CLEMSON at Georgia Tech
TV: Fox Sports South
All-Time Series: Clemson leads 72-63
The Tigers are coming off back-to-back blowout wins over Pitt and Wake Forest as they try to claw their way back to .500 in ACC play. Eli Thomas had a monster game in the Tigers' 64-37 win over Wake on Sunday, scoring 23 points, 3 shy of his career high. He was nearly perfect, going 10-11 from the field and 3-3 at the free throw line. The Tigers have won 6 straight against Tech, including a 72-60 win a few weeks ago in Littlejohn, the Tigers' first conference win of the season. In his tenure at Clemson, Brad Brownell is 14-4 against the Jackets, his best record against any ACC opponent.
Tech comes in 11-11 overall and 3-6 in the ACC. The Jackets had a big 14-point win at Syracuse early in the season, but they lost to the Tigers in their next game and have struggled since, losing 5 of their last 6. They have lost 3 straight since beating Notre Dame 63-61, but two of those games were against Duke and North Carolina. The Jackets lost a close game at FSU most recently on Saturday.
In the previous meeting between these two teams, Tech was without big man A.D. Gueye, but he is back now and has scored double digits in 15 straight games, including 15 against FSU and 14 against both North Carolina and Duke. Gueye is a monster on the glass--especially the offensive boards. He is a difference-maker for the Jackets and had a big game in the Tigers in Atlanta last year, with 14 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks. Together with Texas transfer James Banks III, they are a formidable tandem on the low blocks. Banks has a history of getting in foul trouble early--he played only 20 minutes in that game--and it would be a huge advantage for the Tigers if he were to get in foul trouble again. Banks averages 10.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. Senior guard Brandon Alston also missed the previous meeting with the Tigers due to injury, and he averages 9.2 points per game. He missed 5 straight games, beginning with Clemson, but returned against FSU on Saturday. He scored just 4 points and was 1-5 from the field. Finally, point guard Jose Alvarado has been battling an ankle sprain and had his worst game of the season on Saturday at FSU. He was 0-5 from beyond the arc, 0-10 from the field and fouled out early with no points, playing just 24 minutes. I expect him to rebound in a big way at home on Wednesday night and will probably score 15-20 against the Tigers.
Third-year Head Coach Josh Pastner likes to mix up the defense, so you will see a little man-to-man but probably mostly zone. It's kind of a hybrid between a 3-2 and a 1-3-1. The Tigers handled it pretty well in the first meeting between the two teams--especially in the first half. Tech is prone to turning the ball over--the Jackets are dead last in the ACC, averaging 15.2 per game, and they are second to last in turnover margin--so the Tigers need to exploit that and score off of turnovers in Atlanta. Tech is also dead last in the ACC in 3-point shooting percentage, averaging 29.1% this season, but teams always seem to have their best shooting games against the Tigers, who have the worst 3-point defense in the ACC. Look out for Alston, Devoe and Haywood shooting the 3's, and, again, I have a sneaking suspicion Alvarado will have a big game with a few makes from beyond the arc.
After to the grueling early ACC schedule and 1-5 start culminating with the devastating buzzer-beater loss at NC State that they should have easily won, the Tigers have blown out their last 2 opponents to improve to 3-5. The morale of the team is 180 degrees from where it was a week and a half ago, and if they can pull off their first road win in Atlanta on Wednesday night, they will have a great shot at beating Virginia Tech at home this Saturday and a .500 ACC record! The Tigers are beginning to look like the team I expected them to be this season, and it starts at the defensive end, where they have made significant improvement. They held Pitt to just 23 points in the first half and held Wake to 37 total points, tied for the fewest Brownell has allowed against an ACC opponent and the second-fewest against any opponent. Eli Thomas told us after the game that the team has embraced the importance of defense and made a concerted effort to improve in that department. Getting to this point has been a struggle for Brownell over the last couple years, as this group of players has been always been offensive-minded. However, the last two games have been very encouraging. It remains to be seen if they can play with the same defensive tenacity on the road, and they will have that opportunity on Wednesday night--particularly against a team that turns the ball over frequently and does not shoot the 3 well.
Eli Thomas was sensational on Sunday, and it will be interesting to see if he can stay out of foul trouble and follow that up with another great performance. After his 10-11 game on Sunday, Eli is second in the ACC in field goal percentage behind Zion Williamson, and he is #8 in the nation. He also had 7 blocks in the Wake win! After Reed and Mitchell were on fire from beyond the arc against Pitt, the back court duo combined to go just 1-6 in the Wake win. Others like Simms, Newman and Skara stepped up, but Reed and Mitchell will have to make their shots on Wednesday night if the Tigers are going to win their first ACC road game. Reed scored a career-high 30 in the first meeting against Tech but then went into a funk for a couple games.
I expect the Tigers to pick up where they've left off and finally win that elusive ACC road game, improving to 14-8 overall and 4-5 in the ACC, setting up a huge home game on Saturday against the Hokies.