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THE BIG PREVIEW: Hoos look to build winning streak against Clemson

After a week off, Virginia returns to the court.

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

Clemson has played some good basketball over the past few years, making a Sweet Sixteen two years ago. This year’s team isn’t that good as they’re 11-10 (5-6 ACC) and rank 95th on KenPom. But they’ve done things that Clemson Basketball doesn’t usually do. They won at UNC for the first time ever, and then followed it with a win over Duke. It’s the first time in 30 years that the Tigers have beaten the Tar Heels and Blue Devils in back-to-back games.

The Tigers are coming off an ugly 56-44 loss at home to Wake Forest. Virginia has some bad losses, but nothing that bad. At 55th on KenPom, the Cavaliers are better than Clemson, but maybe not a whole lot better. Both teams lost at home to South Carolina, but Clemson’s win over Duke is better than any win Virginia has.

Neither of these teams have a good offense. Virginia ranks 257th while Clemson ranks 193rd. Clemson struggles on the offensive glass, and they don’t get to the line much, but they can shoot it a bit and don’t turn it over. Virginia is pretty much just bad across the board, though they have been decent on the offensive glass. Perhaps this is because the front court is strong, and Coach Bennett has realized that hitting the glass can get the Hoos some easy points when points have been tough to come by.

Clemson’s offense is led by Amir Simms. The 6’8, 240 lb. big man leads the team in rebounds and blocks and is second in assists and steals. All of that is surprising, since Simms hadn’t done a whole lot prior to this year. Simms had 25 points in the upset over Duke, but had just two points in the win over Syracuse.

Simms has improved his three point shooting, making 38% this year after shooting under 34% the past two seasons. He’s also shooting fewer outside shots, which is to his benefit. He’s capable of making the three, but he should really be focused on doing this:

Keep in mind, he’s being guarded by Vernon Carey, Duke’s No. 1 recruit and projected top-ten NBA Draft pick.

Other than Simms, the best player for the Tigers has probably been sophomore John Newman III. Newman is a finisher. He shoots too many outside shots and is knocking down only 31%, but he’s 6’5, 200 lbs., and very athletic.

Their leader in shots is Alabama grad transfer Tevin Mack. Mack actually began his career at Texas before transferring to Alabama. Mack was a high profile recruit (48th according to ESPN), but never really reached his potential. He spends too much time hanging around the three point line, which is where he’s taken more than half his shots for his career. That’s not good for a 6’6, 230 lb. wing. Especially not one shooting just 32% from downtown. This year, he’s making 28% on five attempts per game. That’ll kill an offense right there.

The Tigers run a Princeton-style offense. There’s a lot of back-cutting, off-ball screening, and screen-and-roll action. It also leads to a lot of three point attempts. The Tigers are 29th in percentage of shots taken from downtown. But they’re 257th in three point shooting. That is not a good combination. The reason their offense is even decent is guys like Newman and Mack using those screens and cuts to get inside and finish. Also, Simms’ outside shooting.

Running that offense is freshman Al-Amir Dawes. Here’s an example of that screen and roll action with Dawes pulling up for a short jumper. He has that ability, but there hasn’t been enough of it. Too many threes (just 29%) and far too many turnovers.

Live by the three, die by the three. In their win over Duke, the Tigers made 42% from downtown, with four different guys each making a pair. In the loss to Wake Forest, they made 19% of their threes with six guys each missing at least two. Similarly, in their win over Syracuse, the Orange were just 8-for-27 (29%) from downtown. In their loss to Louisville, the Cardinals were 10-for-21 (48%).

The Tigers also give up a lot of threes. The defense is solid (44th) nationally, but they give up a ton of three point attempts (335th nationally). Even though the opposition hasn’t really been knocking them down, they get open looks.

Since the Hoos can’t shoot, they need to avoid getting into that type of game. But they have the advantage inside. The Tigers aren’t small, but they don’t have any real bigs. In last year’s game, Jay Huff had a big game with 11 points and seven rebounds. That included this drive and finish.

Braxton Key also had a nice game, with seven points, seven rebounds, and three assists. Key was a force inside, and Clemson didn’t have an answer.

Key is guarded by Clyde Trapp, the Clemson backup PG. That’s a big mismatch, and Key takes advantage. If Virginia gets that type of matchup again, it’ll be a win. Knocking down some threes will help, too.

The game tips off at 7pm and will be aired on ACC Network Extra (likely a regional channel in your area).