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This week in the ACC: Clemson enjoying a very strong start, in contention for postseason

The Tigers recently defeated two ranked opponents and are turning heads on the national level. Also, four ACC teams including Duke remain winless in the conference.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Clemson at Notre Dame
Clemson’s Kobi Thornton (right) leads the Tigers in scoring, putting up 16.1 points per game.
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Much of the discussion in the ACC women’s basketball season has focused on the top teams like Louisville, Notre Dame and NC State, or the teams that have had disappointing starts, like Duke and Virginia. The ACC is certainly one of the nation’s top conferences in women’s basketball. But is there a team that is making considerable changes at the top? The answer is yes!


Clemson is on a roar!

Historically, the Clemson Tigers have been one of the ACC’s bottom-feeders. They haven’t won more than five conference games since the 2003-04 season and have finished below .500 every season since then.

This season, however, the Tigers made significant changes. Former Florida head coach Amanda Butler was hired last spring with an already strong résumé. While at Florida from 2007 to 2017, eight of her teams made the NCAA or WNIT tournaments.

The Tigers have made strong improvements on both ends of the floor while keeping their leading scorer from last season, junior post Kobi Thornton and their third-leading scorer, senior guard Danielle Edwards.

As a team this year, Clemson is shooting 42.7 percent while holding their opponents to 37.8 percent from the floor. Last season, Clemson shot just 34.1 percent overall while allowing opponents to make 38.6 percent of their shots. The Tigers’ improved offense and defense have helped them race ahead to a 14-5 record overall and a 5-1 conference record this season.

Their two most impressive wins were a 76-67 win over then-No. 23 Miami (Coaches Poll ranking) on Jan. 10 and a 57-45 win over then-No. 18 Florida State on Jan. 13. This was Clemson’s first stretch of back-to-back wins over ranked programs in franchise history and made them the NCAA women’s basketball team of the week.

Thornton and Edwards have also made significant improvements in their games this season. Thornton has improved her shooting percentage from just 42.8 percent last season to 49.6 percent this season. This helped her increase her scoring average from 11.1 points to 16.1 points per game. Edwards’ improvement is even more dramatic. Last season, she shot just 29.3 percent from the field for 9.2 points per game. This season, Edwards is averaging 13.8 percent while shooting 42.9 percent from the field.

Clemson is still unranked, but they now have some votes in each of the polls. It’s early to say if they will get ranked later this season. But they should at the very least earn a postseason tournament berth after their rise this season.

The Tigers play at No. 8 NC State at 7 p.m. tonight. You can watch the game on ACC Network Extra.


Games of the week

No. 1 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (18-1, 6-0) at Tennessee Lady Volunteers (12-6, 1-5)

When: Thursday, Jan. 24, at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, TN | TICKETS

How to watch: ESPN

Notes: Though the Tennessee Lady Volunteers are having a down season and have lost five consecutive games heading into tonight, this is still a big game. The Fighting Irish and Lady Vols are two of the most prestigious programs of all time. Arike Ogunbowale is the biggest name for the Irish, but her counterpart will be sophomore guard Evina Westbrook. She leads the Lady Vols in scoring at 16.8 points per game and assists at 5.2 per game. Though the wins haven’t been there for Tennessee, Westbrook has remained a consistent performer game in and game out. The Lady Vols will need her to have another strong performance to get the upset tonight.

No. 22 Florida State Seminoles (16-2, 4-1) vs. No. 4 Louisville Cardinals (17-1, 5-1)

When: Thursday, Jan. 24, at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Donald L. Tucker Center, Tallahassee, FL | TICKETS

How to watch: ACC Network Extra

Notes: The Seminoles have remained consistent all season and are now ready to get their first win over a ranked team since defeating then-No. 12 Iowa on Nov. 24. Redshirt junior forward Kiah Gillespie has been on a tear for Florida State in her first season for the team, averaging 18 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. She has scored in double digits in all but one game in the 2018-19 season. The individual match between Gillespie and Louisville senior forward Sam Fuehring (10.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per game) will be interesting indeed. Fuehring does not have the star profile that senior guard Asia Durr has, but will have an opportunity to make an impact in the front court with a win later tonight.

Miami Hurricanes (16-4, 4-1) vs. Boston College Eagles (13-6, 2-4)

When: Sunday, Jan. 27, at 1 p.m. ET

Where: Watsco Center, Coral Gables, FL | TICKETS

How to watch: ACC Network Extra

Notes: Last season, the Eagles were just 7-23. But this season, Boston College is on track to at least double last year’s win total. They have lost each of their last two games, but those losses were to nationally-ranked teams Florida State and Notre Dame. The Hurricanes have been on again, off again in the top 25.


Elsewhere in the ACC:

  • Virginia Tech was one of the ACC’s surprise teams like Clemson. But since ACC play began, they have fallen to 0-5 in conference play. Four of their five conference losses were to ranked teams that figure to compete for the conference championship, so perhaps their record is deflated. They host North Carolina tonight at 7 p.m. ET, so they will have a better opportunity to get a win there.
  • In addition to the Hokies, the Pittsburgh Panthers, Duke Blue Devils and Wake Forest Demon Deacons are winless in ACC play with identical 0-5 records. Duke hosts Wake Forest tonight at 8 p.m. ET, so the Blue Devils should have the upper hand here. Pittsburgh’s next game is against No. 4 Louisville on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET, though they will be clear underdogs.

ACC schedule and results