Preview & Prediction: By Raphielle Johnson
0-for-Chapel Hill. Let that sink in for a moment. Fifty-three Clemson basketball teams have entered the city limits, be it at Carmichael, the Dean Dome or anywhere else, and all fifty-three have gone home with a loss. Now the #9/10 Tigers (16-1, 2-1 ACC) look to recover from their loss to Wake Forest with a win over #5/6 North Carolina (16-2, 2-2), but history is most certainly not in their favor. Last year the two teams met three times, with the Tar Heels winning all three by a combined seventeen points, but those games also featured a combined three overtimes. The two regular season meetings were especially painful, with Wayne Ellington’s three ending the game at Clemson and North Carolina pulling off an amazing comeback in Chapel Hill.
This winless streak has gotten to the point where Oliver Purnell’s Tigers have to win the game on two fronts: physically and mentally. The mental game has become much tougher than anyone within the team would readily admit, but it is definitely a factor. Clemson has an excellent power forward of their own in senior Trevor Booker (15.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg) and his matchup with Tyler Hansbrough (22.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg) will play a huge factor in this game. On the perimeter senior K.C. Rivers and sophomore sharpshooter Terrence Oglesby have the capability to give a Carolina team that at times can be indifferent on the defensive end fits. The one man who may have the biggest impact on this game for Clemson may actually be point guard Demontez Stitt (8.6 ppg, 3.6 apg), who will have to deal with Ty Lawson on the defensive end of the floor. Stitt played well in the game at Chapel Hill last season, but things fell apart on all fronts in that Carolina comeback. If he can control the tempo and limit Lawson’s run-outs the Tigers have a shot.
Carolina, on the other hand, may have hit their stride in the last two games. But it’s important to also point out who they played when citing those two blowouts (Virginia and Miami, with the Hurricanes being the far more credible opponent) as reasons for their revival. Simply put, when Roy Williams can get his team to commit on the defensive end they’re very tough to beat. If the losses to Boston College and Wake Forest accomplished anything it was to let the Heels know that simply scoring points won’t get it done, either now or in March. Five Tar Heels still in the lineup average double figures, but the more impressive numbers in the last two games: 30.5% and 39.7%. Those are the field goal percentages of Virginia and Miami, both of which are below UNC’s field goal percentage defense of 39.7%.
North Carolina will also be challenged in regards to ball control on Wednesday night. Clemson is relentless in their pressure, creating an environment of “sooner or later” when it comes to the effect of their defense. Sooner or later, you’ll start to cough up the ball and the Tigers will capitalize on the other end. These are the top two teams in the ACC in turnover margin, and North Carolina leads the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio. If North Carolina can limit their turnovers they can take advantage of their rebounding, ranking third (tied with Wake Forest) in the ACC in rebounding margin (+7.9). Clemson, on the other hand, ranks last in that category at a +1.6. In the end, no matter how good the Tigers are it’s better to take a “wait and see” attitude when it comes to winning in Chapel Hill.
Winner: North Carolina Margin: 5-9 pts.
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About Raphielle Johnson
College sports has always been a source of excitement for Raphielle Johnson, be it through watching, writing, or taking a shot in the dark and walking onto a college football team just to live the life (Arizona Football, 2001). Raphielle is the assistant editor, providing his own work in addition to helping out with the site operations. When not writing for CHN, you can usually find him in front of a television set watching one of many pay-per-view sports packages that he owns. He can be followed at twitter.com/raphiellej.
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