Important Game Tonight for Clemson

Even though Virginia is at the complete opposite end of the standings spectrum than Duke and North Carolina, tonight's game could be even more critical for the Clemson basketball team come NCAA Tournament selection time.

WHAT: Clemson (16-5, 4-3 ACC) at Virginia (11-9, 1-6 ACC)
WHEN: 7 p.m., Thursday
WHERE: John Paul Jones Arena
TV: ESPN2

Those determining seedings don't necessarily expect the Tigers to be able to beat the likes of the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the nation, but they sure expect Clemson to beat the worst team in the ACC.

"This is certainly a critical game for us as we move toward the halfway mark in league play," Tigers head coach Oliver Purnell said. "We have a chance if we can get that win on the road to have a resume win in our pocket in terms of winning on the road in the ACC.

"We have a chance to move toward third place. We have a chance get some momentum as we go into the second half of conference play, so it's a critically important game for us."

A loss would definitely take away from any good wins the Tigers may have had. Bad losses can be more damaging than good wins can be helpful.

And a loss to Virginia would be critical because Clemson has already lost at Miami, which is next to last in the ACC. Granted, Trevor Booker got hurt for the Tigers early in the contest, but committee members only look at the end results.

"You can always look back and think coulda, shoulda, woulda, and analyze it," Clemson senior forward Sam Perry said. "Last year there were so many games you could look at like that, and even this year you get mad at some of the games you lose. But all we can do now is take advantage of this chance we have to play Virginia and get this first ACC road win."

With so many mediocre teams in the ACC this year, the standings are as jumbled and congested as Atlanta highways during rush hour. A win would put Clemson in the speedy HOV lane to help it separate from the pack.

"If you can win three or four in a row, you're going to make a move," Purnell said. "The only way we can do that is to get this one. It's important to win two in a row to set up an opportunity to make a move.

"Other than Duke and North Carolina, you take a blanket and throw it over all these teams. You scramble around and pull a couple of names out of the hat and have them play, I'm not sure you know who's going to win.

Helping Clemson's cause is the health of Booker, who is much better than he was against Boston College. He's not quite 100 percent healed from his high ankle sprain, but he is relatively close, nonetheless.

But even with Booker in seemingly good health, it's going to be a difficult task to get the win. Virginia sports one of the best pure shooting guards in the country in Sean Singletary.

What makes him so tough is he is the point guard, so the ball is always in his hands. He can drive and shoot, use a screen and shoot or hit the open man. Singletary is averaging 18.7 points and 6.3 assists per game.

Getting the assignment of guarding him will be Cairo, Ga., native Cliff Hammonds, who did a wonderful job on containing Boston College's Tyrese Rice, another dynamic point guard.

"Singletary's one of the best players in the ACC," Perry said. "We've got to contain him like we did Rice, but I know a guy by the name of Cairo Hammonds who does a good of that."

PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
Clemson (16-5, 4-3 ACC)
G 25 Cliff Hammonds (6-3, 200) 10.5 ppg, 3.9 apg
F 1 K.C. Rivers (6-5, 215) 15.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg
C 35 Trevor Booker (6-7, 240) 11.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg
F 40 James Mays (6-9, 230) 11.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg
F 32 Sam Perry (6-5, 215) 3.1 ppg, 1.9 rpg

Virginia (11-9, 1-6 ACC)
G 44 Sean Singletary (6-0, 185) 18.7 ppg, 6.3 apg
G 4 Calvin Baker (6-2, 186) 9.7 ppg, 2.4 rpg
C 30 Adrian Joseph (6-7, 201) 11.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg
F 32 Mike Scott (6-8, 233) 6.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg
F 24 Mamadi Diane (6-5, 201) 12.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg

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