Busting Brackets

Virginia vs. Clemson: 2020-21 college basketball game preview, TV schedule

Feb 5, 2020; Charlottesville, Virginia, USA; Clemson Tigers forward Aamir Simms (25) goes to the basket against Virginia Cavaliers forward Jay Huff (30) during the first half at John Paul Jones Arena. Mandatory Credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 5, 2020; Charlottesville, Virginia, USA; Clemson Tigers forward Aamir Simms (25) goes to the basket against Virginia Cavaliers forward Jay Huff (30) during the first half at John Paul Jones Arena. Mandatory Credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports /

TV schedule: Saturday, January 16, 6:00 pm ET. ESPN

Arena: Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson, South Carolina

Winners of four-straight each, the Virginia Cavaliers and Clemson Tigers will duel in a huge ACC showdown over the weekend – and whoever comes away with a win will claim their best victory of the season.

Since their December 26th blowout at the hands of Gonzaga, the Cavaliers (8-2) have kicked off ACC play undefeated, racking up a 4-0 record with two wins over Notre Dame as well as victories against Wake Forest and Boston College.  Virginia’s most recent outing was on Wednesday when they claimed their second win over the Fighting Irish, winning at home, 80-68.

Despite Virginia’s well-documented offensive struggles this season, their Wednesday game against Notre Dame yielded one of their best performances yet.  A whopping five Cavaliers reached double-digits, with Jay Huff leading the way with a game-high 18 points.

Joining him were Sam Hauser (15 points and nine rebounds), Kihei Clark (12 points and six assists), Trey Murphy (10 points and four assists), and Casey Morsell, who had his first double-figure game of the season with 15 points off the bench (3-4 2PT, 3-3 3PT).

Morsell’s stellar shooting marks were not just on an individual basis – the Cavaliers, as a team, rank in the top 100 nationally in both 3P% (71st) and 2P% (10th) – and those marks were on display against the Fighting Irish.  Virginia shot 19-33 (57.6%) inside while draining a blistering 50.0% (12-24) of their outside shots.

On the other end, despite their well-renowned defense, the Cavaliers struggled to shut down the Irish inside – which has been Virginia’s biggest strength in the opening months.  Holding teams to a 50th-best 45.2% for the season, the Cavaliers allowed Notre Dame to knock down 58.6% (17-29) of their inside shots while letting the Irish make 20 trips to the charity stripe – compared to just seven for Virginia. However, Virginia – who has historically struggled to defend outside because of their pack-line – held the Irish to 5-22 (22.7%) outside.

The Clemson Tigers (9-1), meanwhile, feature the most efficient defense in the nation and have allowed opposing teams to reach 70 points on just two occasions.  After racking up a stellar non-conference resume with wins over Purdue, Maryland, and Alabama, the Tigers have begun ACC play at 3-1, dropping their opener at Virginia Tech before rallying off narrow wins over Florida State, Miami, and – the most recent – N.C. State in overtime, 74-70.

Aamir Simms has led the way for the Tigers, averaging just under 13 points a game – but it was Fordham transfer Nick Honor who was the star of Clemson’s close victory against N.C. State.  Honor poured in a season-high 21 points (3-5 2PT, 5-6 3PT) to go with three assists, with Clyde Trapp joining him in double-digits behind 11 points and a team-high seven boards.

The Tigers have not relied much on their offense – both their 3P% and 2P% ranks sub-150 – but they were a stellar 56.4% (22-39) from inside, while struggling from outside (9-30) and at the line (3-9).  Defensively, Clemson struggled to shut down the Wolfpack from outside (7-19), but succeeded inside (16-35).

Their performance against N.C. State, albeit a win, showcased a different Clemson team than what has been seen this season – the Tigers averaged 1.01 points per possession compared to their season average of 0.88, and held N.C. State to 0.96 – a stark increase from their average of 0.75.

If history is any indication, then this matchup favors the Cavaliers – the Tigers have not won a game against UVA since January 12, 2013.  However, this will be the first game during this stretch where Clemson has proven to be the better team.  Despite both still being nationally-ranked, the Cavaliers have not yet proven themselves – their best win has come against Notre Dame, who rank 87th in KenPom.  The Tigers, meanwhile, have beaten seven teams ranked above the Irish.

This game will, ultimately, come down to a battle of Virginia’s offense and Clemson’s defense.  Clemson, again, averages just 0.88 points per possession – while Virginia tallies 1.06.  The Tigers’ stellar mark of holding nine teams below 70 points hides Clemson’s offensive struggles, and their willingness to not rely on it – they have scored 70-plus points on just four occasions.  Virginia, meanwhile, has reached that mark seven times.

Both teams play two of the slowest tempos in college basketball.  Virginia plays the slowest, allowing just 59.3 possessions a game – and Clemson is slightly better with 66.4 possessions.  This game should end somewhere in the 60s – and, if it happens, whoever reaches 70 first will win this game.

The battle inside – and out – between Jay Huff and Aamir Simms will be the matchup to watch.  Both are shooting over 62% on two-pointers – but both are also capable of stepping outside and knocking down a long-range bomb, with Simms having a 7-20 mark for the season, and Jay Huff slightly better at 11-25.

The other key area to watch is turnovers.  Clemson ranks sixth in the nation in forcing turnovers, causing a deflection on 26.4% of opposing teams’ possessions.  Virginia, however, values the ball as well as anyone, turning the ball over on just 13.4% of their possessions – the fourth-best mark in Div. I.  If Clemson hopes to win this game, they will need to make the Cavaliers uncomfortable – and quickly.

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If Virginia’s game against Gonzaga is any indication – where the Cavaliers tallied 15 turnovers for the game against a team that ranks 105th in forcing turnovers – then the Tigers have the capability of making the Cavaliers uncomfortable.  Likewise, the Tigers have held down other efficient offenses – namely, Alabama and Florida State – and cruised to victory.  While history has favored Virginia, this might be the year Clemson finally breaks through and ends the streak.

Prediction: Clemson 66 – Virginia 61