after a confusing situation with regard to his Mormon mission that led BYU to jettison him. But the bigger problem for Harrison is that he simply hasn’t found his shot since arriving at college. His field goal percentage is a bit up this year (37.9% vs. 33.9%), but his 3-point percentage is down (24.5% vs. 26.5%), and, let’s face it: all of these numbers are pretty terrible. And while Harrison seems to be pretty athletic and a decent defender, he doesn’t add much to the table when he can’t hit his shots. The first game was the last game in which Harrison came off the bench, and he ended up scoring 5 points on 2-3 shooting.
Small Forward: K.J. McDaniels (No. 32), a 6’6″, 200-pound sophomore, is by far the most athletic player on the Clemson roster. Last year, he showed flashes of brilliance with a game that was long on talent and short on polish. This season, McDaniels has made strides to round out his game. Offensively, he’s significantly increased his scoring (11.1 vs. 3.9 PPG), more than quadrupled his attempts from 3-point range (3.7 vs. .8 attempts per game), and more than doubled his trips to the free throw line (2.9 vs. 1.3 attempts per game). But he still needs to work on his efficiency. His 45.1% shooting percentage is decent, but his 3-point percentage (33.1%) is not, and he’s mediocre at best from the free throw line (68.3%). McDaniels already has achieved that designation on the defensive end, where he’s averaging 1.9 blocks and 1.5 steals per game. In the first game, McDaniels did not register a field goal attempt but was 6-8 from the free throw line. On the other hand, he had 3 turnovers against only 1 assist.
Power Forward: Starting at the “4” should be the enigma known as Milton Jennings . Jennings (No. 24), a 6’9″, 225-pound senior, has had a checkered history at Clemson. Last season, he was suspended twice, once for jawing off at Brownell during a game, and the other time for academic reasons. Earlier this season, he was suspended – for two games – after being arrested for marijuana possession. He is third on the team in points (10.8) and second on the team in rebounds (6.4) per game. Jennings is also Clemson’s best 3-point shooter as he averages 40% from behind the arc, which is where he shoots almost half (3.9/8.4) of his shots. That number along with his mere 2.9 free throw attempts per game tells you a bit about how he plays. But, with Jennings, the good always comes with the bad, often in the form of mental lapses. I don’t know that I would say that Jennings is afraid of defense, but he is often averse to playing it. Of course, in UVa’s first encounter with Clemson, it got the good Milton Jennings as he destroyed the defense with 21 points on 7-13 shooting (5-8 from long range) and also corralled 11 rebounds.
Center: It should be an all-senior frontcourt at the start for Clemson, with Devin Booker (No. 31), a 6’8″, 250-pound senior, getting the start next to Jennings. In is senior campaign, Booker is averaging career highs in points (12.7) and rebounds (7.9) per game, both of which pace the Tigers. And while the knock against Booker has always been that he couldn’t perform against bigger, better centers, that hasn’t been the case this year, including a 27-point outburst at NC State. Booker has really improved his low post moves, which allows him to use his athleticism to overcome the height disadvantage that he usually faces. Booker is also a solid stopper on the defensive side of the ball although none of his numbers are really eye-popping. In the first game, Booker was only 3-10 from the field but made a living at the charity stripe, going 9-12, and that allowed him to score 15 points to go with his 9 rebounds.
6. Key Backups. Some of the depth for Clemson …
Point Guard: Jordan Roper (No. 20), a 5’11”, 150-pound sophomore, sees 18.5 minutes of action per game, primarily as a back-up point guard. Roper has a nice looking jumping shot and is especially good from behind the arc, where he is connecting on 38.2% of his triples. But overall, he’s pretty low risk, low reward on the offensive end at this point. He’s averaging just .7 assists per game but also only .7 turnovers per game. Defensively, Roper is fast and feisty and averages 1 steal per game, and could cause turnover trouble for the Hoos. Roper missed the first game with an injury but has played in every other game this season.
Shooting Guard: Adonis Filer (No. 3), a 6’2″, 190-pound freshman, started the first meeting with UVa and is averaging 21 minutes a game, so Harrison and he essentially split minutes at the “2.” Filer kind of reminds me of former Clemson great Demontez Stitt. He seems to be the one Tiger who can really create his own shot, and he’s pretty aggressive in driving the lane, which is why his 3.3 free throw attempts per game are second on the team. But while Filer is averaging 7.5 points per game, he’s not yet terribly efficient. Filer is hitting just 38.2% of his shots from the field, 34.8% of his 2.2 3-pointers a game, and 69.6% of his free throw attempts. As is usually the case with freshmen, Filer can also be pretty inconsistent. He scored 10 and 6 points in his last 2 games but only registered 4 missed shots and 3 fouls three games ago against Virginia Tech. Like Rod Hall, Filer is aggressive on the defensive end, but he still seems to be learning the ropes of Brownell’s defensive schemes. Filer is certainly a player to watch down the road, but he only had 2 points in the first encounter.
Power Forward: Former UVa recruit Bernard Sullivan (No. 22), a 6’7″, 230-pound sophomore, averages 10.6 minutes a game, but he’s unlikely to see that much time against Virginia (he played 3 minutes in the first game). Sullivan was diagnosed with asthma during his freshman campaign and simply hasn’t looked right since.
7. Prediction. 504-C Brandon has this one as a 54.5-49.4 UVa win, and that’s pretty much the way that I see it as well. Two seasons ago, when Clemson had the superior squad, Virginia eked out a 49-47 win at home. Last season, when the Hoos had the better team, they still barely escaped with a 65-61 victory. And we all know what happened earlier this year at Littlejohn. This is unlikely to be a game that either team runs away with, but I think that UVa should do just enough to win a slugfest, 56-52.