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NC State needs a big defensive effort to come through at Clemson

This’d be a nice game to have.

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

There isn’t a lot that separates Clemson and NC State at this point in the season—the Pack would be a slight favorite on a neutral floor—which is one reason why the game Friday is important. For all we know, Clemson and State will be fighting over the same territory well into March, and the Tigers are already off to a 2-0 start to ACC play, giving them an early leg up.

The 13th edition of Brad Brownell’s Clemson Tigers

Tigers in '23 Adj OE/DE (rk) eFG% TO% OR% 2FG% 3FG%
Tigers in '23 Adj OE/DE (rk) eFG% TO% OR% 2FG% 3FG%
Offense 110.0 (39) 55.3 (29) 16.5 (43) 24.2 (306) 52.8 (89) 39.4 (15)
Defense 97.6 (85) 47.8 (106) 18.6 (194) 23.5 (30) 47.0 (89) 32.6 (142)

It’s safe to say Clemson is exceeding expectations, given that the Tigers had a couple starters transfer out, one starter graduate, and another rotation guy graduate. Despite the attrition, Brad Brownell didn’t seek a lot of help in the portal—he brought in Brevin Galloway from Boston College, but otherwise chose to ride with his returnees and his freshman class.

His faith in the roster has been rewarded, though the consequence is that his team is a lot thinner in 2023. He’s yet to see an impact rotation player emerge from his freshmen, and, well, so it often goes with freshmen. His upperclassmen are logging a whole lot of minutes.

The team’s leading scorer is Chase Hunter (6’3, 204) at 14.8 PPG. Hunter has managed to maintain his efficiency despite a huge step up in workload this season, and he’s shooting a career-best 46.4% from three. He’s been pretty good at getting to the free throw line, and he’s 83rd nationally in assist rate.

Right behind him is Hunter Tyson (6’8, 217), who is at 41% from three and is also shooting 50% inside the arc. Tyson is an outstanding free throw shooter and defensive rebounder. He probably won’t come off the floor much.

Also critical thus far: the aforementioned Galloway and three-point specialist Alex Hemenway. Both have played really well in secondary roles, with Galloway shooting at an incredible rate inside the arc (68.4%) and Hemenway doing the same beyond it (50%).

Hemenway’s shooting in particular is no joke, as he’s a 43.3% career three-point shooter. But he did miss Clemson’s last game because of nagging plantar fasciitis, so keep an eye on his status.

At this point I’ve more than buried the lede, since the biggest difference-maker on this team is PJ Hall (6’10, 245), who is coming off a 25-point performance at Georgia Tech. Hall hasn’t logged a ton of minutes consistently (he had offseason patella surgery, which may be a factor), but when he’s on the floor, he commands the ball, accounting for nearly a third of Clemson’s shots. He’s at 60% on twos and he’s even 10-23 from outside. Good, disruptive defensive player, and a good rebounder. Sure wish we had Dusan Mahorcic available.

It’ll be imperative for NC State to take care of the defensive glass, and the good news there is that Clemson doesn’t make offensive rebounding a priority. The Tigers don’t need to, since they shoot it well and take care of the ball. We’ll have to hope that the Pack’s defense can force Clemson into a few more turnovers than usual—that could make a huge difference.

But it may simply come down to shooting. Clemson has posted an eFG% over 50.0 10 times and won all 10. The Tigers shot below 50.0 in all three losses. The off nights have been rare, but they’ve been fatal.

KenPom likes Clemson by two.