In Arizona’s McKale Center, the Tigers go for that elusive top-flight road win for the NCAA Tournament résumé come March at 4 p.m. Eastern today.
Elusive – not just for Clemson, but the whole ACC to this point.
It’s been a slow start to say the least for the conference, which owns losing records to eight other conferences currently and is 67-36 overall in non-conference play.
The one BCS-league in which the ACC has a winning record against, also includes three of its better wins – Duke downing Kansas (68-61), Virginia Tech squeaking out a win over Oklahoma State (59-57) and NC State edging Texas (77-74).
All three were at neutral sites though, and when the ACC’s undisputed best team, No. 5 UNC, went on the road to No. 1 Kentucky, it could not pull off the big road win either, fumbling a final possession in a 73-72 defeat. But they also own the ACC’s top-ranked win, 60-57 in Chapel Hill over No. 7 Wisconsin in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
Arizona (6-3) ranks No. 53 in RPI, while Clemson (4-3) falls at No. 178 – numbers which don’t mean a whole lot now, but on the young season, the Wildcats are 4-0 against 100+ RPI teams, while Clemson is 0-1 against top-100 teams (4-2 against 100+).
Arizona has four starters averaging double-figures, led by senior forward 6-7 forward Jesse Perry – who posted a career-high 23 points this week down at Florida in a 78-72 loss. Perry averages 11.9 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, scoring double-digits in six of the Wildcats' nine games with five double-doubles.
Right there with him is 6-3 guard Kyle Fogg, also averaging 11.9 points per game, and sporting a 45.7 three-point shooting percentage – hitting nine of his last 17 from the perimeter.
Forward Solomon Hill is not far behind the duo with 11.6 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.1 assist per game (leads the team in assists).
And rounding out the top scorers is freshman guard Nick Johnson (10.1 PPG, 2.3 APG), who’s coming off his worst game as a Wildcat yet, scoring 5 points and going 0-for-4 from the perimeter in the loss at Florida.
Of course, Clemson had the week off after Sunday’s 58-55 home loss to South Carolina, where we found out – this team will rise and fall with senior guard Andre Young.
Young has stepped into the role left by Demontez Stitt as a primary scorer well, averaging above his career numbers in shooting percentage, free throw percentage and three-point percentage, but in two of the three Clemson losses (College of Charleston and USC), he shot a combined 6-of-23 for 9 points per game.
The senior guard and junior forward Milton Jennings are the only Tigers averaging double-figure scoring, but Jennings’ numbers are skewed by the 22-point game against Furman, as he’s score 2 and 7 points respectively since.
For the most part, the defense has had to cover the offense, ranked second in the ACC in scoring defense (55.4 points per game), and they don’t face a juggernaut offense in Arizona today, ranking 184th nationally in field goal percentage (43 percent), 156th in two-point field goal percentage (48 percent) and 101st in three-point field goal percentage (36.1 percent).
The Wildcats have managed to hold on to the ball, committing a 27th-ranked 11.5 turnovers per game, and don’t foul much either (16.7 per game).
Third-year Arizona coach Sean Miller owns a 22-1 home record over the last two seasons, while second-year Tigers' coach Brad Brownell is 5-7 on the road with Clemson, but 2-0 so far this season with wins over Iowa (71-55) and The Citadel (73-50).
Stats to Watch
• Three-point shooting: Clemson has shot 28.6 percent or worse from the perimeter in its three losses, while 30 percent or better in wins. In two of its three losses, the Wildcats have shot 30 percent or worse from 3.
• Points per possession: Clemson allowed a point per possession in all three losses, while well below that number in the four wins. On offense, they’ve scored less than a point per possession in two of the three losses. On the other side, Arizona scored less than a point per possession in two of its three losses.
• Turnovers: Freshman Tigers guard Rod Hall has started each of the last four games at point guard as a freshman and has committed just six turnovers in 168 minutes. That equates to just one turnover per 28 minutes of play. Against a mirror-image of sorts defensively in Arizona, Hall and the rest of the Tigers taking care of the ball will be key (note per Clemson).