By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush.
Two of the most important players in the Atlantic Coast Conference are set to duel in Littlejohn Coliseum tonight. The battle between the two will take center stage, even as their respective squads plead for attention in college basketball’s rat race.
N.C. State’s T.J. Warren has been arguably the most important player to his team in a major conference this season. His ability to score in creative ways has been astounding, as has his ability to rebound at a high level at the small forward position.
The same can be said of Clemson’s K.J. McDaniels. No one reading this has to be convinced of his value.
Truthfully, Tiger fans have to consider themselves fortunate that McDaniels is playing such a brilliant brand of basketball this season. The people who think Brownell doesn’t recruit good talent neglect to point out that McDaniels was coveted by Missouri and was a quick commit after Clemson offered late in the process. He wasn’t a four-star prospect coveted by the nation’s elite, but he was good enough to elicit respectable offers.
Warren was a top-25 caliber player in the nation in the 2012 recruiting class. He was a blue-chipper everyone wanted to get his hands on to play small forward. Mark Gottfried got him into the fold, much to the chagrin of the nation’s bluebloods.
The Tigers and the Wolfpack are mirror images in this regard: They need these two studs to carry the lion’s share of the burden on a nightly basis at the offensive end of the floor. Without their contributions, neither team has a good chance of winning games.
Both McDaniels and Warren lead their respective teams in scoring, rebounding, and steals. Warren leads State in minutes played, while McDaniels leads Clemson in blocked shots. Their contributions extend to non-scoring aspects of the game as well.
Both Warren and McDaniels rank inside the top five in the ACC in scoring. Warren is the only 20-plus point scorer in the league, averaging 23.1 per game. McDaniels is fifth in the conference at 17.3 points per game.
The two forwards are both inside the top three in the ACC in usage, meaning they end a large portion of possessions with the ball in their hands. McDaniels and Warren are 7-8 in the league in rebounding, even though McDaniels is only listed at 6’6” and the knock on Warren has been his general athleticism. Warren also leads the conference in offensive rebounding, which means the Tigers will have to find him when the Wolfpack’s shots go up.
The key difference between the two is how they impact the game on defense. McDaniels leads the conference in blocked shots by a significant margin, and Warren ranks sixth in steals. McDaniels is a high-flyer, while Warren likes to play the game on the ground.
McDaniels also outshoots Warren from the foul line and from three-point range. There are a ton of dynamics at play in this matchup.
I’m geeked up to see this. It could be an elimination game for All-ACC consideration, or both guys could play well enough to get added to the list. In a must-win game for both teams’ postseason aspirations, the player who wins this individual battle will probably see a team win alongside that distinction.