North Carolina enters this Game in the opposite situation that it desired. The Tar Heels have lost their last two with the last one coming in overtime against NC State. Things only get harder for this one against a Clemson team that hasn’t lost at home. The Tigers are still trying to show their legitiMACy in the conference, sitting one win ahead of the Heels in the ACC standings.
But while Clemson has great numbers, it still has played only two Games without second-leading scorer Donte Grantham, who is out for the season with an ACL injury. The Tigers were sMACked around by Virginia a couple Games ago and escaped at Georgia Tech on Sunday with a 72-70 win. They may be at home, but this team still needs to show it can win without Grantham.
UNC’s biggest statistical flaw has been guarding three pointers this season, but unfortunately for Clemson, it may not be able to capitalize on that without Grantham. The Heels just let NC State shoot 15-of-30 from behind the arc on Saturday and will undoubtedly try and amp up their defense in this one. Without Grantham, Clemson has three guys that shoot from deep and all of them are below 39 percent. They went 10-of-21 as a team in the Georgia Tech win, but that hasn’t been a consistent plus for them most of the season.
The biggest matchup will be in the backcOurt because that’s where most of Clemson’s production comes between Marcquise Reed (15.5 ppg), Gabe DeVoe (11.7 ppg) and Shelton Mitchell (11.7 ppg). With Reed running the show, Clemson has to win that battle in every Game, especially without Grantham in the lineup. If those guys can take advantage of UNC’s weak perimeter defense, they’ll be in business.
The problem for Clemson will be stopping what UNC brings in the paint. The Heels remain one of the best in terms of offensive rebounding and Clemson doesn’t excel in that area with a smaller team. Aamir Simms has been thrown into the starting lineup and only averages 10.6 minutes per Game for the season. He along with Elijah Thomas and a couple others will need to contain a frontcOurt composed mostly of LUke Maye, who’s averaging 18.6 points and 10.5 boards per Game. against smaller frontcOurts, Maye has often exploited those matchups and that could be the case here.
If Maye can’t take advantage, things will come down to senior Joel Berry, who has been extremely inconsistent. Berry scored just six points in 41 minutes in the loss to NC State even though he averages 17 per Game. Clemson isn’t known for its defense, but neither is NC State, so there’s no telling which Berry will show up. If he struggles again, it could mean more trouble for the Tar Heels because they lack consistent offensive weapons. Theo Pinson is mainly there for everything but scoring, while Kenny Williams and Cameron Johnson are far from offensive threats.
But if UNC can win on the glass, that will at least keep them in the Game. The absence of Grantham could be a real problem for Clemson in this one two days after Georgia Tech couldn’t take advantage in that area. That’ll likely change if Maye and Johnson come to play. The Tigers haven’t lost at home, but with UNC needing a win, this could be their first loss unless they catch fire from deep, similar to Sunday’s win against the Yellow Jackets.
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