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#20 UNC at Clemson

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Where: Littlejohn Coliseum, Clemson, SC
When: Saturday, February 12th, 1:00PM
TV: ACC Network/ESPN3
Records: UNC 17-6, 7-2 ACC; Clemson 17-7, 6-4 ACC

The relative toughness of this game versus Clemson was unaltered by the result on Wednesday. Had UNC won at Duke then we would be discussing this as a letdown game. Since UNC lose we are talking about a bounce back game. In addition, it carries a fair amount of importance in terms of eventual NCAA seeding and the fact UNC is still alive to win the ACC regular season. Of course even now losing on the road to Duke and Clemson would hardly be considered "bad" losses given the circumstances. However there is a fear that a second straight loss might put UNC into a tailspin. Of course upcoming games at home versus Wake Forest and Boston College make that unlikely. On the other side, Clemson needs a signature win for NCAA bid purposes and this game could easily provide it. In short, there are stakes on both sides and while the Heels can tolerate a win and still maintain a solid grip on what most would consider a good ACC finish(12-4 or 11-5) it is better to bounce back now versus a good team.

This game is the first rematch of the season for UNC. Thus far the Heels have been facing teams in the ACC for the first time. Contrast that to Duke who saw both Maryland and NC State twice before seeing UNC one. Such is the nature of the unbalanced schedule. UNC schedule is backloaded with rematches. Five of the Heels' final seven games are second games. Why is that important? Adjustments mainly, especially for a coach like Brad Brownell who is a capable tactician. The problem in facing UNC is they are not really the same team they were even when Clemson faced them last. Yes, Clemson was the first team to see Kendall Marshall start. Marshall was rather pedestrian in that game tallying 5 points, 5 assists and three turnovers. It was still one of the better offensive games for UNC with Reggie Bullock scoring 18 points. Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller all scored in double figures. Heading into this one you have Marshall in full control of the PG position facilitating what appears to be a much better offense. Barnes has broken out with Henson becoming very comfortable with his game on the blocks. So while Clemson saw UNC once, it was a different UNC. That being said, you do wonder how much Brownell will work off the template Duke used regarding Marshall and if he does will Marshall shoot better if placed in that position.

As for what UNC will see from Clemson, Jerai Grant will be looking to redeem his awful 1-12, 2 point performance in Chapel Hill. Probably a safe bet Grant is not going to play that badly again. The Clemson guards also constitute a major threat versus a thin UNC backcourt. Demontez Stitt and Andre Young shoot 39-40% from three and playing at home means they could both have big games. Dexter Strickland can guard one of them but that leaves Marshall and his somewhat questionable defense on the other one. What happens with UNC's perimeter defense could very well decide this one. One slight change from the first game will be Tanner Smith who was injured early at Chapell Jill and could be a factor.

Overall I expect UNC to see a tougher game in the interior and I do not think Stitt and Young will be a combined 7-29 as they were in the first game. This will be a challenge for the Heels' defense but also the offense facing yet another solid defensive unit. Clemson is 20th in defensive efficiency overall and will force a slower pace. It will be on Marshall and UNC in general to dictate the tempo and force Clemson(281st nationally in tempo) to play the game outside their comfort zone.

UNC is 3-2 on the road in the ACC. Based on the way UNC players were talking after the game versus Duke, they felt they should have closed out Duke for the win. Given that was their attitude, I would be shocked to see them do anything less than come to play in this one.

UNC 72 Clemson 66