Published January 08, 2015
Clemson, SC (SportsNetwork.com) - Two of the nation's best defensive squads square off on Saturday afternoon, as the 17th-ranked Virginia Cavaliers take on the Clemson Tigers in an ACC showdown at Littlejohn Coliseum.
Tony Bennett's Cavaliers continue to be one of the real surprise teams not only the ACC, but the nation for that matter. Virginia has reached the 20-win plateau already and brings an eight-game win streak into this contest following a 61-53 home win against Maryland earlier this week. The victory over the Terrapins pushed the Cavaliers to 11-1 in conference play, still right behind top-ranked Syracuse (11-0).
Brad Brownell's Tigers aren't in a position to make a real run at the ACC crown, but the team has played extremely well at times, en route to a respectable 15-8 overall record and a 6-5 league mark. Clemson returns home after a fruitless two-game road trip that included setbacks at top-ranked Syracuse (57-44) and most recently, Notre Dame (68-64 2OT).
Virginia holds a 68-53 series advantage against Clemson, but the Tigers have won four straight at home against the Cavaliers.
Maryland held a one-point lead at the half against Virginia, but the Cavs put the clamps down over the final 20 minutes of actions, limiting the Terps to just .385 shooting in the second half to earn the win. Joe Harris led the way offensively for Virginia with a game-high 19 points, scoring 16 of those points in the decisive second half. Malcolm Brogdon added 14 points, while Akil Mitchell finished with 13.
The Cavaliers aren't the most explosive offensive team at a modest 66.2 ppg, but the team plays some of the best defense in the nation and that has led to a still impressive double-digit scoring margin (+10.8). The team is among the nation's leaders in scoring defense, limiting foes to just 55.5 ppg on .382 shooting, in addition to owning a +6.8 rebounding margin. The backcourt headlines the offensive play for Virginia, as Brogdon and Harris are the top two scoring options at 12.2 and 11.6 ppg, respectively. Justin Anderson adds 9.2 ppg primarily off the bench, while Mitchell (7.1 ppg) is the team's top rebounder (6.7 rpg).
Clemson has mirrored Virginia in a number of ways this season and is equally adept at keeping the score down, as opponents have managed a meager 55.7 ppg on the year, on just .411 shooting. The Tigers also enjoy a +4.4 rebounding edge. Junior K.J. McDaniels is a potent scorer, ranking in the top 10 in the conference at 17.0 ppg. The 6-foot-6 forward also leads the team in rebounding (7.4 rpg) and makes foes pay for sending him to the free-throw line, converting at an 86-percent clip (86-of-100). No other Tiger is averaging double-digit points on the year, although both Rod Hall (9.0 ppg) and Jordan Roper (8.5 ppg) aren't far off the mark.
McDaniels had a game to remember last time out, as he posted 30 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks, despite his team falling to the Irish in double overtime. Hall chipped in with 12 points, but the Tigers overall shot a mere .343 from the floor (24-of-70), including just 7-of-29 from behind the arc (.241).