(Winston-Salem, 03/08, 6:00pm)
To be honest, I'm having more trouble getting excited about this game than I thought I would. A couple of weeks ago it seemed that a lot more could be riding on this game; but if, as expected, FSU dispatches of VT earlier in the afternoon then the game will have no impact on Clemson's final ACC standing. They will be looking at a #5 finish. In fact, chances are WF will have more riding on the game, as a Duke loss (the Duke-UNC game should be wrapping up around tip-off time) will give them the #2 seed by beating Clemson.
Moreover, I just don't see Clemson being competitive in this game. We've talked about how poorly they match up with teams that have an FSU or WF-like profile (effectively tall--meaning taller than average at all positions--with top-20 caliber defense). They also are freakishly athletic, and showed they can move the ball at will against Clemson's press. I don't think I've ever seen Purnell's pressing attack rendered as porous as it was in the first WF game. They were going over the top, outrunning, and running right through the press, sometimes in the same possession. Aminu had some absolutely insane dunks where he seemed to go right through a defender on the way to the basket.
I thought our best hope going in was if WF lacked any particular motivation and decided to more or less not show up for the game--a common occurrence this year. You'll notice this isn't a statistics-based argument. The reason why: looking through their wins/losses this year I can't identify any trends that explain the weird results. I mean, a team with this much raw talent losing to VT at home and GT on the road in the span of one week? It just seems like they don't show up to play some nights. If Duke loses to UNC (highly likely), then I'm afraid they'll have all the motivation they need to put us away by double digits.
I'm certainly hoping that Purnell has secretly been adjusting the game plan in preparation for Sunday's game, springing some surprises in a bid for a big upset. But if there are some secret adjustments, I would think the right time for their debut would have been the FSU game (as I wrote about in the last FSU preview); any way you look at it FSU is an easier target for picking off a victory. I'll certainly be watching intently for any different approaches, but it's entirely likely (and even understandable) if at this point Purnell and staff just plan to go as far as they can with their current strategies in place.