SENIOR DAY PREVIEW: Clemson vs. Syracuse
- 2019-03-08 16:02:26
CLEMSON vs Syracuse
All-Time Series: Tied 4-4
It's a battle of the orange in Littlejohn! This game features two of the best defensive teams in the ACC. Clemson is 3rd in points allowed at 64.3 per game, and Syracuse is 4th at 65.3 per game. Saturday is also the last game of the regular season and Senior Day for the Tigers--the last game in Littlejohn for Eli Thomas, Marcquise Reed, Shelton Mitchell, David Skara and Lyles Davis unless they host in the NIT. Emotions will undoubtedly be running high for those seniors, but they will have to keep them in check because they have a lot riding on this game. The Tigers finally caught a break in a close road game when Notre Dame missed the game-tying free throw, and the Tigers won 64-62--their first-ever win in South Bend. With their second straight road win, the Tigers now have a chance to finish the regular season 9-9 in the ACC, the toughest conference in the nation, with a win over Syracuse. The Orange beat the Tigers 61-53 in the Carrier Dome way back on January 9th. However, the Tigers are playing much better basketball right now on both ends, and they will have the home crowd to help them. The Tigers are 2-1 against Syracuse in Littlejohn, and they are 13-4 at home this season, with 3 of those losses to highly ranked teams UNC, UVA and FSU. The Tigers gave No.3 UNC all it could handle and probably would have won the game if their best defender, David Skara, had played. Joe Lunardi currently has Clemson in the NCAA field, but they will likely drop out if they lose to Syracuse on Saturday. In my opinion, a win over Syracuse would get the Tigers in the NCAA Tournament regardless of the outcome against NC State in Charlotte for the ACC Tournament next Wednesday. However, they would still be firmly on the bubble, so you would like to see them win their next two games and control their own destiny. First things first....
The Orange come in 19-11 overall and 10-7 in the ACC. They have lost 3 of their last 4, with the only win coming over Wake Forest, and they had their doors blow off by UVA 79-53 on Senior Night in the Carrier Dome. That was a historic game for UVA--they set a school record with 18 three-pointers. What was more amazing was that they shot 18-25 from beyond the arc, and Kyle Guy was 8-10! I don't think I've ever seen a shooting performance like that by a team before, and UVA is not particularly knows as a 3-point shooting team. Let's hope the law of averages doesn't wreak havoc on the Tigers' 3-point shooting on Saturday! Cuse's best win of the season came in overtime at Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. However, Duke was without two starters in that game. The Orange had an impressive 15-point win over No.18 Louisville a couple weeks ago, but they also lost by 14 at home against a Georgia Tech team the Tigers have blown out twice.
The key to beating Jim Boeheim's team is always how well you can handle their trademark zone defense. They do it better than anyone, and it's all they know. The length and athleticism of Cuse's players makes it that much more difficult to score against. It's certainly a whole lot easier when you can make 18 three-pointers like UVA did the other night, but you can't count on having a shooting night like that.
6'6 junior guard Tyus Battle is one of the best guards in the ACC and leads the team with 17.5 points and 2.5 assists per game. He is as competitive as they come and can take over a game if he gets hot. He is only shooting 31.4% from beyond the arc this season after shooting nearly 37% a couple years ago. Battle is coming off an 11-point game in the UVA loss but scored 29 a couple weeks ago in their 93-85 loss at UNC. He only scored 12 in the first meeting with the Tigers.
The Orange have a couple of talented forwards in Elijah Hughes, averaging 13.8 points per game, and Oshae Brissett at 12.5 points per game. Hughes is an excellent 3-point shooter for a forward at 35.7% on the season. Brissett leads the team in rebounding at 7.5 per game. Incidentally, don't check your hearing when you hear Frank Howard's name called on Saturday. In this case, it's not the legendary Clemson Football coach, it's the starting guard for the Cuse. He averages 8 points per game. The straw that stirs the drink for the Cuse might be 6-10 sophomore forward Marek Dolezaj. He is very slight at 180 pounds, but he's a scrapper and does a lot of little things to help the Orange win. Usually, if he has a big game, the Orange win. He only averages 4 points per game on the season, but he scored 10 against the Tigers in the last meeting and was 2-4 from beyond the arc. Dolezaj is the Orange's best 3-point shooter at 40% on the season. Speaking of 3-point shooting, Jim Boeheim's son, Buddy, has been on fire from outside lately and playing much more regularly, so the Tigers will need to defend those two well on the perimeter. The biggest difference in this rematch will be the presence of 7'2 senior center Paschal Chukwu. He did not play in the first meeting--it was the only game he's missed this season. Chukwu averages just 4.3 points per game, but he is second on the team with 5.5 rebounds per game and leads the team in blocks with 1.7 per game.
Syracuse is one of the better defensive teams in the ACC, but the Orange are not very good on the offensive end. They are 12th in the ACC in field goal percentage and 11th in 3-point percentage at 32.3%. They shot just 26% from beyond the arc in the first meeting with the Tigers, one of the worst by any of the Tigers' opponents all season. Dolezaj was 2-4, but the rest of the team was ice cold. Battle and Brissett were a combined 0-10. Cuse is a good offensive rebounding team as usual (8th in the ACC), but they are uncharacteristically poor on the defensive end, ranking 13th in the conference in defensive rebounds. They are 12th in the ACC in rebounding margin at -1.7 per game. That is a bad combination with their poor field goal percentage. They make up for that with defense and forcing turnovers--they have the best turnover margin in the ACC at 3.57 per game.
The Tigers finally caught a break in a close game on the road, and it must have felt like a huge weight was lifted for the players after so many heartbreaking losses this season. David Skara did not start at Notre Dame but played 29 minutes with 7 points, 2 rebounds and 4 assists. He is the Tigers' best defender and does a lot of things that don't show up in the stat sheet. I would wager that the Tigers would have pulled off an enormous upset over UNC had Skara not missed the game with the elbow injury. He told me today that his elbow feels fine and didn't bother him at all during the Notre Dame game.
Again, a big key in this game will be for the Tigers' seniors to manage or mitigate their emotions on Senior Day. Brownell told us candidly he's not sure how Eli will do with that because he is an emotional guy. He will need to restrain himself from drawing early fouls so he can stay on the floor. He did a good job of that for a few games in a row but found himself in early foul trouble again at Notre Dame on Wednesday night. It is critical to the Tigers' chances that Eli avoid early foul trouble and play at least 30 minutes. Eli is #11 nationally in FG percentage and 2nd in the ACC behind Zion Williamson.
Reed and Mitchell will also need to make their 3's. The Tigers have been up and down all season from beyond the arc, and it's paramount that they make a decent number of 3's to stretch that Syracuse zone. The Tigers did an excellent job carving up Notre Dame's zone the other night and forcing them to go man-to-man, but the Syracuse zone is another animal. I like Reed's mid-range jumper game against the zone to draw defenders and open up passes for layups or open 3's. He needs to get the ball in the middle of the zone either by pass or penetration.
Hopefully for the Tigers Aamir Simms will bounce back with a better game on Saturday. He has been inconsistent all season and had one of his worst games at Notre Dame, fouling out with just 3 points on 1-7 shooting. He did pull down 6 rebounds, but he needs to be more productive on the offensive end.
The Tigers have been unfortunate with the home tip times all season long, with numerous 9:00 games during the week and noon games on the weekend. Hopefully, the early tip will not detract from a big and loud crowd in Littlejohn. I think the Tigers will play one of their best games to beat Cuse and finish 9-9 in the ACC, setting up a win-and-you're-in scenario against NC State at the ACC Tournament in Charlotte. As always, I'll have live coverage and play-by-play for you in The Valley forum on Saturday, complete with Senior Day speeches from Brownell and players. Friday interviews with Brownell and the seniors are below. Stay tuned!
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