Two of the hottest teams in the ACC are set to do battle on Saturday when No. 12 Clemson hosts No. 18 Virginia.
Due to having to pause team activities due to Covid protocols, the Tigers (9-1, 3-1) have not played since a 74-70 overtime win over NC State on January 6. Head coach Brad Brownell says with his team off to such a hot start, the break came at an inopportune time, but that his team is ready to get back at it and is looking forward to the challenge that Virginia presents.
"Especially when you're playing well," Brownell said. "Guys are excited, they want to go out and compete, you know, we're looking forward to it. You just got a lot of positive momentum with your team when things are going well, energy's good, and guys were practicing great. But big test for our team and just glad to be back."
The team was able to return to practice on Wednesday, however they did so without Brownell. The Tigers head coach, who will be able to return to practice on Friday, says not being on the court with his players is something he doesn't ever want to have to get used to.
"Yeah, it was hard," Brownell said. "I don't think of myself as a control freak, like in the office every day I'm not a micromanager, probably until it comes to the court a little bit and then I get to be a little bit more of a micromanager and want things done the way I like them done. So that was hard as, you know, I've not missed many practices in my career as an assistant or a head coach."
The Cavaliers (8-2, 4-0) come in winners of four straight themselves and tied with Louisville for first place in the ACC. Nobody has won more ACC games in the last five years than Virginia and the Tigers have not beaten the Cavs since 2013. If Clemson is going to be a serious contender in the ACC, they need to win the games at home.
After an early season loss to San Francisco, Tony Bennett's Virginia team seems to have settled in and is really playing well. They're only other loss of the young season came to top-ranked and unbeaten Gonzaga.
"Tony seems to have figured it out," Brownell said. "They're kind of settled into a groove, I think both how they play and personnel wise. A team that's scoring the ball a little bit better than maybe some of his teams in the past, can beat you in a lot of different ways. Obviously they can beat you with their defense like they always do but just have a lot of guys that can make plays."
Brownell did say he is hopeful the Tigers will have Hunter Tyson back. The junior forward has been out since suffering a facial fracture in the 64-56 win over Alabama on December 12.
"He just started back Wednesday, practiced the last two days," Brownell said. "I think as long as everything goes well here today and tomorrow morning, he should be hopefully ready to go."