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The Big Preview: Virginia and Clemson Run It Back

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Virginia Cavaliers Basketball runs it back against Clemson, just 13 days after a poor outing led to an easy 17-point win for the Tigers. Since that game, there hasn’t been much competitive basketball for these two teams. Virginia had a break over the holiday, but took home a big road win over Syracuse on Saturday. Clemson was meant to play Duke last Wednesday, but that game was cancelled due to CoVID-19 issues.

In two weeks, these two teams have combined to play one game. Does that give Virginia a bit of an edge, having had a game to shake off the rust? It might, but that may not be enough to overcome the edge Clemson seemed to have last time out.

In that game, Virginia went over 11 minutes between FGs in the second half. During that same period, Virginia attempted 10 shots, with eight of those being three pointers. Virginia was 6-22 (27%) from downtown for the game, and 9-19 (47%) from inside the arc. Shooting under 50% on inside shots is a problem for sure. But shooting more threes than twos just makes no sense for a team that is 229th nationally in three point shooting.

Against Syracuse, Virginia shot the basketball better from outside (7-20 or 35%), but more importantly, they shot 20 threes and 37 twos. That is a much better ratio for a team that is strong inside and struggles from outside. The Syracuse zone is intended to force outside shots, but Virginia did a good job of getting the ball inside and not settling for outside shots.

Syracuse’s zone is different from Clemson’s defense, and this year’s Cuse team is not great defensively. But getting the ball inside to Franklin is a good look, and should pay dividends more often than not. It’s a good way to get Franklin going when his outside shot isn’t falling.

Despite not having a lot of bulk inside, Clemson was able to keep Jayden Gardner outside of the paint. The ECU transfer has attempted eight threes on the season, and four came against Clemson (with just one make). Gardner had just nine points in 36 minutes, and Virginia simply is not going to win an ACC game without a bigger contribution from Gardner.

The issues weren’t entirely on offense though. Clemson also scored 1.08 points per possession, despite not shooting all that well from deep. They made 8/22 (36%), which is good but below their season numbers of 41% (6th nationally). Virginia simply got worked on the inside.

Clemson has a number of bigger wings, including 6’8” Hunter Tyson, 6’7” Ian Schiefflin, and 6’4” David Collins. That trio combined for 34 points on 21 shots. And yet there was really no change to Virginia’s rotation. Virginia’s bigger wings (6’10” Igor Milicic, 6’8” Kody Stattmann and 6’5” Taine Murray) all barely saw the floor and combined to have zero impact on the game. That needs to change.

Clemson’s top scorer is big man P.J. Hall. He had 11 points on 13 FGA. The backcourt duo of Al-Amir Dawes and Nick Honor combined for 11 points on 17 FGA. Chances are, Tony Bennett is happy with those numbers. And yet, Virginia lost by 17.

On the bright side, Reece Beekman had the best game of his career with 20 points on 10 FGA. Although, you would like to see more than one assist.

Here’s that single assist—one that’s worth replicating and one that we need to see more of from Virginia. Those threes are much better shots when they are open and in rhythm off a penetrating drive. Problem is, Reece doesn’t get the assist unless the shot goes in, and Virginia just didn’t make enough shots in that game.

Improve the shot-making and sure up the interior defense a little and Virginia can absolutely get one back against the Tigers.

Virginia is a four-point underdog, per DraftKings. Tipoff is at 9:00 p.m.