Where: Dean Smith Center, Chapel Hill, NC
When: Tuesday, January 18th, 8:00 PM
Records: UNC 12-5, 2-1 ACC; Clemson 13-4, 2-1 ACC
Not to get caught up on just one game but this one in particular is high stakes on a variety of levels. The obvious one is The Streak. Clemson has never won in Chapel Hill. Matt Doherty managed to keep it going despite going 8-20. Having UNC in an 11 point hole with three minutes left in 2008 was not enough to end the Tigers' misery in Chapel Hill. The Heels did manage to dodge a bullet last season with the unbalanced schedule pitting them versus Clemson only one time and that one was on the road. Now it is up the these Heels who have had a penchant for finding new and interesting ways to lose frustrating games. Hopefully this will not be one of them.
Aside from The Streak, this game might be the most important one of the season so far. I hesitate to call it that but it is possible should UNC lose this game the season will go off the rails in a hurry. For certain the fan base will go ballistic. Beyond that we are talking about the fragile confidence of a young team who gave all the appearances they were indeed heading in the right direction. That appeared to be true despite the messy manner the Heels snagged their first two ACC wins. On Sunday in Atlanta there was some unraveling. The whole ship did not sink it did take on water. The question as the Heels face Clemson is whether they damage of the loss to Georgia Tech can be limited or does it spill over into the rest of the season. The national media and many UNC fans are all ready to write this team off. It would be nice for them to take that to heart and clocked a huge win over a good team.
There have been rumors afoot over the past 24 hours that Roy Williams made a change to the White Team backcourt in practice on Monday. The scuttlebutt is that Kendall Marshall and Leslie McDonald would supplant the starting duo of Larry Drew and Dexter Strickland. The word of caution here is (1) the rumors could be mistaken or not grasping the full picture and (2) this is experimentation in practice but Roy might not pull the trigger for this game. Given how highly Roy values practice, if changes were made to the lineup a day before the game, it is safe to assume it will probably happen in the game. If it does, there will be a ton of crow to be eaten by those who said it would never happen. Crow I am sure they will gladly feast upon if the change bears fruit.
Turning out attention to Clemson, I will confess I have not paid them much attention this season. Ken Pomeroy has them ranked 45th(to UNC's 29th) with a good offense(66th) and defense(32nd.) Clemson also has an experienced point guard in Demontez Stitt who leads the team in scoring at 13.5 ppg and shoots 45% from three. So, yes, UNC gets to face another guard who has the potential of going off for some big night. In Stitt's case, he is from North Carolina and I seem to remember talk during previous games that he felt slighted to not had been recruited by UNC. He also bore witness to the double OT game in 2008 when he was a freshman. Stitt has 20 last season versus the Heels but over his career has averaged 11.8 points in five games versus UNC. Also of concern for UNC is the fact Clemson actually has big men which could give them issues. This is alarming because Georgia Tech did not have big men in the traditional sense and the Tar Heel interior play was awful. Clemson has a rather decent OR% of 34.5. The Tigers also force turnovers at a rate of 24.5% which is not what you want to see for a UNC team that has been giving the ball up far too often lately.
The bottom line here for UNC is they simply need to play up to their talent level, take care of the basketball by making good decisions and be ready to go to war in the paint. Clemson teams are notorious for their physical play. New Tiger coach Brad Brownell was head coach at UNCW during the 2005 game in Chapel Hill which saw three Tar Heels get technical fouls after they reacted poorly to physical play from the Seahawks. In short this will be a tough game for Tyler Zeller and John Henson. Some heavy doses of Justin Knox might be in order to match the physicality of the Tigers.
UNC needs the win as much to continue The Streak as to keep the ship from sinking further.
UNC 71 Clemson 65