After two tough losses to UVA and Duke, Virginia Tech heads to Clemson to face a resurgent Tiger team that has won four of their last five games.
Tech and Clemson battled each other in Blacksburg back on February 4, with the Hokies pulling out a 67-65 win. Tech led by as many as 17 points in that game, but didn’t make a field goal over the final 5:57 of the game, and the Tigers nearly came back to win. Clemson’s Milton Jennings was suspended for that game, but he’s back and he’s arguably Tech’s worst matchup on the Clemson team.
Before we take a look at this specific matchup, let’s reflect on the VT-Clemson series since ACC expansion. The Tigers and Hokies have faced each other 11 times, with Tech winning five of those games. The average margin of victory has been 3.7 points. Only one game has been decided by double figures, and six of the games have been decided by one or two points, with another being decided by three points.
When these teams play, it usually goes down to the wire. Not that we’re used to anything else around these parts. Tech’s last five games have been one-possession games at the end of regulation. Florida State beat the Hokies on a shot with 2.6 seconds left, while Tech made game winners against Boston College and Georgia Tech. The Duke game could have been won in regulation with a last shot, as well as the UVA game. History, as well as Virginia Tech’s play the last couple of weeks, say tonight’s game will be a nail biter.
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Clemson has a very experienced team, but they are a good matchup for Virginia Tech – for the most part. Despite their experience advantage, nobody in Clemson’s starting lineup can beat anyone off the dribble. Andre Young is too short to finish on the inside, Tanner Smith isn’t that type of player, and Bryan Narcisse is a defensive specialist.
Clemson’s best hope of beating people off the dribble comes in the form of a pair of freshmen guards: Rod Hall (6-1, 210) and T.J. Sapp (6-2, 180). They are the type of lead guards that you need to run a successful ACC team. Currently Clemson doesn’t have that in their starting lineup, which is one reason they have struggled with a 15-13 record. The freshmen are still too young, however, as they combined for just two points in Blacksburg earlier this season.
Besides poor offense by the Hokies, one of the reasons Clemson nearly came back in the first meeting was their ability to penetrate. That was inexcusable on Tech’s part. However, the Tigers also ran a good transition offense down the stretch, and they got offensive rebounds. The Hokies played a very good first 35 minutes against the Tigers, but they were fortunate to hang on and win.
This time around, Clemson will have Milton Jennings in the starting lineup. Jennings is a matchup nightmare for any team without a real power forward, which of course the Hokies don’t have. He can run, he can jump, he can block shots, he can rebound, and he can shoot the ball well enough to keep defenders honest. He is the type of defensive power forward who has the ability to defend Jarell Eddie on the perimeter, as well as a traditional power forward on the interior.
Clemson has won four of their last five games, and Jennings has been a big reason. He is averaging 12.2 points per game during that span, which is up from his overall season average. Clemson beat Wake Forest (78-58) and Georgia Tech (56-37) handily during that stretch, but they also beat Virginia (60-48) and NC State (72-69) as well. They are a capable basketball team that also beat Florida State by 20 earlier this season.
The Tigers have some size coming off the bench in the form of Catalin Baciu (7-2, 255, Sr.). They also have wing K.J. McDaniels (6-6, 190, Fr.), who had 14 points, 5 rebounds and 5 blocks in the first meeting with the Hokies. He scored Clemson’s last six points, and he’s a big reason they were able to claw their way back into the game. However, for the season he averages just 3.7 points and 1.7 rebounds, and five of his 18 blocks came against the Hokies.
Despite their 15-13 overall record, Clemson is 7-7 in the ACC, and they could still end up as the #4 seed in the ACC Tournament. Currently they trail UVA by just one game, along with NC State and Clemson, who also have seven losses. Tonight’s game will mean a lot to the Tigers, especially their four seniors.
Clemson is dangerous because of their experience level, but also because of their head coach. Brad Brownell is in his second season, and he has taken three different schools to the NCAA Tournament: Clemson, UNC-Wilmington and Wright State. He’s a quality head man, and the Tigers made a great decision to hire him.
Tonight’s game is scheduled for a 9pm tip-off on the ACC Network. Click here for a list of affiliates showing the game.