Tigers face biggest test to date

Tigers face biggest test to date

Basketball

Tigers face biggest test to date

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Clemson looks to snap its 10-game losing streak to Virginia

Maybe no one in the Atlantic Coast Conference has played better than Clemson through the first 10 games of the basketball season. The Tigers are off to a 9-1 start to the season, including a 3-1 record in the ACC.

Clemson has seven wins over KenPom Top 100 teams, including four top 50 victories and three in the top 30. But today, the 12th-ranked Tigers have an opportunity to get their best win of the season when they host No. 18 Virginia at 6 p.m., at Littlejohn Coliseum.

The Cavaliers (8-2, 4-0 ACC) are coming off an 80-68 victory over Notre Dame this past Wednesday and have won four straight games. Like always at this time of the year, the defending national champions are hitting their stride under head coach Tony Bennett.

“Tony’s team has figured it out. They are kind of settling into a groove in both how they play and personnel wise,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. “They are a team that is scoring the ball a little better than maybe some of his teams of the past. They can beat you in a lot of different ways. Obviously, they can beat you with their defense like they always do.”

The Cavaliers are ranked No. 17 by KenPom, which gives the Tigers, No. 19 in the KenPom rankings, an opportunity to have their best win to date. Also, Clemson has not defeated Virginia since January 12, 2013, a streak of 10 straight losses in the series.

If this is going to be the year the Tigers end the losing streak, it will not be an easy task.

“I think they are getting better. I think they had roster turnover, a lot of new guys,” Brownell said. “You could tell, early in the year, if you watch the San Francisco game [Bennett] played more guys then. He was still trying to figure some things out then.

“You can almost see how he has changed, not how they play, but personnel groupings and things of that nature. It looks like he has made adjustments that way.”

Through experience, practice and playing consistently together, Brownell feels the Cavaliers are starting to gel as a team and it is starting to pay dividends on both ends of the court.

“They don’t make as many mistakes maybe and, obviously, [Bennett] is going to be a Hall of Fame coach. He is doing an unbelievable job there and, as you would expect, his team just keeps getting better and better and will continue to do so the rest of the season.”

And it is not just one or two guys the Tigers have to worry about. Brownell said Virginia has four or five guys that can cause a lot of issues on both ends of the court.

“They have a lot of guys that can make plays,” he said. “Kihei Clark is probably an undervalued guard in our league. He is just a winner. [Sam] Hauser can really score the ball at all three levels. [Trey] Murphy is an outstanding three-point shooter and then Jay Huff is just one of those seniors that is going to have a great year and defensively protects the paint and makes threes and can actually drive the ball from the high post.

“I really like the freshman [Reece] Beekman. I think he is going to be a great player in our league. So, this is a big test for our team.”

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