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Game Preview - Clemson Tigers @ #3 North Carolina Tar Heels

On Tuesday night in Chapel Hill, NC, two teams seemingly headed in two different directions face off as we head into the final full month of conference play.


For the Clemson Tigers, this is a redemption game. They sit 11th in the conference at 4-6 (14-7 overall) and are starting to feel the pressure of potentially missing the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team. Notable recent results include a loss to Georgia Tech at home, a controversial road loss at Duke, a home victory by a mere six points over Louisville, and a one point home loss to Virginia. You could say momentum isn't exactly on Clemson's side as of late and boy, would this be quite the opportunity to gain some momentum and secure a HUGE quad one victory to boost the resume.


Clemson Mens Basketball head coach Brad Brownell pointing
Photo Credit: AP

For the Tar Heels, the Georgia Tech loss on January 30th is already forgotten after Saturday's dominant victory over their rivals, the Duke Blue Devils. Before North Carolina's loss to Georgia Tech, the Heels won ten in a row, dating back to December 20th, 2023 versus Oklahoma in the Jumpman Invitational.


RJ Davis is playing like a first-team All-American, and the Heels defense has been a nightmare for opponents, ranking seventh in the nation in adjusted efficiency on that end per kenpom.com. North Carolina is in prime position to secure its 18th number one-seed (most all time) and has as good of a chance to win the National Championship as any of the top teams in the country.



 

Three Keys To The Game


1.) Who controls the tempo?

When North Carolina controls the speed of the game, they are the most successful this year. They never lead by fewer than seven points in the second half of the win over Duke. The Tar Heels are 46th in the country in adjusted tempo, compared to 245th for Clemson. Two things that contribute to the advantage for Carolina in this matchup are having momentum coming off of the win over Duke and being at home. Positive momentum coming off of a victory, executed by controlling the tempo against your biggest rival, combined with your home crowd is behind you, makes for a dangerous combination to beat.


A major component of controlling the tempo is who dictates the game in the turnover battle. RJ Davis and Elliot Cadeau take care of the ball, both averaging just 1.5 turnovers per game. As a team, the Tar Heels rank 29th in the country in turnover percentage. If Clemson can force North Carolina to turn the ball over, they control the pace of the game. Unfortunately, the stats say Clemson isn't great at forcing turnovers, ranking 336th nationally. This is a major advantage for North Carolina.


North Carolina guard RJ Davis holding a basketball
Photo Credit: Yahoo Sports

2.) Who controls the glass?

Coming into this contest, these two teams are two of the top five rebounding teams in the ACC on a per-game basis, with North Carolina ranking 1st and Clemson ranking 4th in the conference. This game will be a battle between North Carolina's Harrison Ingram and Armando Bacot, and Clemson's PJ Hall and Ian Schieffelin. Ingram and Bacot combine for 18.9 rebounds per game while Hall and Schieffelin combine for 16.6, with both pairings being the two highest on the team. The winner of the rebounding battle very well could be the winner of the game.


3.) Whose bench steps up?

Comparing these two teams, I can't confidently tell you that either is deeper than the other. The Tar Heels bench accounts for just 24.3% percent of their total minutes, which lands them at 318th in the country. Clemson, in that same category, is 29.1%, which lands at 230th in the country.


The two players to look out for off the bench for these squads are Seth Trimble for North Carolina and RJ Godfrey for Clemson. Trimble is someone that head coach Hubert Davis is asking to come in and score the ball, despite having ten points in 19 minutes in the win over Duke. He is expected to be the guy who can come into the game for Davis or Cadeau to execute the offense and be a reliable athlete on defense. As for Godfrey, he is an efficient scorer from the field who helps give Clemson valuable minutes as a 6'7" forward when the Tigers frontcourt is in foul trouble. One of these two guys will help impact their team in a winning way.


 

I think Clemson puts up a valiant fight as their backs are against the wall but North Carolina, minus the loss at Georgia Tech, is playing at a National Championship caliber level right now. The momentum from the win over Duke on Saturday will help fuel the Tar Heels to an 82-71 victory over the Tigers. Watch the game on ESPN at 7 PM EST, follow me on X (@TrevorEverette) for live updates from the Dean Smith Center, and check out my recap for House of College Hoops here following the conclusion of the game!

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