No. 15 Clemson (20-6, 9-5) at Virginia Tech (19-8, 8-6)
Time: 7 p.m.
TV: RSN (affiliate list)
After a three-game road trip in which they went 2-1, Virginia Tech will return to the friendly confines of Cassell Coliseum tonight to take on No. 15 Clemson. The Tigers are safely in the NCAA Tournament at this point, but the Hokies still have a little bit of work to do, which makes tonight’s game big.
It’s been a tough week for Clemson. Last Wednesday, the Tigers lost a tough overtime game 81-79 at Florida State, and followed that up with a 66-57 home loss to Duke in a game that was closer than the final score indicated. They are a good team that has not lost three straight games all year. In fact, they hadn’t lost two consecutive games until their defeats at the hands of FSU and Duke.
Clemson will be looking to bounce back against a hot team. The Hokies just went 2-1 over a tough three-game road stretch, and overall they’ve won six of their last eight games, including wins over No. 10 UNC and No. 2 UVA. Tech began ACC play with an 0-2 record, but they’ve gone 8-4 since and are squarely in the NCAA Tournament discussion. With three of their final four games at home, they are in a good position.
Or are they? Tech is 5-3 in ACC road games this year, and have clinched a winning record in such games for the first time in school history. Meanwhile, they are only 3-3 in ACC home games, including two disappointing losses to Miami and Florida State. Last season, Tech lost just two ACC games in Cassell Coliseum.
The Hokies have won the last three meetings against Clemson, and all three contests have been tight: 71-70, 82-81, and 60-57. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they’ll face a tough Tech team without starting point guard Shelton Mitchell. Mitchell was injured in last week’s Florida State game, and missed Saturday’s game with Duke. He will likely return this weekend against Georgia Tech, but Clemson head coach Brad Brownell announced on Tuesday that Mitchell will miss Wednesday night’s game.
Mitchell is a veteran redshirt-junior who averages 11.8 points per game, and leads the team with 96 assists. He is a transfer from Vanderbilt. Mitchell is Clemson’s second big injury of the season. Starting forward Donte Grantham tore his ACL last month. He was averaging 14.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.
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Brad Brownell said on Tuesday that he doesn’t know what his starting lineup will look like on Wednesday, but this is the starting group that is listed in Clemson’s game notes:
G Marcquise Reed (6-foot-3, 189 pounds, r-Jr.): Averaging 15.7 points per game and 4.7 rebounds per game, and has recorded 89 assists and 50 steals. Reed is a very good player who could draw the assignment of defending Justin Robinson.
G Gabe DeVoe (6-foot-4, 207 pounds, Sr.): Averaging 13 ppg and 4.5 rpg. DeVoe is an excellent shooter, making 41.9 percent of his three-point shots on the season.
F David Skara (6-foot-8, 208 pounds, r-Jr.): Averaging 3.1 ppg and 2.2 rpg. Skara stepped into the starting lineup when Mitchell was injured. He may or may not start against the Hokies. He is a role player who transferred from Valparaiso.
F Aamir Simms (6-foot-7, 237 pounds, Fr.): Averaging 3.6 ppg and 2.7 rpg. Simms has had the unenviable task of trying to replace Donte Grantham in the starting lineup.
C Elijah Thomas (6-foot-9, 237 pounds, Jr.): Averaging 10.3 ppg and 7.8 rpg. Thomas is Clemson’s best big man. He has blocked 62 shots this season.
With the losses of Grantham and Mitchell, Clemson went from five starters who averaged double figures to just three. On paper, they will be a much easier team to defend than they have been for much of the season.
To compensate for their lack of punch offensively, Brad Brownell’s team has to lock in defensively. Fortunately for them, that’s what they’ve been good at all season.
Offensive Efficiency: No. 82
Effective FG%: No. 74
Rebounding Rate: No. 89
Turnovers per Possession: No. 150
Defensive Efficiency: No. 21
Defensive Effective FG%: No. 42
Opp. Turnovers per Possession: No. 189
The Tigers don’t force a lot of turnovers, but their halfcourt defense has been outstanding all season, while their offense has mostly been mediocre. Much of their offensive resume was built with Grantham and Mitchell on the court. Can Clemson be good enough defensively to compensate for the loss of those two players?
They’ll have to do so against a Virginia Tech team that has been tremendous offensively for most of the season. They rank No. 15 in offensive efficiency and No. 2 in effective field goal percentage.
Whichever team controls the pace will likely win the game. Here is how each team ranks in possessions per game…
Virginia Tech: No. 126
Clemson: No. 253
If the Tigers can bog things down and play slow, they can grind out a victory. However, if the Hokies turn this one into a higher scoring game, they will be the likely victors.