Auburn vs. Clemson basketball preview: Good Tigers try to get back in win column

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The Auburn Tigers host the Clemson Tigers Thursday evening. Will Auburn be able to turn the corner after back-to-back losses?

And here we are. I wish I had something insightful to share with you, maybe even something to give you hope. But right now, I just don't know what to say. Kenpom.com currently has Auburn ranked at No. 219 and Clemson at No. 35. Clemson arrives on the Plains with an 8-2 record. Their Tigers are 6-0 at home, 2-1 on a neutral court and 0-1 on the road, and their two losses were to Massachusetts (neutral) and Arkansas (away). This is the first time the two Tigers have met since 1993.

Clemson currently leads the country in scoring defense, giving up 51.7 points per game. Arkansas was the only team to put up more than 70 in their 74-68 win over Clemson, and the ACC Tigers are 12th nationally in scoring margin (+16.9 ppg) and 18th in rebound margin (+9.0 rpg). Clemson is shooting 43.8 percent on field goals, hitting 33.7 percent of its threes and knocking down 78.3 percent of its free throws. Compare that against Auburn, which is currently shooting at 43.5 percent from the floor, 26.0 percent from three and 73.3 percent from the free throw line.

The ACC Tigers are a young team, with zero seniors and a handful of JUCO transfers, and it will be interesting to see how they respond to their second road trip of the season. It will be more interesting to see how Auburn responds given the recent breakdowns in defense and lack of offense. The usual concerns over defending the perimeter and making free throws remain.

The expected starters for Auburn are KT Harrell, Allen Payne, Asauhn Dixon-Tatum, Chris Denson and Tahj Shamsid-Deen. For the ACC Tigers, the most likely candidates are K.J. McDaniels, Ibrahim Djambo, Landry Nnoko, Rod Hall and Jordan Roper.

Junior forward McDaniels (6'6, 200 pounds) has started all 10 games for the ACC Tigers and is the leading scorer at 17.6 points per game. Clemson head coach Brad Brownell is impressed with the athleticism of the Birmingham native, but is looking for more consistency from him. McDaniels contributes across the board: 6.6 rpg, 30 blocks, and 12 steals.

"He still has work to do and his game still has room to grow, which is exciting," Brownell said. "He's a guy still learning to play off the dribble and pass in traffic. He always makes the highlight plays with the blocks and dunks and things of that nature, but his skill level has improved tremendously with his shooting, his ability to drive it and attack some close-outs.

"Those weren't really things he came here with the ability to do. It's been fun coaching him because of how hard he works, and its fun watching him because he's only going to continue to develop and I'm excited about his growth."

JUCO transfer forward Djambo (6'10, 215) has played in all 10 games, but started only one. Sophomore center Nnoko (6'10, 250) has started all 10 games, averages 7.0 rpg and has 18 blocks. Junior point guard Hall (6'1, 210), also a starter for all 10 games, averages 4.0 assists per game and 9.9 ppg. Sophomore guard Roper (5'11, 165) averages 8.4 ppg, has played in nine games and started three.

Auburn has to find a way to contain McDaniels on both ends of the court. Our Tigers also have to be more aggressive in attacking the boards at both ends. Auburn's offense was positively cold in a miserable game against Illinois 11 days ago, and the defense wasn't much warmer. If head coach Tony Barbee intends to keep his job, he might want to plead his case with a win Thursday night. Otherwise, this season may be more of the same from last year.

Game information

Tipoff: 7 p.m. CT, Auburn Arena

TV: FSN

Radio: Sirius 111/XM 200, Auburn affiliates

Online: ESPN3

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