Second-ranked Virginia a daunting task for Clemson

Clemson head coach Brad Brownwell gives instructions to his team during the first half of their NCAA basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Locked in the most unforgiving portion of its 2014-15 schedule, Clemson has put forth promising results the past week.

The Tigers (9-6, 1-2 ACC) led No. 6 Louisville at half, and knocked off Pitt in front of The Zoo, clear steps forward on the road on the heels of a 24-point home loss to North Carolina.

Now comes the most daunting of all tests this year: a third consecutive road game Tuesday, at No. 2 Virginia (15-0, 3-0), a team whose style mimics Clemson's - at an inarguably higher level.

"It's hard to get Virginia to go too fast, and we're not a fast team," Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Monday. "So it generally just moves along at a pretty slow pace. They don't turn the ball over much, they don't take bad shots. What makes Tony (Bennett) a good coach is, their offense and their defense match."

The surprising ACC champs in 2013-14, Virginia hasn't missed a beat for an encore; the Cavaliers are joined only by top-ranked Kentucky as the nation's only undefeateds in Division I basketball. The Cavs led the land in scoring defense last season (55.7 points allowed per game), and so far are 4.6 points under that average this year, No. 1 again in the category.

"They're as good as anybody we'll play," Brownell said. "There's a lot of different styles to play against; they just don't give you anything easy. We're going to have to make some perimeter shots."

That's because the Cavs are notoriously hard on bigs, reflected by their impressive streak of holding 40 consecutive ACC opponents under a 50 percent shooting clip. The last league foe to make half its shots on Virginia? Clemson, on Jan. 12, 2013, in a 59-44 triumph at Littlejohn Coliseum.

Current Tigers Rod Hall (4 for 4) and Landry Nnoko (1 for 1) didn't miss a shot in that game - technically, neither did last year's star player, K.J. McDaniels (0 for 0, though he made six free throws) - as the Tigers shot 51.5 percent in what would be their top win that year.

"That's so far back, I can't even remember whether it was home or away," Brownell said. "I'm having a hard time remembering last week, and sometimes I don't want to remember last week."

That's not the case these days after a notable win in Pitt, though the Panthers aren't their usual selves, Clemson was this season's first visitor to prevail at Petersen Events Center, where Pittsburgh has won 88 percent of its games since the arena's opening.

Winning in a follow-up effort at Virginia would give Clemson just its second road win over a top-25 squad in 18 years, and its first victory over a top-two team away from Clemson since a 1976 win at No. 2 Maryland.

"Hopefully, our guys will have some positive momentum from our game against Pitt," Brownell said, "and we played (Virginia) close in a good game here last year. We'll try to match up and give them a good run."