North Carolina (12-3, 0-1 ACC) vs. Clemson (11-2, 1-0 ACC)
Clemson, S.C.- Littlejohn Coliseum
Tuesday, 7 p.m.
ESPN2 (Tom Hart, Doris Burke)
“It’s a game against one of the name brands in college basketball… We look forward to being back in Littlejohn and I hope we have a great crowd. I hope we keep the momentum we’ve built over the last month or so. But I am not going to make more of it than it is.” – Clemson head coach Brad Brownell on facing UNC
“He not only has length, but he’s smart. He knows what to do with the ball. He has a good jumped and he has a floater that’s dangerous. He can drive the lane and create points and he can also step out and hit the jumper.” – Brownell on UNC wing Justin Jackson
Rocky Start in Atlanta: The Tar Heels are reeling after their unexpected start to ACC play, dropping their conference opener at Georgia Tech, 75-63. The loss is an early contender for conference upset of the season, as UNC entered the year predicted to finish second in the conference, while the Yellow Jackets were predicted to finish 14th. The loss, while surprising, shouldn’t have been unexpected given the Tar Heels’ abysmal shooting performance. Roy Williams’s squad shot 33.3-percent from the field and missed 21 of 26 attempts from the 3-point line. To add to that, the Tar Heels also turned the ball over 20 times, which is a season high. It was only the 12th time in school history that UNC has lost its ACC opener.
Clemson Spotlight: The Tigers are rolling at just the right time as their ACC schedule begins. Head coach Brad Brownell’s team has put together nine straight wins, including a 73-68 win over Wake Forest in Saturday’s ACC opener. The Tigers breezed by their easier non-conference opponents earlier in the season, but have been tester more rigorously by opponents such as South Carolina and the aforementioned Demon Deacons. Against Wake, Clemson rallied from 10-point deficit with a 15-0 run to close the game. The Tigers are a fairly average shooting team, shooting 44.9-percent (156th in the country) from the field and 34.4% (207th) from the three-point line. Clemson’s leading scorer is senior forward Jaron Blossomgame, who is averaging 17.3 ppg after electing to return to school instead of jumping to the NBA last spring.
Sixth-Man Relief: The Tigers lack consistent talent on their bench, leading to their starting five eating up most of the available minutes. However, the first man off the bench, sophomore guard Marcquise Reed, has been a revelation for Brownell. The young guard is the only player not in the starting lineup to play in all 13 games this season, and is averaging over 21 minutes of playing time. When Reed is in, he helps his team in almost every way, averaging 10.4 points and 2.8 rebounds per game, while also leading the Tigers in steals. The energy he brings off of the bench was in full display against Wake Forest as he dropped 21 points and got four steals in 25 minutes.
Matchup to Watch: All eyes will be on the matchup of Clemson’s leading scorer, Jaron Blossomgame, and UNC forward Isaiah Hicks. At 6-foot-7, Blossomgame may be considered undersized for his position in the paint, but he makes up for it with his sheer athleticism. The senior can explode to the rim from anywhere inside the 3-point line and muscle his way to the basket. It will be Hicks’s job to not only prevent Blossomgame from getting to the rim, but also staying out of foul trouble in the process. Hicks has committed at least three fouls in his last six games, which seems to be reverting back to his performances from last season. In terms of rebounding, Hicks and Blossomgame are very similar. Both average just under six rebounds a game, a total that is considered a little low for players of their skill. Expect both to be looking to get ahead in that statistic early on in the game.
Last Meeting: UNC won its ACC opener against Clemson, 80-69, at the Smith Center on Dec. 30, 2015. Marcus Paige led the Tar Heels with 18 points and Joel Berry added 16. UNC shot 50 percent from the floor in both halves and had five players in double figures.
Series Record: The Tar Heels lead the series, 130-20. UNC is 27-13 at Littlejohn Coliseum.
Projected UNC Starters:
2 Joel Berry (6-0, 195, Jr.) – 13.9 ppg, 4.5 apg
3 Kennedy Meeks (6-10, 260, Sr.) - 12.7 ppg, 9.5 rpg
4 Isaiah Hicks (6-9, 242, Sr.) - 12.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg
44 Justin Jackson (6-8, 210, Jr.) – 17.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg
24 Kenny Williams (6-4, 180, So.) - 6.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg
Projected Clemson Starters:
05 Jaron Blossomgame (6-7, 220, Sr.) – 17.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg
12 Avry Holmes (6-2, 195, Sr.) – 10.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg
15 Donte Grantham (6-8, 215, Jr.) - 10.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg
50 Sidy Djitte (6-10, 240, Sr.) – 7.7 ppg, 8.9 rpg
04 Shelton Mitchell (6-3, 195, So.) – 9.0 ppg, 3.1 apg