Virginia Tech Hokies (19-9, 9-6) at Clemson Tigers (19-10, 8-7)
I love when we play Clemson. While Virginia Tech's games more often than not are ugly, brutal rock fights, the Clemson game has usually been at the very least entertaining. Not only has the basketball itself been enjoyable to watch, but there's typically a lot on the line for both teams in terms of an NCAA Tournament bid.
That's the way it was on the last day of the 2007 regular season when the Tigers, who won their first 17 games and were the last NCAA team to lose a game, were still fighting for their tournament lives at 6-9 in ACC play. The Tigers came away with a win thanks to a K.C. Rivers bucket with 18 seconds left. However, the 8th-seeded Tigers lost in the first round of the ACC Tournament and wound up in the NIT.
A year later, it was the Hokies in need of a win to improve their NCAA Tournament resume on the last day of the regular season. Tech had a late lead, but got complacent, lost their lead, got it back, committed a foul with 3.8 seconds to go and watched Demontez Stitt made two free throws and crushed its dreams.
So here we are again. The Hokies and Tigers facing off in their last game of the regular season needing a win to improve their tournament chances.
The big difference between this year's game and the recent meetings is it stands to not be nearly as visually appealing. Brad Brownell has brought a much slower pace to Clemson that Oliver Purnell. Purnell had the Tigers in the top third of the country in tempo. In Brownell's first year, the Tigers are in the bottom third, right with the Hokies.
|Points on 3P:||24.8||8||26.4||7||30.1||5||30.4||4||27.4|
|Points on 2P:||53.9||5||51.4||9||51.6||8||49.4||9||51.6|
|Points on FT:||21.2||3||22.2||4||18.3||8||20.2||6||21.0|
Last year's meeting in Blacksburg was the first time since the Hokies entered the ACC that their game with Tigers was decided by more than four points. Tech won by 11 thanks in large part to their ability to get to the free throw line. The Hokies were 38-for-46 from the line, including 20-for-23 by Malcolm Delaney. And the Hokies stand to get to the line in this matchup as well.
Other stats to watch will be rebounding and Clemson's three-point percentage. Tech needs to do well on the boards against a team that matches up pretty well against them and they have to defend the outside shot better. They did well against Duke and didn't against BC. How they do in this game may ultimately decide their postseason fate.
It figures that Tech and Clemson cross paths with a possible NCAA berth on the line. And since it's Clemson, this game figures to be close. Once again, the most important thing for the Hokies will be their ability to keep their composure down the stretch. It's been what has cost Tech in these close, important games in the past. If they can get over that hump, then they may finally get over the NCAA Tournament hump as well.
For the Clemson perspective, visit Shakin' the Southland.