It was frustrating, ugly and terrifying up until it wasn’t Friday night when Auburn escaped with a 62-58 victory over the College of Charleston. But it’s #SurviveAndAdvance season and that’s exactly what Auburn did. Their reward for a first (I know it’s actually 2nd but I don’t like to count First Four games) round victory? A rare matchup with the Clemson Tigers. Yes that’s right, Auburn University will play Clemson University in sporting a event. Something we haven’t seen much of over the years.....
- Record: 24-9 (11-7)
- RPI: 11
- SOS: 14
- KenPom: 19
- BPI: 18
Brad Brownell entered his 8th season very much on the hot seat. The wrong orange shaded Tigers had gone 50-45 over the previous 3 seasons and had only one NCAA tournament berth under Brownell, his first season. So he picked a darn good time to have his best season as Clemson’s head man. The knock off Tigers came out the gate hot starting the season 16-3 before senior forward Donte Grantham went down with a season ending injury. After Grantham’s injury, Clemson came back down to earth finishing the regular season 6-5 and sharing a 3rd place tie in the ACC with NC State, North Carolina and Miami. It should be noted that they also didn’t have their point guard Shelton Mitchell for 2 games due to a concussion suffered in a tough loss to Florida State. Clemson dropped the 2 games he sat out but have looked much improved with his return to the lineup.
It all starts on defense for this squad. Clemson ranks #29 in scoring defense, #25 in defensive efficiency, #28 in blocks per game and #27 in opponent shooting %. Interestingly, despite having an overall highly ranked defense they are susceptible to 3 pt shooting teams. On the year, Clemson ranks #206 in opponent 3 pt % with teams shooting at a 35% clip. Meanwhile, they are #10 in opponent 2 pt % holding teams to a 44% shooting percentage. So the opportunities for some good looks from deep should be there for this Auburn Tiger team. The question will be can they knock those shots down. Because if they can’t find that groove again from behind the arc, it’s going to be real hard to get something going in the paint against this defense.
Friday night, Clemson knocked off a very talented New Mexico State squad 79-68. The Aggies were one of the sexy 12 vs 5 upset picks but Clemson looked the better team all night. Shelton Mitchell and Gabe DeVoe combined for 45 points shooting 18 of 28 from the field. It goes without saying, Auburn will have play MUCH better offensively to win this game tonight.
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Once again, Auburn will face a very talented backcourt trio. Juniors Marquise Reed, Shelton Mitchell and senior Gabe DeVoe combine to score around 42 of Clemson’s 70 points a game. All three are outstanding shooters while also being capable of taking it to the rim. They are also all the same height at 6’3”.
While their guards are definitely the strength of this team, they have a #dude in the frontcourt as well in Elijah Thomas. The 6’9” 237 lb forward is an outstanding rebounder and has the ability to score in the post. It should be a very physical battle in the paint between Thomas and Horace Spencer.
Like Friday night, Auburn doesn’t really face a size disadvantage. Clemson’s tallest player that contributes is 6’9”. They do have four guys that fall in that 6’7” - 6’9” range to rotate through but overall I think Auburn should be able to hold their own in the frontcourt. At the end of the day, this game is probably going to come down to which trio of guards play at a higher level.
Matchup to Watch
- Bryce Brown vs Gabe DeVoe
Brown and DeVoe are eerily similar offensive players. Both are streaky shooters who are perfectly capable of taking over a game or throwing up bricks all night. They also both are crucial factors in whether or not their teams can score points and win games. In all of Clemson’s losses DeVoe scored less than 13 points. The same is true for Auburn and Bryce Brown. If both of these guys get hot, it could turn into a wild shootout. If one does but the other doesn’t, it might become a rout. If neither can hit then we might be in for another 62-58 affair. Bottom line, if either of these teams want to play next weekend they are going to need their top shooters to hit shots.
If I didn’t have a cat in the fight (see what I did there), I would probably lean Clemson. The off brand Tigers seem to be playing better in recent weeks than the name brand ones. But every time we are ready to count this Auburn Tiger squad out, they respond. I don’t expect Auburn to shoot as poorly as they did from the free throw line and I gotta think a few more will fall from 3. Auburn needs one of Jared Harper/Bryce Brown to find their groove again to help Mustapha Heron out. Expect a back and forth affair with Auburn actually getting it done at the free throw line late proving the difference.
Clemson 72 Auburn 76