UNC coach Roy Williams -- "Clemson kicked our tails down there last year. [They] hadn't been shooting the ball well and made 11-of-13 threes against us so we've got to make sure we guard them better than we did last year."
Clemson coach Oliver Purnell -- "They're coming off a loss to Wake Forest ... but [Wake] played almost a perfect game to beat them and it takes that kind of effort to beat a North Carolina team that's deeper than last year and playing at a high level. ... The bottom line is we're playing a different Carolina team than last year -- a better team, a deeper team -- and if we have good preparation, forget about Va. Tech and we'll need to play our best game all year long I believe in order to have a chance to win. ...
"We want to make wise decisions. I'm not sure we're far enough with our guard play to be able to slow it down. We want to take high percentage shots and if we take high percetage shots that will naturally slow you down. Even though we're not going to talk about slowing the tempo, we are going to talk about needing to take really good shots, as bad shots have a tendency to speed you up and put the other team in transition. ...
"I think our ability on offense to screen them and execute is going to be important. Obviously trapping, the scramble trap is a big part of what they do in their system. We hurt them last year with that and I anticipate seeing a lot of that, but they are a very good man-to-man team, so if you don't screen them it's hard to reverse the ball. So we have to screen them and execute on the offensive end of the floor. They've got to make a decision on whether they want to double down on Sharrod (Ford) or not because of the way we, particularly Shawan (Robinson), shot the ball last year. I anticipate they may go straighter man-to-man.
"Defensively, we've got a match up problem. May is awfully tough and Sharrod has been getting in foul trouble. McCants, I'm not sure how we match up with him so we have to make some decisions there. I think with our young team we're going to play defense the way we've been playing it, hopefully much better. We have to limit our turnovers, execute and try to win that way."
Last Year Vs. UNC: In the first meeting in late January, the Tigers entered the game shooting 23% beyond the arc, but turned in a record-setting three-point performance. Clemson connected on 11-of-13 threes, led by Shawan Robinson's 5-of-6 and 24 points overall, to gun down the Heels, 81-72. Rashad McCants had 26 points for UNC. The rematch a month later was close in the early going, but the Tar Heels held Clemson to 30% first-half shooting and pulled away in the second half for a 69-53 win. McCants again led all scorers, this time with 30 points.
Season To Date: Clemson got off to a strong start with wins over Ohio State and South Carolina. As they headed to the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu in late December, there was optimism that the program could have realistic postseason aspirations. But after tough losses to UAB and Georgetown in Hawaii, a quality effort at Duke, a rout at home to Wake Forest and a heartbreaking defeat last weekend to Virginia Tech, the Tigers aren't feeling so optimistic anymore. At 1-3 in the conference (they won at Florida State), Clemson needs to get back on the winning track if it hopes to get back in the postseason picture and that starts Wednesday night against UNC.
Immediate Impact: Oliver Purnell knew Cliff Hammonds was an important addition when the freshman enrolled last summer, but even the Tigers head coach didn't expect this big an impact. The 6-3 guard quickly cracked the starting lineup and is now averaging the most minutes on the entire team (29.0). His 10.1 scoring average is tops for all freshmen in the conference.
Guard The Three: After last season's three-point nightmare in Littlejohn, defending the perimeter will certainly be on the minds of the Tar Heels. The Tigers are once again not a particularly good shooting team, though Shawan Robinson has connected on 40.2% of his three-pointers, and freshmen Hammonds and Cheyenne Moore aren't shy -- and they've been needed to fill the void left by starting two-guard Chey Christie, who transferred in the offseason.
Ford Factor: Senior Sharrod Ford is one of the better big men in the conference, though he garners little to no media attention. He's a 6-9 shotblocker who consistently shoots a high percentage and is having the best year of his career, averaging 14.3 points, 8.1 boards and nearly two blocks per game. While he is a dangerous foe and has had some quality games against the Tar Heels, it's the entire frontline that gave UNC trouble a year ago. The talk was of the Tigers' three-pointer shooting, but they actually outrebounded UNC in both matchups (+7 in the first game and + 5 in the second). Starting power forward Olu Babalola can be a bruising force in the paint and reserves Akin Akinbala and James Mays have the length to snag their share of rebounds.
Coaching Ties: Purnell is good friends with Roy Williams, and the two were assistants on the USA Basketball coaching staff the last two summers. "We've really gotten to know each other well the last couple summers," Purnell said. "We kid each other all the time and give each other a hard time, but I certainly have nothing but respect and admiration for him as a professional and I actually like the guy as a person." Purnell is highly respected in the coaching ranks and is in his 17th year as a head coach, his second at Clemson after three-year stints at Radford and Old Dominion and a nine-year run at Dayton.
Projected Starters: 25 Cliff Hammonds (6-3, 175, G, Fr.) – 10.1 ppg, 2.8 apg 22 Shawan Robinson (6-2, 183, G, Jr.) – 10.6 ppg, 3.5 apg 15 Cheyenne Moore (6-6, 190, F, Fr.) - 4.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg 12 Olu Babalola (6-6, 242, F, Sr.) – 5.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg 5 Sharrod Ford (6-9, 223, F, Sr.) - 14.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg Key Reserves: 33 Akin Akingbala (6-9, 220, F, Jr.) – 8.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg 3 Vernon Hamilton (6-0, 192, G, So.) – 6.8 ppg, 2.6 apg 44 James Mays (6-9, 215, F, Fr.) – 5.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg 32 Sam Perry (6-5, 190, F, Fr.) – 3.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg
Ford ... Robinson
Hamilton ... Babalola
Mays ... Akingbala
Purnell and Hammonds