Technically, N.C. State will play Clemson twice this season and for the first time on Sunday.
But in terms of a teams profile, N.C. State has already played a version of Clemson once this season and will play five such games in the ACC.
Clemson, Virginia and Georgia Tech are three conference teams cut from the same cloth with smart coaches, strong defenses and low-yield offenses.
N.C. State is 1-0 in what amounts to a five-game series against the defense-first/offense-later faction of the ACC. The Wolfpack beat Georgia Tech 83-70 on Jan. 9 in Raleigh and has to travel to Virginia (Jan. 29) before trips Clemson (Feb. 10) and Georgia Tech (March 3).
The Tigers (10-6, 2-2 ACC) enter Sundays game on a two-game ACC winning streak after giving up only 44 points in each home win over Virginia and Wake Forest.
Georgia Tech, Clemson and Virginia (in that order) are the bottom three teams in the ACC, and in the bottom third nationally, in points per game. On the flip side, Virginia, Clemson and Georgia Tech (in that order) are the top three teams in the ACC, and top 30 nationally, in scoring defense.
The Tigers rank ninth the country in scoring defense, giving up an average of 55.4 points per game and 33rd in Ken Pomeroys tempo-free, adjusted defensive rankings.
Clemsons profile looks like Virginias (second in scoring defense and 18th in adjusted defense) and Georgia Techs (26th and 17th).
N.C. State, which has been strong on offense, has the opposite profile. The Wolfpack ranks 226th in scoring defense and 136th in adjusted defense, but 11th in scoring offense and 10th in adjusted offense.
N.C. States defense has been a work in progress. The Wolfpack gave up a season-low 51 points in Wednesdays loss at Maryland. Second-year coach Mark Gottfried usually relies on man defense but switched to a zone in the second half at Maryland.
The switch, and N.C. States ability to cut off Marylands dribble penetration, helped the Wolfpack take the lead after falling behind by 10.
Maryland was getting in the paint too often, Gottfried said. It was creating all kinds of problems for us.
N.C. States zone worked two ways, since it kept the Terrapins from getting to the rim and forced them to take outside shots (they were just 3 of 18 from 3-point range).
The Wolfpack could go back to the zone against Clemson. The Tigers dont take a ton of 3s. Their offense relies on forwards Devin Booker and Milton Jennings, but theyve shot poorly from long range on the road (9 of 47, 19.1 percent) this season.
Theres a feel in each game, Gottfried said. I think we could play either one. It depends on the opponent and how the game-flow goes.