CLEMSON vs No.11 Virginia Tech
All-Time Series: Clemson trails 15-19
The Tigers beat Georgia Tech 65-42 on Wednesday night for their third straight blowout win and first ACC road win, setting up one of the biggest games of the season on Saturday against No.11 Virginia Tech. This has historically been a tight game, with several going to overtime or down to the wire, and this meeting will likely be no different. The Hokies have won 4 straight over the Tigers, the longest streak by either team, winning the only meeting last year by 7 points in Blacksburg. Before the 4-game win streak, it was even all-time at 15-15, so perhaps the Tigers are due!
VIRGINIA TECH SYNOPSIS
This is probably the best team Buzz Williams has had in his five seasons, but the Hokies have been somewhat of a conundrum this season. They are 18-4 overall and 7-3 in the ACC, but they have blown out some very good teams while also getting blown out themselves a couple times. They beat a ranked Purdue team early in the season and then benefited from a rather soft schedule, rising in the rankings as they kept winning. However, they came crashing down with an 81-59 loss at UVA and two games later lost 103-82 at UNC. They bounced back with 3 straight wins, book-ended by a 22-point win at Syracuse and a 23-point win at No.23 NC State. So the Hokies are capable of playing at an elite level but are also capable of playing very poorly. Incidentally, NC State scored just 24 points in that game, and it was right after they beat the Tigers on the buzzer-beater 3-pointer, a game the Tigers should have won for a giant resume-builder. The Hokies followed up the State win with an 8-point home loss to No.16 Louisville on Monday.
The Hokies have been without their best player, senior point guard Justin Robinson, for the last two games due to a foot injury, which is part of the reason they scored just 47 points at NC State. They managed to score 64 in the Louisville loss, but the Hokies are not the same team without Robinson, and he is not expected to play on Saturday. They still have a prolific scorer in 6'5 sophomore guard Nickeil Alexander Walker. He is 7th in the ACC at 17.5 points per game and shoots 42.4% from beyond the arc. Virginia Tech is #3 in the nation in 3-point percentage, shooting 42% on the season, and they are #9 in the nation in FG percentage, shooting 49.2% on the season. They like to push the ball up the court and get in transition, so they are a little bit like FSU in that regard offensively. With the Hokies shooting the ball at such a high clip, it will be paramount that the Tigers rebound the ball defensively and limit the Hokies' second and third-chance opportunities.
The Tigers are riding high after three straight blowout wins following the devastating buzzer-beater loss at No.21 NC State, a game they had all but won. They have put that loss completely behind them and are playing with a ton of confidence right now. The 23-point road win at Georgia Tech was particularly impressive, given that Eli Thomas was in early foul trouble and played only 17 minutes. Thomas, by the way, is #9 in the nation in field goal percentage and 2nd in the ACC, behind only Spartanburg native and Duke freshman phenom Zion Williamson. Marcquise Reed had a big second half in Atlanta, finishing right at his average of 19 points. The Tigers also got 13 points from Skara, who is more known for his defense and rebounding. It was Skara's first-ever double-digit ACC game, and if he can start scoring more consistently, it will be a big boost for the offense.
The Tigers' defense is the best right now that it has been in the last couple years. They held Pitt to 23 first-half points, Wake to 37 total points and Georgia Tech to 42 points on the road. This, however, will be a big litmus test to find out how much the defense really has improved. The Tigers are still dead last in the ACC in 3-point defense, and the Hokies are #1 in the ACC and #3 in the nation in 3-point shooting. The absence of Justin Robinson will help the Tigers' cause, but they need to really guard Alexander-Walker and company on the perimeter on Saturday.
It's unfortunate that it happens to be a noon game. The ACC did not do the Tigers any favors at all with the scheduling this year. They had the ridiculously front-loaded schedule and have three home 9:00 week day games with the noon starts on Super Bowl Sunday and this Saturday. But hopefully the Littlejohn crowd will show up and be in full throat. If the Tigers can pull this one off, they will amazingly be 5-5 in the ACC and potentially alone in 7th place at the midpoint of the ACC schedule! They also have a very winnable game at a decimated Miami team this week, but first things first. Eli Thomas must stay out of foul trouble, and Marcquise Reed needs to find his 3-point stroke. He was 0-4 from beyond the arc on Wednesday and 0-2 in the previous game against Wake. If both of those happen, I believe the Tigers will win going away. If not it will be a dog fight, but I expect the Tigers to emerge victorious for their fourth straight ACC win. Another win or two after that, and they could find themselves back in the rankings for the first time since they were No.16 early in the season!