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The Matchup: Virginia Tech vs. Clemson

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The Hokies hit the road and take on a struggling Clemson squad.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

The Clemson football team had a great January, winning the National Championship over one of the best Alabama teams we have seen in years.

Clemson’s basketball team? Not so much.

The Tigers rank second to last in the ACC with a 1-5 record (11-7 overall) with an 0-5 record since the start of the new year. Clemson is coming off one of their worst performances of the year against Louisville, where they lost 92-60. However, they have competed with some of the other top teams in the nation, losing by just 5 to Notre Dame, by 3 to UNC, and by 4 to Virginia. For a team with tournament aspirations, the Tigers are desperate to get back in the win column.

As a team, Clemson averages 75.7 points, but that number has dropped to 70.8 during conference play. They have played one of the toughest schedules in the NCAA as KenPom ranks their offensive efficiency at 29th and their SOS at 2nd. The Tigers have undoubtedly played a tough schedule and lost some close games, which is why they are still viewed as an NCAA tournament team by Lunardi and others.

Forward Jaron Blossomgame, a preseason all-ACC team pick has lived up to expectations. With a 26% Usage Rate, the offense runs through him. The do-it-all forward is averaging 17.8/5.8 on the season shooting 51.7% from the field. The reason for Blossomgame’s terrific efficiency is because he has an extremely diverse skill set. He can operate in the post, isolate at the top of the key, attack the glass, and play off ball.

The one thing the star senior has not done well so far this season is shoot the ball from three as Blossomgame is only knocking down a paltry 17.6% of his shots behind the arc. Since his game is not dependent on his shot falling he has remained effective, but anytime the Hokies can force a deep shot that is semi-contested should be considered a win when defending Blossomgame.

Clemson has done well shooting the ball well from three as a team. On the year, the Tigers are hitting on 34.6% of their deep attempts. Blossomgame’s inability to consistently knock down shots has brought that number down, but Clemson has multiple three-point threats that will be on the floor at all times.

Statistically, the best shooter on the team is guard Marcquise Reed, making nearly 41% of his three-pointers. Reed averages 9.7 PPG, but only has a .373 three-point attempt rate, preferring to go to the rim. He displays nice touch and feel for scoring in the paint, evidenced by a 88.7% free throw percentage.

The two best shooters the Hokies must close out on are Avry Holmes and Gabe DeVoe. Holmes, Clemson’s second leading scorer, averages 11.1 points and is a 39.2% three-point shooter. In conference play, Holmes is hitting on an otherworldly 46.9% of his threes, so he has heated up lately. At home, Blossomgame will rely on Holmes to be his sidekick on offense. DeVoe, meanwhile, is hitting a solid 38.8% from downtown on the year and averages 9.7 points per game.

Clemson uses an eight-man rotation, so they have good depth in addition to their starters. Paired in the frontcourt with Jaron Blossomgame is forward Donte Grantham. At 6-8, he is another one of those mobile bigs that have multifaceted skill sets. He can step back and hit the three if you let him, although he is only making 33% of his downtown attempts. He is averaging 5.2 rebounds in addition to his 9.6 points, making him a threat on the glass.

Shelton Mitchell plays around 25 minutes per game, and averages 8.1 points per. He is a slashing guard that will also look to get to the rim first before taking a jumper. Sidy Djitte is one of the more interesting players on the Tigers. At 6-10, he is the closest thing they have to a true center. He has been excellent on the glass on both ends of the floor with a 17.7% Rebound Percentage. So he has played well when he is in the game. Like what the Hokies saw against FSU, don’t be surprised is Clemson implements a bigger lineup to counter the Hokies speed. Elijah Thomas provides depth behind Grantham and Blossomgame in the frontcourt, averaging a hair over 7 PPG.

The Hokies defense was stout against Georgia Tech, but recently have not done a great job defending the perimeter. Part of that is due to shaky on-ball defense which allows penetration and forces the defense to collapse. Clemson has the length to make life difficult for Virginia Tech if they can gain a half-step advantage off the bounce. On the road, the Hokies seem to have much less chemistry, especially on defense. Clemson has not been spectacular on offense this year, but certainly have the talent to do damage. It would obviously be encouraging for future if the Hokies can lock down a team on the road, something they have not yet done this season.

Defensively, Clemson does an outstanding job suffocating ball movement and forcing turnovers. Opponents only tally an assist percentage of 45%, meaning that they pressure ball handlers and make it difficult to string together multiple passes to break down whatever defensive set they run, whether it be man or zone. They also force a turnover on 18.8% of their defensive possessions. The Hokies have turned it over 36 times in their two conference road games this season, and they will face another tough challenge in South Carolina. Their demons won’t be exorcised if they don’t turn the ball over excessively, but it will bode well for the rest of the season.

Clemson has struggled defending over the last six games, giving up an average of 79.3 PPG which ranks 12th in the ACC. Teams have been getting whatever shot they want on them. What has hurt them the most has been their perimeter defense. ACC opponents are shooting over 42% from three on Clemson, which is an opportunity to attack Buzz Williams has undoubtedly circled on his scouting report. Look for the Hokies to get Ahmed Hill going early. He hasn’t hit a three-point shot since the Syracuse game, and Virginia Tech could really use one of their elite shooters to step up if they are to make a run to up their status in the conference.

Prediction:

Since they lost to Notre Dame at home, the Hokies will need to steal one on the road. Problem is, there are no easy road games in this conference this season. Clemson right now is a desperate team – and desperate teams are usually dangerous. I think the Hokies play much better than they have on the road this season, but Jaron Blossomgame wills his team to victory. This game will come down to the Hokies’ quickness and speed against Clemson’s length. It will surely be an interesting battle.

Clemson 73-68.