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Game Preview: #19 UNC at Clemson

Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina at Clemson, 8:15 PM, ESPN

The Tar Heels will look open the ACC season with a win for the first time since 2012. In 2013, UNC lost to Virginia and Miami to open the ACC slate before getting a win at Florida State. Last season it was an 0-3 start with losses to Wake Forest, Miami and Syracuse before knocking off Boston College to avoid an 0-4 league start for the first time in school history. This game is also the third straight season UNC has opened the ACC schedule on the road.

UNC will face Clemson at Littlejohn Coliseum which isn't quite the house of horrors playing in Atlanta can be for the Tar Heels but always a tough place to get a win. The way UNC's schedule is laid out in the first half of the conference slate, this is an important game. UNC faces Notre Dame and Louisville at home next week then travels to NC State on January 14th before getting a run of teams ranked 100-200 in KenPom. In that respect this would be a good win to get under the proverbial belt. It is on the road against a team that traditionally plays a tough, physical and slower tempo brand of basketball. It's not exactly easing into ACC play but it's not facing one of the other upper tier teams to start conference play.

Clemson has struggled this season with losses to Winthrop and Gardner Webb to fall to 1-2 early. The Tigers recovered to win three straight including a win over LSU then fell to Rutgers. The best win of the Tigers' season came just six days later when Clemson knocked off Arkansas in overtime. UNC and Clemson have one common opponent. The Tigers defeated Robert Morris 64-57 on December 30th. UNC beat the Colonials 103-59 in the second game of the season.

The Tigers are led by 6-7 Jaron Blossomgame averaging 13.7 ppg and 8.6 rpg. Blossomgame has an ORtg of 107.0 which is second on the team is hitting 53% of his two point attempts and is 6-26 from three. Depending on the match-up, Blossomgame moving out to the perimeter could be an issue if it means bringing Brice Johnson out with him. Damarcus Harrison(11.3 ppg), Donte Grantham(10.3 ppg), Larry Nnoko(9.9 ppg) and Rod Hall(9.5 ppg) comprise most of the Clemson offensive production.

Nnoko at 6-10 and Grantham at 6-8 along with Blossomgame make up the bulk of the Tigers' size for a team averaging about 38 rebounds per game. For the season Clemson is shooting 28% from three with Hall hitting 10-20 and Harrison hitting 37% of his 51 attempts. Grantham leads the team in three point attempts with 59 but is shooting 25% from beyond the arc.

Clemson is not a deep team. Only eight players average 10 or more minutes per game with four players over 30 mpg. Because Clemson prefers a slower pace that's not a major issue but if the Tar Heels can force turnovers and get the transition game rolling, Clemson's ability to stay fresh will be in question.

The task for UNC is simple. Play a clean game and take care of business in a very winnable game before a three game stretch of tough opposition.

UNC 74 Clemson 59