(Image — Scott Taetsch — USA Today Sports)
In UVA’s first contest against a ranked team this year (hehe), the ‘Hoos tip off against the Clemson Tigers Saturday evening in what is potentially a matchup of the ACC’s top-two teams. Led by former Blue Ridge High School star Aamir Simms, the Tigers boast the nation’s best defense. While the Clemson offense has its dry spells, the Tigers have a couple of individual players who could prove to be problematic for the Virginia defense.
What Clemson has done so far
With a 9-1 overall record, Clemson has impressed so far this season. With wins over teams like Purdue, Alabama, North Carolina, and Florida State and their lone loss coming on the road versus Virginia Tech, this is a battle tested Tigers team that has proven itself against solid competition.
Breaking Clemson down
In a number of ways, this Clemson team is reminiscent of last year’s UVA squad. With guards who are quick, long, and tough to beat off the dribble and physical bigs who are tone setters on the backside, the defense is formidable. Offensively, the Tigers aren’t particularly dangerous from behind the arc and rely on their veteran power forward Simms while 5’10” point guard Nick Honor is their most dynamic player in the backcourt.
Clemson offense vs UVA defense
As a team, Clemson shoots 33.9% from three which is 153rd in the country. That said, Honor and Al-Amir Dawes are both high volume shooters who can get hot. So far this season, the 5’10’ guard is shooting a wild 44.2% on 5.2 three-point attempts per game while Dawes has struggled a bit, currently at 32.7% but on the same exact number of attempts as Honor. Simms can also stretch the floor as a 35.3% career three point shooter despite a lower volume.
In reality, Simms is the biggest threat to the Wahoos on that end of the floor. He’s got the bulk and touch to dominate in the post while he’s also skilled enough to drive the ball to the hoop. There’s no clear cut best defender on this UVA roster who will be able to hang with Simms. With Sam Hauser dominating minutes at the four, I suspect he’ll start on Simms early but with the assurance that the ‘Hoos will double Simms whenever he touches the ball in the post. Hauser has the bulk to prevent Simms from completely bullying him.
That said, issues arise considering how much Clemson uses Simms in ball screens and because, recently, UVA has been switching all ball screens one through four. They’ve got away with it because they haven’t played a power forward who is dangerous in the post. But, if Simms can exploit a matchup with a guard in the post, that won’t end well for the Wahoos. Virginia will likely look to adjust accordingly. We could also see Justin McKoy or Trey Murphy matched up with Simms if need be, while Jay Huff could be another possibility.
UVA offense vs Clemson defense
The other side of the ball is likely where the game will be decided. Clemson’s intense, high pressure defense will look to disrupt the Wahoos offense that has been hitting its stride of late. In fact, Virginia is actually fourth nationally in lowest turnover percentage, while is seventh nationally in forcing turnovers.
Expect the ‘Hoos to stick with their three man motion offense against the Tigers as they’ll look to keep touching the paint with Huff, Hauser, and Kihei Clark while relying on Trey Murphy and Casey Morsell to hit shots from the perimeter. Speaking of, UVA is going to need to hit their shots from behind the arc against Clemson to keep the Tigers’ defense honest. Huff’s recent increase in attempts (3.8 3PA in ACC play versus just 1.7 in non-conference play) and general aggressiveness at the top of the key in the triangle set should continue as his ability as a floor stretcher will give Hauser and Clark better looks in the mid-post.
Ideally, Hauser will start hitting more shots from deep while maintaining his ridiculous efficiency in the mid range — he’s shooting 61% on forty-one mid range attempts this season. But, with Simms likely to be guarding Hauser, this may be a game where the Marquette transfer struggles. Simms is the real deal defensively and is probably the prototype defender for Hauser.
If the three man motion set stalls out, look for Virginia to fall back to their old faithful sides offense because Clemson’s players are too good as individual defenders for the 5-out offense to do much damage.
UVA will win if: the ‘Hoos can take care of the ball, hit shots, and maintain their groove in the three man motion while preventing Simms from beating them on the other end.
Clemson will win if: the Tigers can make the Wahoo guards beat them. This is a frontcourt reliant UVA offense and if Clemson can limit Huff and Hauser, issues will arise. On the other end, Simms needs to dominate on the interior and off pick and rolls while Honor and the other guards need to hit shots.
Score prediction: UVA 63 – Clemson 60
While the Clemson defense is stingy, the pure talent that Virginia has will come out on top. Additionally, the Tigers aren’t deadly enough on offense to exploit the less-than-perfect Wahoo defense so the Wahoos should pick up their first signature win of the season.