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January 4, 2008

UNC will provide huge test for Clemson

MORE: Head-to-Head Breakdown

Maybe it's a blessing that Clemson opens its ACC season at home Sunday against North Carolina.

The Tigers (12-1) can silence anyone who believes this team resembles last season's, which started 17-0 and was 17-1 when the Tar Heels came calling. UNC blasted the Tigers 77-55, and Clemson went on to lose seven of its next nine games and miss the NCAA Tournament.

The Tigers believe they're better than they were a year ago. They've bounced back from their first loss this season, against Ole Miss, to win two games. One of those games was an 87-61 thrashing of Alabama. It was the Tide's worst non-conference home loss since 1970.

The Tar Heels (14-0) might be better, too. They've yet to play a ranked opponent, but they've beaten some quality teams and are doing so easily. They're the second-highest scoring team in the nation, averaging 92.2 points per game.

Here's a closer look at the Tar Heels-Tigers matchup, which will be televised nationally on Fox Sports Net at 7:30 p.m. EST.

No. 1 North Carolina (14-0) at No. 19 Clemson (12-1)
Ty Lawson vs. Demontez Stitt
EDGE: North Carolina Lawson, a 5-foot-11 sophomore, is one of the nation's best point guards. He's averaging 13 points and 5.5 assists, with nearly a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. His speed with the ball and decision-making propel an offense that's tough to slow. Stitt, a 6-2 freshman, has stepped into the big shoes of departed Vernon Hamilton and performed admirably. He has started every game and is averaging 8.2 points and 3.5 assists.
Wayne Ellington vs. Cliff Hammonds
EDGE: North Carolina Ellington, a 6-4 sophomore, has improved dramatically from last season. His shooting averages are up across the board, thus raising his scoring average 5.0 points per game from last season. He is second on the team with a scoring average of 16.7 points per game. Hammonds, a 6-3 senior, plays some point guard and is one of three dangerous 3-point threats for the Tigers. He's averaging 10.2 points, and he's a solid defender who leads the team in steals.
Marcus Ginyard vs. K.C. Rivers
EDGE: Clemson Ginyard, a 6-5 junior, is North Carolina's best defender. He averages 7.1 points and 4.6 rebounds. Rivers, a 6-5 junior, is an athletic wing player who can shoot outside and slash to the basket. He's the Tigers' leading scorer (16.0 points per game) and second-leading rebounder (7.3).
Deon Thompson vs. Trevor Booker
EDGE: Clemson Thompson, a 6-8 sophomore, is a blue-collar type who will do his damage inside. He's the Tar Heels' leader in blocked shots (1.4 per game) and is second on the team in rebounding (5.6). Booker, a 6-7 sophomore, is a true post player who won't stray too far from the basket. He's the Tigers' leading rebounder (9.2) and shot-blocker (2.1), and he averages 9.6 points.
Tyler Hansbrough vs. James Mays
EDGE: North Carolina Hansbrough, a 6-9 junior, is a physical force with one of the best motors in the college game. He leads the Tar Heels in scoring (22.4) and rebounding (9.6). Mays, a 6-9 senior, is as quick a post player as there is in the ACC. He missed five games this season with a hip injury, but this will be his fourth game back in the lineup. He's averaging 12.3 points and 6.8 rebounds, and he had 18 points in the Tigers' win at Alabama.
EDGE: Clemson Danny Green, a 6-6 junior swingman, has been the big gun off the bench for the Tar Heels. He's their fourth-leading scorer (12.9 points per game) and is shooting 44.7 percent from 3-point range. But North Carolina is thin at all positions otherwise. The Tigers also have a sharpshooter coming off the bench, freshman Terrence Oglesby. He's the Tigers' second-leading scorer (12.5 points per game), and he's making nearly three 3-pointers per game. Clemson also has more frontcourt depth than North Carolina.
EDGE: North Carolina Roy Williams has done another masterful job. The Tar Heels are playing at a high level, especially offensively. The development of Ellington and Green also deserves praise. Oliver Purnell has the Tigers off to another fine start, and his team performed well in the absence of Mays. That allowed Clemson to develop more frontcourt depth.
Clemson will press and try to force tempo, but it's tough to rattle Lawson and North Carolina. The Tar Heels will have to guard well on the perimeter because the Tigers have some excellent long-range threats. Hansbrough, as he is against everyone, will be the tough matchup for Clemson. The longer the Tigers can hang around and keep the home crowd behind them, the better chance they'll have of pulling the upset.
North Carolina 86, Clemson 77

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.

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