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Game Preview: UNC at Clemson

It's amazing what can change in three and a half weeks. When UNC was preparing to play Clemson the first time back in January, they were in disarray, coming off the worst loss of the season at Georgia Tech and perilously close to a second consecutive meltdown. One critical change to the lineup, however, and the Tar Heels were... well, not exactly off and running, but pointed in the right direction, at least.

The mythology that's popped up around Kendall Marshall taking the starting job is that his presence immediately changed everything; UNC started winning, the skies turned bluer, the air was fresher, etc.. This isn't entirely the case. The Clemson game has as much in common with the Virginia and Virginia Tech wins that preceded it as UNC's recent performances. There was the inexplicable scoring drought in the second, and the game was as close as 65-63 at the 7:50 mark before the Carolina defense clamped down. The team has become a lot more comfortable and consistent since then, and the Tigers will see a much difference Tar Heel team in Littlejohn.

UNC, however, will see the same Clemson. Since the loss in Chapel Hill, the Tigers have dropped two of their three road games, to Maryland and shamefully Virginia, while beating State, FSU, and Boston College all at home. Clemson is now fourth in the ACC, half a game behind FSU; a win here will do a lot towards securing a tournament bid in Brad Brownell's first season.

So expect another big game from Devin Booker and Demontez Stiit, and Clemson to crash the boards hard. They'll try to slow the game down – I assume the previous game's plan of trying to start out fast and get UNC behind early will be abandoned, as it didn't work and UNC has showed great poise early in recent weeks. Also look for Clemson to try to replicate Duke's second-half game plan, with lots of perimeter shots and avoiding the temptation to collapse on Marshall. Tyler Zeller and John Henson will need big games, and at least one perimeter shooter will have to connect. Last time it was Reggie Bullock and to a lesser extent Harrison Barnes, so look for Clemson to overemphasize Bullock and be more lax with Leslie McDonald, who sat out the game. UNC should win, but Clemson has been much tougher at home than on the road, so it won't be easy.