Clemson, S.C. - Littlejohn Coliseum
7 p.m., TV - ESPN
"We've got to take care of the basketball, even though we want to play at a fast pace and North Carolina plays at an even faster pace. ... I'm sure they'll be fired up and we'll get their best shot." -- Clemson coach Oliver Purnell
"I really don't care (that UNC lost to Virginia Tech). They're going to lose when they play us, too. … At least I hope so." -- James Mays
"We have a crowd advantage, a hostile environment that North Carolina hasn't been in especially with a young team this year." -- K.C. Rivers
Steady Improvement: Since the Tigers went 10-18 in Oliver Purnell's first season at Clemson in 2003-04, the team's record has improved each season. In 2004-05, the Tigers finished 16-15. In 2005-06, they posted a 19-13 mark. This season assuredly will be even better.
Are the Tigers for Real?: A light non-conference schedule to start the season raised some questions about Clemson's legitimacy, but they did record wins over major conference foes such as Mississippi State, South Carolina and Georgia. And three straight wins to start the ACC season (FSU, GT, NCSU) -- including two on the road -- further verified that the Tigers earned their Top 25 ranking. The 17-0 record was the best start for a Tigers team since the 1986-87 season. Clemson dropped to No. 19 in the AP Poll this week after its first loss of the season over the weekend at Maryland. The Terps shot 63% from the field and Clemson still only lost by five points.
Pre-game Hype: Excitement on campus for Clemson basketball is at arguably an all-time high heading into Wednesday's game. More than 200 tents are currently lined up outside Littlejohn Coliseum, filled with students eager to attend Wednesday night's game. The number of tents easily broke a school record set a decade ago.
Two-Headed PG: Much of the Tigers' success can be attributed to the steady backcourt play of senior Vern Hamilton and junior Cliff Hammonds. The two have combined for 22.3 points, 7.6 assists and 3.7 steals. Both have rounded out their games over the course of their Clemson careers, with Hamilton becoming a better shooter and Hammonds becoming a more reliable playmaker -- he now leads the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.87).
Mays' Emergence: Junior James Mays has developed into one of the league's best post players. On offense, his athleticism and aggressive style is now accompanied by skilled post moves and a soft shooting touch. And he can be a terror on the boards. Mays recorded 10 offensive rebounds against a deep Maryland front line and has more offensive boards than any other ACC big man. He's also ranked fourth in the conference in steals, with 2.2 per game.
Depth: The Tigers' improved depth, with the ability to play nine players in double-digit minutes, has undoubtedly helped them wear down opponents and outplay opposing reserves. "It's been big for us, no question," Purnell commented this week. "We usually lead the opposition in bench scoring." K.C. Rivers is the team's leading scorer (15.2 ppg) and clearly its best shooter (44.8% 3pt), yet he comes off the bench. Freshman power forward Trevor Booker (10.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg) has been an early-season surprise, starting every game alongside Mays. And while, as already mentioned, Mays leads the ACC in offensive rebounds, having tallied 61 thus far, Booker is right behind him at No. 2 on the list with 60.
FT Woes: Critics have forecast since the start of the season that Clemson's poor foul shooting could cost them games, especially in tight ACC contests. And perhaps it did at Maryland, as the Tigers shot 5-for-13 from the foul line at Maryland and lost the game by five points. Clemson's 60.6 team free throw percentage is worst in the ACC, with three starters putting up woeful numbers at the line -- Mays (55.4%), Perry (52.2%) and Hamilton (47.4%). The team's best free throw shooter among its nine-man rotation is Rivers at 71.4 percent.
N.C. Ties: Four players on the Clemson roster are from North Carolina, including the top two scorers (Rivers from Charlotte, Mays from Garner) and reserve Julius Powell (from Newton).
Series History: UNC leads the all-time series with Clemson 117-19, including the well documented 52-0 mark in Chapel Hill. But the Tar Heels haven't been nearly as dominant in Littlejohn Coliseum, posting a 22-12 mark, and a 3-4 record over the last seven games at Clemson. UNC has won five in a row in the series, including a 76-61 win at the Smith Center last year. Reyshawn Terry had a game-high 19 points and 11 rebounds in the game, followed by 16 points from Bobby Frasor (who will be sidelined Wednesday with a foot injury).
Projected Starters: 3 Vernon Hamilton (6-0, 195, Sr.) – 11.8 ppg, 3.9 apg 25 Cliff Hammonds (6-3, 197, Jr.) - 10.5 ppg, 3.7 apg 32 Sam Perry (6-5, 208, Jr.) – 5.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg 35 Trevor Booker (6-7, 215, Fr.) – 10.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg 40 James Mays (6-9, 225, Jr.) – 13.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg Key Reserves: 1 K.C. Rivers (6-5, 210, So.) – 15.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg 42 Julius Powell (6-7, 208, So.) – 3.5 ppg 15 David Potter (6-6, 180, Fr.) – 2.9 ppg 12 Raymond Sykes (6-9, 215, So.) – 2.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg
Rivers ....... Mays
Hamilton ....... Hammonds
Booker ....... Perry
(Photos courtesy AP/Getty)