In late December, the University of Miami’s game at Clemson on Saturday looked like a routine outing against a mediocre conference opponent. The Tigers were 7-6 back then and had lost three games in a row.
Oh, how things have changed.
Clemson ended its football season with a loss in the national championship game on Monday night, and the basketball team has moved into the spotlight.
Clemson is one of the hottest teams in the nation after four consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference wins, including back-to-back victories over then-No. 16 Louisville and No. 9 Duke. The Tigers (11-6, 4-1 ACC) sit in second place in the conference after shocking Duke 68-63 on Wednesday night. It is the first time since 1989 that Clemson beat two ranked teams in a row.
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The Tigers and their fans are pumped as they get ready to face the No. 8 Hurricanes on Saturday in Greenville, South Carolina.
“They’ve got great balance,’’ UM coach Jim Larrañaga said of Clemson. “A key [to their success] is they have been getting to the free-throw line twice as many times as their opponents. They have found a way to play inside-out, getting great interior play and going to the foul line.’’
Clemson is one of the nation’s least foul-prone teams, and the Hurricanes will need to keep that in mind.
Larrañaga would like to see his players at the stripe more often, rather than launching so many three-point shots. The Canes (13-2, 2-1) have not shot well from beyond the arc in recent games, and that is a concern heading into Clemson.
“Against Syracuse, we took 25 threes, which is far too many,’’ he said. “Against FSU we took 24 and against Virginia 22. I’d rather we be more selective, turn down some of those shots, drive to the basket and get to the foul line.’’
UM is coming off a road loss against Virginia, but Larrañaga said the team’s spirit has been good at practice.
The Tigers, meanwhile, are feeling energized and confident after their win over the Blue Devils.
“I always say momentum is a big thing,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “I always try to tell y’all that momentum is important with young people and powerful in this sport. We had some negative momentum in the beginning of this season and couldn’t build any real positive vibe. [The FSU win] told us that we are good, we beat a good team, take a deep breath, relax, go back to doing what we were doing and focus on what we do, because we have a chance to beat some good teams.
“We have been fortunate having some of these games at home, but we played great at Syracuse. That win really helped us, and our confidence is just continuing to grow.”
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after Wednesday’s loss: “We lost to a really good team. They’ve been playing lights-out basketball. They’re old, experienced and well-coached. That showed up, and I thought that was the difference.”
The Hurricanes have taken note and hope to put an end to Clemson’s streak.
Saturday: No. 8 UM men at Clemson
When/where: 2 p.m.; Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Greenville, S.C.
TV/radio: Ch. 33; WQAM 560, WVUM 90.5 FM.
Records: UM 13-2, 2-1 ACC; Clemson 11-6, 4-1.
Scouting report: The Hurricanes are 4-1 against Clemson under Jim Larrañaga, including a 56-45 win in their last meeting in February 2015. … Clemson is red-hot, with four consecutive ACC victories, including wins over then-No. 16 Louisville and No. 9 Duke on Wednesday. … Tigers to watch are Jaron Blossomgame, Landry Nnoko and Donte Grantham.
FIU men vs. Southern Mississippi
When/where: 7 p.m.; FIU Arena.
TV/radio: None. Live streaming on FIUsports.com.
Records: Southern Mississippi 4-11, 1-3 Conference USA; FIU 9-8, 3-1.
Scouting report: Thursday’s dominating win against Louisiana Tech showed how good FIU can be. Saturday’s game against downtrodden Southern Miss will show how consistent the Panthers can be. Will they still be busy feeling happy over Thursday or will they slap down the Golden Eagles, 58-51 losers at FAU on Thursday night?
FIU women at Southern Mississippi
When/where: 5 p.m.; Reed Green Coliseum, Hattiesburg, Miss.
TV/radio: None. Live streaming on southernmiss.com.
Records: FIU 2-13, 0-4 Conference USA; Southern Mississippi 9-6, 2-2.
Scouting report: Southern Mississippi hasn’t lost at home, going 8-0, including conference wins over Louisiana Tech and Florida Atlantic. … Louisiana Tech spanked FIU by 19 on Thursday night. … Don’t look for a lot of long-distance firing from Southern Miss, which has shot a league-low 43 three-pointers in four league games. … Aside from the Golden Eagles’ advantages in blocked shots (4.3 to 1.3) per conference game and rebounding margin (plus-1.5 to minus-5.2), this is a statistically even game.