When: Sunday, Dec 14 at 4:00pm
Where: Littlejohn Coliseum
Clemson is coming off their biggest non-conference win since beating Butler in 2009-10. A rousing comeback breathed life into a season that has not started as well as expected. Losses to Winthrop, Gardner-Webb, and Rutgers have marred the non-conference season, but two SEC wins have kept our hopes alive. Now another SEC opponent who beat Clemson last season will come to Littlejohn Coliseum.
Last season, Auburn beat both ACC team's they hosted (Boston College and Clemson) before going 6-12 in the weak SEC. They fired their coach and brought in Bruce Pearl, but it looks like it may take Pearl some time to get things moving in the right direction. Auburn is off to a rough 3-4 start. They do not have any KenPom top 150 wins (Oregon State at 153 is their best) and have lost to two sub-100 teams (TX Tech and Coastal).
Both teams will be looking to steady the ship after some bad losses early, but Clemson has already started on the right path with a huge win over a ranked Arkansas team. Now they need to keep that momentum going before heading to Columbia to face an improved Gamecock team and then beginning ACC play not too much later. A second loss to Auburn in as many years would be devastating.
Auburn has only seen their best scorer on the court for one game. Shooting guard, Antoine Mason, transferred to Auburn from Niagra where he averaged 25.6 points per game last year. He scored 19 points for Auburn in their season-opening win over Milwaukee, but an ankle injury has sidelined him since. It's unclear whether or not he will play against Clemson. This will obviously have a major impact on Auburn's offense. If he suits up for this one, it'll be interesting to see how Brownell elects to defend him. Harrison would give Clemson a size advantage. I imagine Ajukwa would also get a crack at slowing him down, but I'm not sure Rooks, DeVoe, or Roper would. Regardless, it'll be a great matchup to keep an eye on if he ends up playing.
Rod Hall had a break out game in Clemson's upset of #18 Arkansas last Sunday. He scored 19 points on 66.7% shooting. He has been efficient all season (120.9 Ortg and 60.8 eFG%), but hadn't been aggressive enough to be Clemson's go-to guy. That changed in the waning moments of the Arkansas game where we saw him take over with a floater in traffic and a three-pointer in his defender's face among a few other big plays. At times it seems his willingness to share the ball and get his teammates involved can border on passiveness. Clemson needs Rod Hall to be their go-to guy.
In the past five games, Auburn has used JUCO transfer (Chipola College) Cinmeon Bowers at center 71% of the time. He's scored just five points across the last two games, but scored at least 10 points in the five games prior to that. He's 6'7" which gives Landry Nnoko - a true center by skill set and at 6'10" by height - an opportunity to attack him in the post. Bowers is a strong, stout player - this is no knock on him - but Nnoko needs to take advantage when he has these types of matchups. This is an opportunity for him to show he can be more efficient with a higher usage rate. We had been looking for Hall and/or Nnoko to step up and be the key cogs this offense needs them to be. Hall did it in a big way against Arkansas. I'll be watching Nnoko closely in this one.
A lot about this game depends on if Antoine Mason plays. Currently, KenPom is giving Clemson a 76% chance of winning. I feel that number is a bit high if Mason plays, but either way Clemson should be able to consistently beat mid to low SEC programs like Auburn. Bruce Pearl may get things turned around, but coming off back-to-back losses to TTU and Coastal Carolina they're not playing great basketball right now.
Auburn is ranked 163rd in KenPom's team rankings. Clemson is #113. After this game Clemson will travel to Columbia to face a South Carolina coming off a huge win against KenPom top-30 Oklahoma State. KenPom only gives us a 17% to win that one, which makes this game all the more important. It's crucial that Clemson wins this, continues the positive momentum from their upset bid over Arkansas, and starts making up ground from their three bad losses. Those losses push the NCAA tournament realistically out of the picture, but making the NIT is still very much in play and it'll look much more promising with a win here. I believe Clemson is the better team and they should get revenge for last year's loss in Auburn.
Also of note, tickets for this game are general admission so if you don't regularly attend Clemson basketball games, this may be a good one to check out and enjoy better than usual seats.