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Louisville at Clemson preview: Cards shoot for first win at Littlejohn

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U of L will be an underdog for just the second time this season.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia Tech at Louisville Louisville Courier-Journal-USA TODAY Sports

Louisville Cardinals (10-3, 5-2) at Clemson Tigers (9-4, 3-4)

Game Time: 9:05 p.m.

Location: Littlejohn Coliseum: Clemson, S.C.

Television: Regional Sports Networks (Fox Sports South in Louisville)

Announcers: Tom Werme (play-by-play) and Dan Bonner (analyst)

Favorite: Clemson by 1.5

Officials: Keith Kimble, Kipp Kissinger, Lamar Simpson

Series: Louisville leads, 7-3

Last Meeting: Clemson won, 77-62, on Feb. 15, 2020 in Clemson

Series History:

Probable Starting Lineups:

Statistics:

Clemson’s Season to Date:

Relevant Videos:

About Clemson:

It’s been a tale of two seasons for Clemson so far in 2020-21. Through 10 games, the Tigers had one of the most impressive resumes in the entire country. They were 9-1 with wins over Alabama, Florida State, Purdue and Maryland, and their defense sat at No. 1 in Ken Pom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings. Then, Covid issues forced the team into an 11-day halt.

Since then, nothing has been the same.

Clemson enters Wednesday night’s game against Louisville riding a three-game losing streak. Those three losses to Virginia, Florida State and Georgia Tech have come by a combined 72 points, and a Tiger defense that had previously not allowed any opponent to score more than 70 points, has given up at least 80 in three straight. Those three efforts have dropped Brad Brownell’s team from No. 1 in adjusted defensive efficiency to No. 24.

Having a previously unscheduled league game dropped on you with just three days to prepare isn’t ideal under any circumstances, but there are a couple of reasons why there are fewer reasons for Louisville to complain than if they’d been dealt a different league opponent. First, as previously mentioned, Clemson isn’t exactly playing its best basketball at the moment. And second, the makeup and style of this Tiger team isn’t much different than it was a year ago when U of L faced them twice.

Just as was the case a season ago, this Clemson team runs through Aamir Simms, one of the more unique big men in college basketball. Simms leads the Tigers in scoring (11.7 ppg) and rebounding (5.6 rpg), and is a narrow second in assists (2.3 apg). Louisville did a tremendous job on Simms in the first game a year ago (4 points on 1-of-7 shooting), but allowed him to score 13 points and dish out six assists in the loss at Littlejohn a month later.

Like his team, Simms hasn’t looked like himself in recent weeks. The 6’8 senior scored only five points and attempted just three shots in Saturday’s loss to Florida State. That performance came on the heels of a two-point on 1-of-9 shooting effort against Virginia a week earlier. Louisville doesn’t have nearly the size inside that either FSU or UVA have, and Simms has feasted this season on smaller front courts. He’ll be fully locked in and giving everything he has to right the ship this evening. Jae’Lyn Withers will really need to bring it defensively, and do so without getting into foul trouble.

Simms’ supporting cast has once again been something of a mixed big this season. A whopping nine Clemson players average 4.1 ppg or more, but Simms is the only Tiger currently scoring in double figures.

Nick Honor, a transfer from Fordham who sat out last season, is the team’s second-leading scorer at 9.9 ppg. The 5’10 junior guard is a very capable outside shooter who also leads the team in assists at 2.5 apg. Louisville’s backcourt has to force Honor to make plays off the bounce, going towards the basket. He’s effective enough in that capacity, but he’s much more dangerous as a catch and shoot guy, and his teammates are good about finding him the moment his defender has over-helped.

Like Simms, Al-Amir Dawes has found himself in a bit of a funk recently. He’s still the team’s third-leading scorer at 8.2 ppg, but he’s just 3 of his last 19 from beyond the arc, and he hasn’t scored in double figures since Dec. 29. He certainly has the ability to get hot, it just hasn’t happened recently.

Clyde Trapp (7.7 ppg/5.2 rpg) is a guy who was solid in both games against Louisville last season. He’s careful about picking his spots from the outside, but when he’s given time to gather and rise, he can be pretty lethal. Trapp has hit at least one three in six straight games, despite never attempting more than four at any point during that stretch. Still, the stronger part of his game is off the dribble. Defensively, Trapp is strong, athletic and aggressive. His biggest issue so far this season has been defending the pick-and-roll, which should be music to the ears of David Johnson and Carlik Jones.

Junior forward Hunter Tyson missed five games in the middle of the year after taking a knee to the back of the head in December. At 6’8, he gives them another body inside, but he’s not a shot blocking threat and his offensive game has been lacking as of late.

John Newman III has had a disappointing junior season so far, but he has been showing signs of life recently. He’s scored 12 points in back-to-back games and is 4 of his last 7 from three. In last season’s win, he torched Louisville to the tune of a career-high 23 points on 7-of-9 shooting. He hasn’t really come close to that type of offensive performance since.

One of the biggest reasons Clemson’s defensive numbers have dipped so dramatically over the last three weeks has been that their guards keep getting beat off the dribble, their wings keep over-helping, and open three-point shooters on the wing have been lighting them up. Virginia was 15-of-27 (55.6%) from three, Georgia Tech was 9-of-18 (50.0 percent), and Florida State was 12-of-28 (42.9 percent). Louisville obviously has the guards to gain this same type of advantage, but finding the guys who will capitalize on all the open space on the perimeter could be a different story. We’re going to need some guys to shoot above their averages from deep this evening, or else is going to be on Carlik and David to either finish in traffic or make the right dish to an open Jae’Lyn or Dre around the rim.

Like Louisville, the Tigers play at one of the slowest paces in the conference. U of L, however, has been trying to get out and run a little bit more recently, a trend I’d bank on seeing continue tonight.

What Clemson does well: Create turnovers, get steals, defend inside the arc, find the hot hand from three, have depth, shoot free-throws.

What Clemson does not do well: Defend the three, play from behind, get to the line, keep opposing guards out of the lane, avoid over-helping.

Notable:

—Clemson is one of just two ACC teams Louisville has failed to beat on the road since joining the conference. Virginia is the other.

—Louisville is 0-3 in road games at Clemson since joining the ACC in 2014-15. The Cards’ only road victory over the Tigers came in 1973.

—Louisville has started with a 10-3 record or better for each of the last 11 years. The Cards have opened with a 5-2 or better conference record for the ninth time in the last 11 years, with the two exceptions being its 2012 Final Four (3-4) and 2013 National Championship (4-3) seasons.

—Clemson stated this season 9-1 for just the 20th time in program history. Seven of the nine wins were against Power Five conference opponents, the most of any in those 20 seasons.

—Louisville is an underdog for just the second time this season. The Cards were also an underdog for their December loss at Wisconsin.

—Chris Mack is 3-1 as a head coach in games against Clemson. His Xavier team defeated the Tigers 83-77 in the Tire Pros Invitational on Nov. 18, 2016.

—Louisville is 8-0 this season when winning the rebounding battle.

—Carlik Jones ranks third in the ACC in both scoring (18.4 ppg) and assists (4.8 apg). Jones has 95 career double-figure scoring efforts, including the last 35 consecutive games (all 12 this year).

—Clemson football fans storm the field after every home game. It’s super weird.

—David Johnson is the only player in the ACC among the top 20 in both rebounding (6.0, 19th in ACC) and assists (3.9, eighth in the ACC).

—Jae’Lyn Withers has made 71.8 percent of his shots over his last six games (28-of-39).

—Clemson has won 26 consecutive games when holding an opponent to 50 points or less.

—Through 13 games this season, Louisville has produced 13 runs of 8-0 or better.

—This is the first season Louisville has gone from unranked to ranked in the AP poll three times since 2010-11. The only other seasons the Cards have done it are 1970-71 and 1983-84.

—Louisville has been ranked in the Associated Press poll on 657 occasions, sixth most all-time.

—Brad Brownell’s 194 wins are the most of any Clemson basketball coach.

—Since 2004, Louisville is 126-0 when leading by more than 10 points at halftime.

—Louisville is 25-1 over the last two seasons when scoring at least 71 points, including 7-1 this season. The lone loss came at Miami.

—Louisville has won 162 consecutive games when holding an opponent under 50 points.

—Louisville has won 155 consecutive games when scoring at least 85 points in regulation.

—Louisville is one of just four schools which have won 20 or more games on the court in each of the last 18 seasons. Gonzaga, Duke and Kansas are the others.

Ken Pomeroy Prediction: Clemson 65, Louisville 64