Virginia is coming off a five-point win against the fifth best team in the country. Clemson? They just lost by twelve to Wake Forest. The Wahoos have the momentum, but the Tigers are desperate.
So far this season, Clemson is 11-10 (5-6 in the ACC) with their most notable win at home against Duke. Their losses to Miami and Wake Forest stick out like a sore thumb, and additional defeats at the hands Virginia Tech and South Carolina are disheartening for a team that could legitimately fight for a top four finish in the ACC. In fact, since beating Duke back on January fourteenth, Clemson has lost three of their last five games. That said, they’ve actually played the 33rd most difficult schedule via KenPom, so some struggles are warranted.
The Tigers are led by Junior big man Aamir Simms who, at 6’8”, is a dangerous three-point shooter (38.1%) but is also comfortable in the post and off the dribble. He’ll be the focal point of Clemson’s attack, so look for Mamadi Diakite to match up with Simms, with the potential for Braxton Key to switch on in spurts. Playing off Simms are Tevin Mack, a springy 6’6” wing and John Newman, a 6’5” athletic guard who both work as slashers looking to get to the rim.
In general, the Tigers play a relatively small lineup with Simms and Hunter Tyson as the only players taller than 6’5” (both 6’8”) that get significant playing time. With Mack and Simms primarily playing in the frontcourt at 6’6” and 6’8”, this is likely going to be a game for Virginia’s smaller lineups, meaning the likes of Huff and Caffaro may see limited minutes if they can’t stay in front of the quicker Simms.
On the offensive side of the ball, Clemson wants to do the majority of their damage on the inside as they lack sufficient outside shooting. They only shoot 31.6% from three-point range as a team (255th), and only Simms shoots higher than 33%. That said, the Tigers are willing to shoot the rock, as Mack alone shoots over five three pointers per game, but still, at a lowly 27.5%. While they struggle from the bonus-sphere, the Tigers’ 51.5% shooting from two-point range is 91st nationwide as they emphasize getting into the paint and finishing.
Defensively, the Tigers are 46th in defensive efficiency via KenPom. In general, they rebound well, posting a 75.3% defensive rebounding rate (43rd in the country), and are relatively disruptive (nothing like Florida State, though) with their 10.4% steal rate (81st nationwide). Clemson is versatile defensively, and with Simms playing the five position, they can afford to switch on ball screens. That said, with Simms as the biggest player on the court, a post-up center could give the Tigers trouble, which is why Huff and/or Caffaro could flourish if they’re able to stick with Simms defensively.
Virginia will win if: They can prevent Clemson from driving the lanes and keep the Tigers in front of them. Diakite will have to work to contain Simms, and if he can, I doubt there’s anybody else that can beat the Virginia defense. Offensively, the ‘Hoos will hope to touch the paint and then work from there, like they did against Florida State last week.
Clemson will win if: They can penetrate the pack-line and finish at the rim. They’ll be hoping that someone outside of Simms can hit a few outside shots as well to force Virginia’s defense to extend.
Score prediction: Virginia 56 – Clemson 50