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Preview: Clemson at Wake Forest

The 10-2 Clemson Tigers visit Winston-Salem to take on the 9-4 Wake Forest Demon Deacons

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

The Clemson Tigers, winners of eight straight, roll into Winston-Salem to take on Wake Forest tomorrow at high noon at the LJVM. Clemson (10-2) will look to go 1-0 in the ACC for the first time since 2014. Wake Forest (9-4) suffered a loss in their first ACC game, falling 86-72 at Florida State on Wednesday night.

The Tigers are coached by Brad Brownell, currently in his 7th year at the helm. He holds a 117-89 (57%), including a 50-54 record in the ACC (48%). They currently sit at 22nd in KenPom, good enough for 5th in the ACC (one spot ahead of Florida State). Wake Forest dropped to 45th after the 14 point loss to FSU.

While Clemson usually feasts on talent-deficit teams early in the season, that is not the case this year, as they boast the 79th best non-conference schedule in the country. Their only losses were to Xavier (16th) and Oklahoma (58th) on neutral courts in the middle of November. Since those losses they have rattled off eight straight victories, including an impressive win at South Carolina right before Christmas.

They are led by senior star Jaron Blossomgame, but thanks to a handful of reliable guards, are far from a one-man show this season. Blossomgame spurned the NBA draft to come back to Clemson where he hopes to continue to refine his game and take Clemson back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.

As always, the Brownell-led squad is stout on defense, but using last year as a catapult, have finally gotten an equally good offense, ranking 28th in KenPom (25th defensively). After a few years of molasses-slow tempo, the Tigers have ramped it up to 190th nationally (up from 343rd last year) to nearly 70 possessions a game. Given the talent in the backcourt it is not surprising that this has reaped dividends thus far.

Breaking down the matchup between the Deacons and the Tigers shows that it will be pretty fun to watch the Wake Forest offense versus the Clemson defense. Wake Forest is 33rd in the country in effective field goal percentage, while Clemson is 63rd in EFG defense. The Tigers are 3rd nationally in FTA/FGA, meaning that they don’t foul a lot at all, and when they do it’s hardly ever to send the other team to the line. Wake is average at getting to the line on offense, ranking 144th nationally.

The Tigers are allowing opponents to shoot 30.3% from threes, and given the threats that Wake Forest has from behind the arc (4 guys shooting over 38% with over 40+ attempts), that could be a fun battle to watch between two very good units.

Another area that Wake Forest should be able to exploit, assuming that John Collins can stay on the court, is rebounding the basketball. Clemson is 293rd in the country at defensive rebounding, grabbing just 66.6% of opponent’s misses. Collins is the 7th best offensive rebounder in the country, so he has got to avoid early foul trouble.

For Wake Forest to win this game they will absolutely have to buckle down on the defensive end. The Deacs rank 111th overall defensively, and are facing a very efficient Tigers offense. Led by former Wake commit Shelton Mitchell at the point, the Tigers turn the ball over on just 16% of their possessions, good enough for 24th in the country. They also boast a top 50 offensive rebounding team, led by Sidy Djitte, who ranks 4th in the country in OR%.

It will be interesting to see how Coach Manning decides to matchup against Blossomgame. I assume there will be a fair amount of defensive switching (both off screens as well as different defensive looks). The 1-3-1 and matchup zone stymied Florida State a bit, and since Clemson only shoots 34% on the season that could be very effective at keeping the ball out of the paint.

The game within the game very well could come down to Djitte vs. Collins, who have been two of the most improved big men in the conference and perhaps the country. While Djitte’s stats don’t pop off the page as much as Collins do, he had rebounded the ball extremely well, but also battled foul trouble like Collins. If I am Danny Manning I would go inside to Collins early and often to challenge Djitte and get him sent to the bench.

Clemson is one of the most experienced teams in the country, ranking 23rd in the country in experience and 39th in Continuity Minutes. They also rely heavily on their starters, getting just 27% of their minutes from the bench (312th nationally).

Projected Starting Lineups:

Clemson

Shelton Mitchell (9.8 PPG, 2.9 APG, 1.9 TPG)

Avry Holmes (10.9 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 35% 3-Pt)

Jaron Blossomgame (17.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.9 APG)

Donte Grantham (10.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.1 APG)

Sidy Djitte (8.2 PPG, 9.3 RPG)

Wake Forest

Bryant Crawford (14.4 PPG, 6 APG, 2.6 TPG)

Keyshawn Woods (13.2 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 3.3 APG)

Austin Arians (9.2 PPG, 44% 3-Pt)

Dinos Mitoglou (10.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 39% 3-Pt)

John Collins (16.1 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 1.5 BPG)

Overall this should be a pretty fun matchup between two pretty even teams. KenPom has This game as 51/49 toss-up in favor of Clemson, with the Tigers projected to take a 77-76 win. Given the grind that is the ACC, all toss-up games are important, especially for the team playing at home. If Wake Forest wants to get off to a good early start in the ACC then tomorrow is a great chance to head in that direction before taking on Boston College on Tuesday night (93% chance to win currently).