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Game Preview: Clemson at UNC

By my count, Brad Brownell is the 13th coach at Clemson to attempt to win in Chapel Hill. And considering the way UNC has been playing of late, he may have the best chance of doing so of any of them.

It helps that he's a new coach, and thus unfamiliar to the ACC. Roy WIlliams has coached opposite Brownell twice in his first two seasons at Carolina, when the latter was starting out at UNC-Wilminigton. The Heels won both games handily, by 17 and 21 points, but that's to be expected. Brwonell hasn't changed his style in the interim however, playing a slow-tempo, defensive oriented, steal-focused style. You know, the same style UNC's struggled with the last three games.

It's tough to get a read on this Clemson team, actually. They've won eight straight, but many of those games were against the weak opponents of December. Before that, they had lost to almost all of their credible opponents. They've come alive in January, however, with back-to-back wins over Miami and Georgia Tech. That last win was a 15-point rout, just what you would expect a decent team to do to the Yellow Jackets.

Demontez Stitt is the face Carolina fans are most likely to recognize, as the senior point guard. He had 20 points last year against the Heels, and in the interim he's improved his turnover ratio under Brownell and become a much better three-point shooter. He's joined in the backcourt by Andre Young, who's primarily a distance shooter, and also pretty capable.

Brownell's teams in the past have relied heavily on the three, but with a good frontcourt, he's shifting that focus a bit. Said big men are a pair of legacies, Devin Booker (brother of Trevor) and Jerai Grant (son of Harvey). Grant in particular is an excellent rebounder and shot-blocker, and picks up a fair number of steals as well. Think of him as a stronger, more talented version of the Tech big men that pushed Zeller and Henson around. Booker is more of a work in progress, but is still getting double-digit scoring more often than not and grabbing his share of boards.

There's a wildcard worth mentioning in Milton Jennings. Jennings comes off the bench but takes a greater percentage of shots than anyone else on the team. He's not a great shooter by any means, and especially overconfident in his ability to hit the three, so the more the ball gets in his hands the better things might shake out for Carolina.

If there's one thing in UNC's favor besides the weight of history, it's that Clemson hasn't improved its dismal road performance over last season. In 2010, the Tigers were 2-6 on the road in conference, and this season they have only one road win, over Charleston. The Heels were making all the right noises after the ridiculous loss last night, but there were plenty of wake-up calls last season that the team slept through. UNC can't give up another 13 steals, and they can't be outmuscled inside again. Something has to change or a 54-game streak maybe left to the history books.