Can Clemson finally beat UNC in Chapel Hill?

Can Clemson finally beat UNC in Chapel Hill? article feature image

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson has lost 58 straight in Chapel Hill. Is this the year the Tigers can finally pick off UNC on the road? Both teams have a few matchup advantages worth exploring. I’ll also take a look at a pair of AAC games and a pair of MAC games on tonight’s card.

I pull all lines via 5Dimes at time of publication. Follow me on Twitter @jorcubsdan for live injury updates and second half additions.

Clemson @ UNC -7.5

Clemson recently picked up a couple nice home wins over Louisville and Miami sandwiched around a bad loss at North Carolina State. The Tigers are a hard team to fingerprint, as they’re decent plus offensively (40th in offensive efficiency per KenPom) and much better defensively (12th in defensive efficiency rating).

Head coach Brad Brownell came to Clemson as a dedicated Bob Knight motion offense disciple. Like many high-major college basketball coaches, he has slowly shifted to a pick-and-roll heavy offense. Without Jaron Blossomgame this year, the Tigers run PnR at a top-100 rate nationally for the first time under Brownell. Shelton Mitchell and especially Marcquise Reed have both been efficient in ball screens. Elijah Thomas has been solid around the rim, and deadly stretch 4 Donte Grantham has connected on 53% of his 3-point attempts in ACC play. While Thomas and Grantham have been excellent rebounders defensively, the Tigers struggle on the offensive glass, which a Bonzie Colson-less Notre Dame nearly exploited in a near victory against the Heels on Saturday. Some of Clemson’s poor offensive rebounding numbers can be chalked up to scheme, as Brownell prefers transition defense over putbacks. However, this is still the worst offensive rebounding team he’s had at Clemson by a wide margin.

Per Synergy, Clemson grades out in the 87th percentile in terms of pick-and-roll defense, and are even better denying transition. Pick-and-roll defense is essentially useless against a Roy Williams secondary break, freestyle offense, but denying transition is always key against the Heels. My biggest concern for the Tigers is that Brownell will have to trade some offense from Gabe DeVoe for David Skara’s length and defense, even when UNC goes with a small lineup. Since Clemson typically runs small at the 3, Roy can shift his best defender, Theo Pinson, to chase Grantham off screens, while still lining up Cam Johnson at the 3. That most likely means Skara will log major minutes for Clemson tonight. While Skara brings plus defense and athleticism, he provides zilch on offense. To me, this is the crux of the issue every year for Clemson. They simply lack the lineup versatility to match the UNC firepower. Having said that, the line doesn’t provide much value at 7.5.

The Pick: Pass

Quick Hitters

UCF has an elite defense that only allows teams to shoot just 47.9% at the rim, the fourth best mark in the country, per However, they have struggled immensely on offense without point guard BJ Taylor. The good news for the Knights is that Taylor will return tonight in a big home game vs. Cincinnati, but how many productive minutes he can log remains a question. Cincy actually owns the nation’s second best rim protection defense, allowing teams to score at just 43.2%. Last season, these two played to a literal standstill in two meetings, as they totaled 61 and 60 possessions. Cincy had major issues scoring against UCF’s matchup zone. Johnny Dawkins will also throw out a 2-2-1 zone press to burn even more clock. UCF will force Jacob Evans and Jarron Cumberland to beat them by shooting over the zone. Those two shot a combined 3-17 from 3 in the two meetings last year.

The Pick: UCF +7.5

Memphis and UConn have both resurrected their once lifeless seasons with three-game AAC win streaks. Memphis has done so with an improved offense. Jeremiah Martin, who breaks down defenses off the dribble at will, has emerged from transfer rumors to average 28.3 ppg during that three-game stretch. However, Memphis hasn’t held an opponent under 1 point per possession during those 3 games, as they still struggle grasping Tubby Smith’s help-heavy ball-line defensive scheme. Memphis has struggled defending dribble penetration, which is worrisome against Uconn’s Jalen Adams and Christian Vital. Conversely, Uconn held all three of their opponents under 1 point per possession during their streak. Although they had the luxury of playing ECU and B.J. Taylor-less UCF during that span. That said, they have played elite ball screen defense since the Auburn embarrassment (Tulsa trip notwithstanding). Antwoine Anderson, who has emerged as a shutdown perimeter defender, should help contain Martin.

The Pick: Uconn +2.5 & Under 135

Ball State chucks the 3 at a high rate, but they struggle against zones, mostly due to point guard Tayler Persons’ shooting woes. That’s troubling against zone/press heavy Central Michigan. Ball State also still won’t have Jontrell Walker, one of their best perimeter threats.

The Pick: Central Michigan +6

Miami Ohio won the first meeting at Bowling Green despite a 25.7% turnover rate thanks to two things: 1) Bowling Green missed 10 of 21 free throws and 2) BGSU guard Dylan Frye left with an injury in the first half. Without Frye’s offense, BGSU had trouble navigating around Miami ball hawk Darrian Ringo on the perimeter. BGSU’s Demajeo Wiggins had a major advantage in the post in that first match up, and should thrive again tonight.

The Pick: Bowling Green +3

Tuesday Top Picks

YTD: 272-260-4
2H: 20-10

Central Michigan +6

Bowling Green +3
Vanderbilt +4
UCF +7.5
UConn +2.5

UConn/Memphis under 135