No. 13 Virginia entered last week at the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference standings and in position to notch its sixth regular-season title since 2014.
But ugly road losses at Boston College and North Carolina have knocked the Cavaliers out of the top spot and out of the Top 10.
Clemson also had its turn at the top of the league throughout January, eyeing its first ACC regular-season title since 1990.
But the Tigers lost three straight and then suffered a humiliating defeat at last place Louisville, which damaged not only their hopes for an ACC title but also for an NCAA Tournament bid.
Clemson (21-8, 13-5 ACC) travels to Charlottesville, Va., on Tuesday night to face Virginia (21-6, 13-5) in a matchup of teams tied for third place in the league.
Both clubs are looking up at first-place Pitt (21-8, 14-4) and second-place Miami (23-6, 14-5), who meet Saturday in the regular-season finale for both teams.
The Cavaliers can no longer win the title outright, and with losses against both the No. 25 Panthers and No. 16 Hurricanes, they can’t capture it by way of a tiebreaker.
But the Tigers do have a path, however remote. If Clemson were to tie Pitt for first place, it would be the ACC champion based on its 75-74 win over the Panthers on Jan. 7.
There’s also the possibility of a three-way tie for first place between Clemson, Pitt and Miami, with too many tiebreaking scenarios now to consider.
There’s something else at stake in the Tuesday battle as the loser will be in danger of falling out of the top four in the standings and gaining a coveted double bye for the ACC tournament.
Clemson is coming off perhaps its best performance of the year, a 96-71 romp Saturday at North Carolina State, as Brevin Galloway scored a career-high 28 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the arc and 10-of-10 accuracy from the free-throw line. PJ Hall added 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting, while Hunter Tyson contributed 12 points and 11 rebounds as the Tigers completed a sweep of the Wolfpack.
“This was great because it was a big-time road win. Maybe it’s our third Quad 1 road win,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “Beating NC State’s pretty dang good. And good beating PItt on the road. I’m very proud of our guys.”
The win came after Clemson rolled past Syracuse in similar fashion, 91-73, as Tyson tallied 29 points and 10 boards, with all five Tigers starters finishing in double figures.
Meanwhile, Virginia is wondering what happened to its offense. In each of its last three games, the Cavaliers have failed to hit 40 percent from the floor. Over that span, they have made just 15 of 57 shots (26.3 percent) from beyond the arc.
In Saturday’s 71-63 defeat at North Carolina, Virginia missed 12 straight shots during one stretch of the second half. Then in the final six minutes, the Cavaliers missed five straight free throws, blunting their comeback efforts.
Jayden Gardner (19 points, 12 rebounds) was the Cavaliers’ lone consistent threat.
“I keep hoping one of these days we’re gonna break out of that little shooting slump,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “I credit our guys for how hard they played.”
Virginia has dominated Clemson, winning 12 of the last 13 meetings.
–Field Level Media