Both Clemson and Florida have had impressive starts to their seasons and will tip off against each other in the second game of the MetroPCS Orange Bowl Classic.
The Tigers, under eighth-year head coach Brad Brownell, are off to their best start since the 2008-09 season, when the Tigers started 16-0 and made the NCAA tournament as a 7-seed.
They have posted an 8-1 record this season, and have defeated the likes of Western Carolina, North Carolina A&T, Ohio, Hofstra, Texas Southern, Ohio State, UNC-Asheville, and Samford, with their one loss coming to Temple in the championship of the Charleston Classic.
The Gators responded to their three-game losing streak with a big win over the weekend in New Jersey over the Cincinnati Bearcats, which put their record this season at 6-3 overall.
Let’s take a look at the players to watch in this matchup, the keys to victory, and a score prediction for this out-of-conference matchup between the Tigers and the Gators.
Players to Watch
Chris Chiozza (Florida)
The starting point guard for the Gators has been very impressive in how he’s been able to create production in multiple categories in what has been a career year for the senior from Memphis.
Chiozza is averaging 11.8 points per game on a 61.5 percent true shooting percentage, as well as 5.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game, which are all career-high numbers for Chiozza.
While Chiozza is most known for his big shot in the Elite Eight to beat Wisconsin in overtime, his full-game impact at Florida this season has been understated. His assist percentage is second in the SEC behind Tremont Waters amongst qualifying players, which illustrates the amount of impact that Chiozza provides on the floor for the Gators.
His impact will be very important to Florida’s success this Saturday against a Clemson defense that only allows opponents to score 63.9 points per game, which ranks fifth in the ACC.
Donte Grantham (Clemson)
The leading scorer and senior leader for the Tigers, Grantham fills the role that second-round NBA Draft pick Jaron Blossomgame left after he graduated from Clemson last season.
Grantham’s offensive game has improved exponentially, where he is shooting 82.1 percent from two-point range and 38.7 percent from three-point range, which are both increases from last year’s production.
His 74.2 percent true shooting percentage ranks him 22nd nationally and second in the ACC behind Virginia Tech’s Justin Bibbs.
Grantham has been one of the most efficient scorers in the country, so finding a defender to stop him will be the major defensive challenge for the Gators in this contest.
How Florida Can Win
The Gators need to limit the inside scoring efficiency from the Tigers in order to win this game.
Clemson is 10th in the NCAA in two-point field goal percentage, so finding a way to affect shots around the rim from Keith Stone, Gorjak Gak, and Kevarrius Hayes will be very crucial to slowing down the Tigers offensively.
The Gators really could use the services of John Egbunu and Isaiah Stokes in this game to defend the rim, but the Gators center and forward are still out with injuries until late January.
So, Florida will need to survive without those two players in this one and hope that Stone, Gak, and Hayes can make enough plays around the rim defensively to make an impact.
How Clemson Can Win
The Tigers will need good guard play to slow down Jalen Hudson, Chris Chiozza, KeVaughn Allen, and Egor Koulechov, who are the four players that pose the most scoring threat on the Florida roster.
Clemson will roll out their trio of Marcquise Reed, Shelton Mitchell, and Gabe DeVoe to try to slow down those guards, and it will be up to those guys to make plays defensively to chase those shooters off the line and make things hard for them coming off of screens and off of the dribble.
These two teams are very good at different things, so that will make for an interesting dichotomy in this matchup.
The Tigers want to get the ball inside to Grantham, and the Gators want to shoot the lights out of the gym.
This will be a close game, but in the end, I trust the Gators’ group of guards to pull out a close win.
Prediction: Florida 68, Clemson 64