#18 Virginia Cavaliers @ #12 Clemson Tigers – Preview & Best Bet 1/16/21

Spread: Virginia -1.5
O/U: 116.5
5:00pm Central – Littlejohn Coliseum, Clemson, SC

#18 Virginia Cavaliers (8-2, 4-0)

The ‘Hoos enter tonight’s contest having won four straight, all in-conference, and sitting atop the ACC standings with Louisville at 4-0. However, UVA’s four victories have come over the bottom three teams in the ACC standings (Notre Dame x2, vs Wake Forest, @ Boston College), so tonight’s showdown will be the biggest test the ‘Hoos have faced in the ACC thus far. In UVA’s last game against a top-25 opponent, they were raced off the floor by #1 Gonzaga by a final score of 98-75.

This Virginia team is very different from the team Head Coach Tony Bennett had last season. While the ‘Hoos are no longer the #1 defense in the land (they’ve dropped to 13th in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom), they’ve rocketed up the offensive rankings; KenPom ranks UVA as the 32nd most efficient offense, up 202 spots from last year’s dismal ranking of 234th in that category. While their defense is still their calling card, UVA’s offense is no longer a liability. That can be tough to tell in the box score, at times, given they still play at the slowest pace in the country. But, Virginia has four players who are averaging double figures this season, up from two who accomplished that feat last season. Seniors Sam Hauser (13.8 PPG, 7.5 RPG) and Jay Huff (12.9 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 65.4% FG%) lead the team in scoring, while juniors Trey Murphy III (10.9 PPG, 48.9% 3PT FG% on 47 attempts) and Kihei Clark (10.8 PPG, 3.6 APG) account for the other players in double figures. Clark is UVA’s floor general at the point guard spot and leads the team in minutes played.

The ‘Hoos have made such a drastic improvement on offense by significantly reducing turnovers and becoming a much better shooting team. It’s a pretty easy formula, really. Most teams should try it. UVA is top-5 in turnover rate on offense, as only 13.4% of possessions end in a turnover. They’re also a top-10 shooting team both inside the arc and from the free throw line. They’re not too shabby from deep, either, as they’re shooting a collective 36.4% as a team good for 72nd in the nation. On defense, Huff is a menace in the paint. He’s currently 19th in the nation and second in the nation with 2.5 blocks per game. His work swatting opponents’ attempts away has helped propel UVA to 31st in the country in blocked shot rate on defense. The ‘Hoos also clean up the glass well and do an excellent job of playing defense without fouling. They’ll need all of those positive traits to shine through tonight when they guard Clemson standout forward and senior Aamir Simms.

#12 Clemson Tigers (9-1, 3-1)

Like UVA, Clemson comes into tonight’s home game having won four straight contests. They’ve been out of action since last Tuesday, when they defeated N.C. State at home by 4-points in overtime, due to a positive COVID test by a staff member within the program. The Tigers have taken up the mantle from the ‘Hoos of having the best defense in the country, as KenPom ranks Clemson #1 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Something’s going to have to give in tonight’s game, though, as Clemson has achieved that ranking due in large part to their ability to force turnovers. The Tigers rank #7 in turnover rate on defense, with 26.4% of opponents’ possessions ending in a TO. But, will they be able to turn UVA, a team that cherishes each possession, over at the same clip? Clemson is also 20th in the nation in effective FG% against, and they’re holding opposing offenses to under 30% from downtown and under 45% from inside the arc. Again, something’s gotta give in this one—either Clemson’s defense breaks down inside the arc against UVA’s top-10 interior offense, or it’ll be a long day from the field for the ‘Hoos.

On offense, senior forward Aamir Simms (12.6 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 56.1% FG%) is the team’s leading scorer, but sophomore transfer guard and sixth man Nick Honor (10.7 PPG) has been a huge difference maker for the Tigers in his first season at Clemson. In Clemson’s most recent win over N.C. State, Honor poured in 21 points off the bench, including making 5 of 6 threes attempted.

Like UVA last season, Simms and Honor are the only Clemson players averaging double figures. Honor’s adept outside shooting (44.2% 3PT FG% on 52 attempts) is a major reason why Clemson has gone from having the 155th best offense last season to having the 72nd best offense this year. Last season, Clemson shot 31.5% from deep. This year, the team is up to a much more serviceable 33.9%. That bump has allowed for more space in the post for Simms to operate without a constant threat of double teams on the big man. Outside shooting is always of the utmost importance against UVA’s pack line defense. If Honor and company can knock down outside shots, they should be able to find better lanes to attack the pack line and get Simms some open looks both inside and outside the arc. If they go cold from deep, though, it’s hard to envision anyone on Clemson’s roster—even Simms—having a decent scoring day.

Best Bet

Have you ever wondered what would happen if a team got to play last year’s version of itself? Well you’re in luck, because tonight’s showdown between Virginia and Clemson is as close as I can imagine getting to that. Clemson’s team is very, very similar to UVA’s roster and style from last season, although the Tigers are a bit more gifted on offense and they play at a bit of a faster pace that UVA played at last season (and still plays at this year). Clemson’s Simms is fairly similar to former UVA big man Mamadi Diakite, although Simms is a bit more skilled and a bit less athletic than Diakite was in his senior season.

When these two teams played last year at UVA in the regular season, they failed to even crack 100-points. The final score was 51-44 Virginia. The O/U for that game was a comically low 107, but the two teams didn’t even come close to sniffing that total number. While both teams have taken a step forward offensively this year and UVA isn’t as strong on defense as they were last season, UVA’s sloth-like pace can be very difficult to overcome when gunning for an over. Add in that Clemson has the #1 ranked defense in the country and that the Tigers are coming off a brief COVID hiatus, and we could see some ugly and rusty offense on both ends of the court. Take UNDER 116.5 (-110).

Mac is 12-11 on the season. All picks are one unit. A $100 bettor has a loss of $10.

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