Spread: Clemson -1.5
8:00pm Central – Littlejohn Coliseum, Clemson, SC
#25 Louisville Cardinals (10-3, 5-2)
Louisville got back in the win column this past weekend when they knocked off Duke at home by a final score of 70-65. Before that win, the ‘Cards had lost consecutive ACC games at Miami and vs Florida State. The win over Duke keeps U of L in the hunt for the #1 seed in the ACC Tournament, especially since they still have two games against Virginia left on the schedule. Louisville has three ACC road wins to date, but those victories have come over Pitt, Boston College, and Wake Forest. While Clemson has been struggling, Littlejohn Coliseum, which is allowing a limited number of fans in the building, is never an easy place to play. A win tonight would be Louisville’s best road win this season to date.
Senior guard Carlik Jones (18.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 4.8 APG) continues to be the go-to guy for Louisville. Any time the Cardinals need to make something happen on offense late in the shot clock, Jones is the guy they look to. He got it done from the charity stripe against Duke this past weekend, making 11 of 12 attempts from the line en route to 24 points. Sophomore David Johnson (13.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 3.9 APG) is Jones’ backcourt running mate, and while Jones is the most important player for the ‘Cards, looking at Johnson’s line in the box score can usually tell you whether Louisville won that night. In Louisville’s 10 wins, Johnson is averaging 13.7 PPG and 4.3 APG. In their 3 losses, he’s averaging just north of 10 PPG and 2.67 APG. Louisville will need Johnson to take advantage of his 6’5″ frame tonight to find some opportunities against a top-25 Clemson defense.
Clemson Tigers (9-4, 3-4)
Clemson’s fallen from grace faster than any program in the country this year. The Tigers went from being ranked #12 in the country to losing three straight ACC games by a combined 72 points. This all started two Saturdays ago when Virginia slapped them back into the dark ages with an 85-50 beatdown in Littlejohn Coliseum. Since then, Clemson has lost to Georgia Tech and Florida State by a combined score of 163-126. The three consecutive beatdowns have pushed Clemson from #1 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings to #21 entering tonight’s game.
The biggest contributors to Clemson’s downfall have been slow starts on offense and unbelievably hot shooting from outside by their opponents. In the slow start department, Clemson managed just 2 points in the first 10 minutes of the UVA game. Against FSU, the Tigers managed only 7 points in the opening 10 minutes. They can ill-afford to get off to yet another slow start at home against Louisville tonight.
The other major problem of late for the Tigers has been opponents’ three-point shooting proficiency. Virginia was 15-27 (55.6%) from deep, Georgia Tech was 16-26 (61.5%), and Florida State was 12-28 (42.9%). Combined, these three teams went 43-81 (53.1%) from downtown against the Tigers. While much of that can be blamed on Clemson’s uncharacteristically poor help defense and rotations, leading to breakdowns and wide open shots for opponents, during this three game stretch, there’s an element of bad luck involved here, as well. Some teams couldn’t shoot 50% from deep if you locked them in the gym and gave them all night to shoot. Clemson’s been incredibly unlucky in the past three games, and you’d think there will eventually be some reversion to the mean. The $100 question (for our purposes) is whether that reversion happens tonight.
Clemson opened as one-point underdogs tonight, but the line has shifted 2.5 points in their direction. Clearly, the public likes Clemson’s chances of snapping out of their three-game funk tonight. The Tigers are 6-5-1 ATS despite their horrendous stretch, and they’re an even more impressive 3-1-1 at home, with the one loss being the blowout against Virginia. Louisville, on the other hand, is 6-7 ATS, but they’re 3-2 on the road.
The Tigers have the advantage down low in this game with Louisville’s Malik Williams still out with a foot injury, and I think they’ll look to take advantage of that. Senior forward Aamir Simms (11.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG) is the Tigers’ only player averaging double figures, and he’s the team’s most dynamic threat. I think Clemson will look to establish Simms on the block early and often, which should help slow things down some. KenPom ranks Louisville 294th in the nation in tempo, while Clemson is ranked 306th in that category. I think we’re in for a slow game and an attempt by Clemson to return to their bread and butter by grinding possessions out, minimizing the total number of trips down the floor, and relying on their defense to give their offense enough slack to get the job done. I don’t like the line in this one, as I think it’s a true pick ’em despite Clemson’s recent woes, but I’ll take the under. Take UNDER 130.0 (-110).
Mac is 13-12 on the season. All picks are one unit. A $100 bettor has a loss of $19.