by Austin Silvey @SilveyESP
The Tigers have had 59 opportunities to play in Chapel Hill throughout their history. They've left as the loser in all of them. They will have another shot at the Tarheels on Saturday, January 11 with a great chance to end the historic streak.
A win for Clemson (7-7; 1-3) in the Dean Dome would not only give them their first ever win at UNC (8-7; 1-3) but it would also delay another historical mark. Tarheel's head coach Roy Williams is currently tied for fourth with Dean Smith in all-time wins (879) and can pass him with a victory over Brad Brownell's crew.
Brownell is also one win away from tying Cliff Ellis for most wins as a head coach in Clemson history (177).
Clemson lost the last meeting in Chapel Hill, 87-79 in the 2017-18 season. The Tigers hit their first 15 shots of the second half but the inefficiency in the first half was too much to overcome. This will be the first time since the 2013-14 that neither team will be ranked in the AP Top 25.
It has been a tumultuous season for both program's to this point. Each team has seen multiple injuries to key players and a lack of consistent production from those available. The difference is that Clemson has had to depend more on freshman & transfers while the Tarheels have been leaning on more experienced players.
Here is the breakdown of why I think that Game 60 between the Tarheels and Tigers will go Clemson's way for the first time ever....
UNC has lost two straight games in conference play at home to start 2020 (vs Georgia Tech; vs Pitt). They are struggling to score and confidence has to be at a season low. It seemingly is for Roy Williams at least who said earlier in the week that this is the "least gifted team" he has ever had in Chapel Hill.
Ross Martin of InsideCarolina tweeted a quote on Friday from Williams saying, "I am not sleeping well right now."
Meanwhile, even through the early season struggles, Clemson is coming in a little more confident after getting their first ACC win of the season at home over NC State, 81-70. It was their best offensive performance of the year.
Cole Anthony was essentially the entire offense before he got injured. Even now, after sitting out a number of games, his percentage usage via KenPom is 31.7% which is the 30th highest percentage in the country.
Without Anthony in the lineup, the Heels have had trouble scoring. Their effective field goal percentage is currently 44.8% which is 320th in the country, according to KenPom. They get most of their points inside the three-point line (55.8% of points) but are shooting just 44.7% from the floor and 30.1% from beyond the arc.
Clemson is essentially the opposite on offense. The Tigers rely heavily on three pointers with 36.2% of their points coming from beyond the arc and 45.8% of their total shot attempts; though they only shoot 31.8% from deep.
UNC does a good job snagging offensive boards and getting second chance opportunities which could be problematic for the Tigers due to their small lineup. But if Clemson's shots are falling, it could end up being a long day for baby blue.
While both teams have struggled from the charity stripe this season, Clemson has picked it up as of late. The Tigers are shooting 71.3% from the free throw line while UNC is at 65.5%. Teams are making an average of 71% of their free throw attempts against Clemson; the Heels opponents are converting on 73.4% of their attempts.
This game will most likely come down to who can make their free throws. Both teams give their opponents plenty of opportunities at the charity stripe; around 16.5% of their opponents points come via free throws.
CREATING EXTRA POSSESSIONS
Both teams only turn the ball over about 18.5% of their possessions which is slightly under the national average. Clemson turns it over via steals 9.6% of their possessions while UNC does the same about 10.2% of their possessions.
The biggest difference comes on the defensive side where Clemson has been vastly better at forcing turnovers than the Tarheels have. Clemson's steal percentage is 10.9% while UNC's is at 8.3%.
There have been years in the past where Clemson went into this game and venue as the better team yet still came out with the loss. Predicting an upset on Saturday, no matter the analytics or talent, seems asinine given the history.
But streaks don't last forever. Ask Florida & Kentucky football. Ask Virginia & Virginia Tech too. There aren't many streaks that rival this one. But after tomorrow's game, in my opinion, it will finally come to it's end.
KenPom Game Prediction (as of 1/10/20): UNC wins 70-65 (69% chance to win)