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Virginia Tech (18-11, 9-6 ACC) at Clemson (21-8, 9-6 ACC)

Sunday, March 7, 2008, 1:30

TV: Raycom (click here for station listing)

Roster Card: Click here

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Game Preview:  The Hokies will look to do something they've never done before when they take on #24 Clemson on Sunday afternoon: They will go for their fifth straight ACC victory. The Hokies have won four straight ACC games on two occasions, but never five. A road win over a Top 25 team would go a long way in securing an NCAA tournament berth for the Hokies. Clemson has a lot to play for as well, such as the #3 seed in the ACC tournament. It's also Senior Day for three Tigers.

Clemson and Virginia Tech have played some great games since the Hokies joined the ACC. Tech is 2-3 against the Tigers. Two of the games have been decided by one point, two have been decided by two points, and one has been decided by five points. They are all close, competitive, and they go down to the wire.

The Hokies have been defeated at home the last two years by Clemson on Senior Night. Tech has a chance to get some revenge this year, but it will be difficult. The Tigers are a talented team with balanced production from the frontcourt and backcourt. They've been the third best team in the ACC all year, though they are currently tied with the Hokies for that spot in the standings.

Here is a look at Clemson's normal starting lineup, though it could look different for Senior Day.

Clemson Starting Lineup
Pos Player Ht Wt Year PPG RPG Assists
G Demontez Stitt 6-2 170 Fr. 8.9 1.6 81
G Cliff Hammonds 6-3 200 Sr. 12 4.2 112
F K.C. Rivers 6-5 215 Jr. 14.7 6.5 56
F James Mays 6-9 230 Sr. 10.6 7.2 51
F Trevor Booker 6-7 240 So. 11.4 7.7 42

There is no superstar on this Clemson team, but there are a number of good, solid basketball players. Wing K.C. Rivers is the team's top scorer and third leading rebounder. Rivers spearheads one of the top three-point attacks in the ACC. He is shooting 41.4% from the outside on the season. He can also get to the glass, and he does not turn the ball over.

Rivers scorched Tech for 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting last season. He was 5-of-7 from the outside. He can light you up in a heartbeat from the outside.

Clemson has an excellent inside duo of James Mays and Trevor Booker. Mays is a very athletic player who was recruited heavily by Virginia Tech. He is a face up, power forward type player who could end up being a second round NBA draft pick this summer.

Booker doesn't have the natural height of a center, but he's got the game of one. He can play with his back to the basket, turning and scoring in a number of ways. He is Clemson's best rebounder. Mays and Booker form a very good frontcourt. Their skills complement each other very well.

The heart and soul of Clemson's team is Cliff Hammonds. He is the Tigers' second leading scorer, and he also leads the team in assists and steals. Hammonds is a 4-year starter. He's an architecture major who carries an outstanding GPA. He's tough, talented, experienced, and a great leader.

How complete a player is Hammonds? He's only the fifth player in ACC history with 1,300 points, 400 rebounds, 400 assists, and 200 steals. Grant Hill, Bob Sura, Bruce Dalrymple and Johnny Rhodes are the others.

Hammonds is playing with a broken bone in the wrist of his non-shooting hand. This type of injury normally requires surgery, but that would end the senior's season. He is playing with it heavily taped. He scored 15 points in last night's loss at Georgia Tech.

Hammonds played well overall, but it's still not clear how the injury has affected his jumper. His six field goals against Georgia Tech were all on layups, and he was 3-of-7 from the free throw line. He is a sub-50% free throw shooter anyway, so it's tough to tell if it has hurt his shot. He did miss all of his jump shot attempts, and he's normally a 40% three-point shooter.

Whether his jumper is falling or not, Hammonds is an important player for Clemson. He is their best defensive guard. The Tigers like to pressure the basketball quite a bit, and he is very good at that. Their press isn't nearly as effective without him in the game.

Clemson will bring some effective players off the bench, starting with freshman guard Terrence Oglesby. Oglesby is perhaps the top three-point specialist in the ACC. He was brought to Clemson for one reason: to shoot from the outside. He has responded, going 72-of-178 from three-point range this year, good for 40.4%. He is a one-dimensional player. 72 of his 93 field goals have come from the outside this season.

Wing David Potter and forward Raymond Sykes also play quite a bit, and they are effective players. Potter is also a solid three-point shooter at 36%, though he doesn't shoot it a lot. Another experienced wing is senior Sam Perry, who started last season but comes off the bench this year.

VT vs. Clemson (ACC Games Only)

VT Clemson
Stat ACC Rank Stat ACC Rank
FG% 42% 11 44.90% 7 Clemson
FG% Defense 42.90% 2 44.30% 5 VT
3-Pt.% 29.10% 12 38.10% 3 Clemson
3-Pt.% Defense 36% 7 30.20% 2 Clemson
FT% 69.40% 8 59.50% 12 VT
Rebounding Margin +3.7 2 -1.7 6 VT
Turnover Margin -0.07 7 +3.64 2 Clemson
Assist/TO Ratio 0.79 11 1.07 3 Clemson
Scoring Offense 72.2 10 78.6 3 Clemson
Scoring Defense 72.4 1 72.6 2 VT
Average -- 7.1 -- 4.5 Clemson

Note: Clemson's numbers and stats are from before their Wednesday night game at Georgia Tech. had not updated the stats and rankings by the time this article was written.

The first thing you'll notice is that both teams play defense very well. The Hokies are #1 in scoring defense and #2 in field goal percentage defense. Clemson is #2 in scoring defense, #5 in field goal percentage defense, and #2 in three-point defense.

However, they are somewhat different defensively. Clemson likes to defend by pressuring the ball, extending their defense, and at times using a full-court press. They don't want you to shoot the ball. They want to create extra possessions. The Hokies are pretty conservative defensively. They focus on guarding the basket. Both teams are very good at what they do.

Clemson does force a lot of turnovers, and therefore rank very highly in turnover margin. Georgia Tech was able to defeat Clemson on Thursday night by reversing that trend. The Yellow Jackets forced 20 Clemson turnovers, while committing just 13 of their own. That allowed them to overcome a rebounding margin of -12.

Another thing that must be discussed is Clemson's free throw shooting. It's pretty bad. This team is one of the top three-point shooting teams in the ACC, yet they can't hit a free throw. Cliff Hammonds is a 40% shooter from the outside, but only 43.4% from the free throw line. Tech can't be afraid to foul the Tigers and make them earn it from the line. Particularly Hammonds, Trevor Booker and James Mays.

One thing that will be interesting to see is whether or not the Hokies can keep up their streak of good offensive play. The Hokies have scored 40+ points in five of their last seven halves of basketball, dating back to the second half of the Maryland game. It could have been six of the last seven, but they took their foot off the gas for the last five or ten minutes of the game against Wake Forest, and only scored 33 in the second half.

Tech's halfcourt offense has looked much more smooth and polished in those last seven halves. This is probably the best streak of halfcourt offense against ACC competition that we've ever seen from a Seth Greenberg coached team. Over the last three games, Tech is shooting 44.6%, raising their season average to 43.5% in the process.

One reason for the success has been the play of A.D. Vassallo. Vassallo is averaging 19.5 points per game over the last four games, all wins. He dropped 27 points on Georgia Tech, and 20 on Wake Forest. He has scored 19 or more in three of the last four games. He is picking up his game when needed the most. Deron Washington is also playing his best basketball of the season right now.

When you consider how close the games have been since Virginia Tech joined the ACC, and the fact that there are major postseason aspirations for both teams, as well as the fact that it's Senior Day, emotions will be high in Littlejohn Coliseum. It will be a very desperate basketball game, and if the Hokies can win it, I think they'll be heading to the NCAA tournament.