When: 4pm Eastern Time
Where: Legacy Arena, Birmingham Alabama
How to Watch: ESPNU & the WatchESPN app.
We all hear the same buzzwords on Selection Sunday every year. “RPI” “Bad Loss” and most importantly “Non-Conference Schedule.” The Alabama Crimson Tide more than likely won’t be in the conversation when that fateful Sunday rolls around, but a road win against an SEC opponent is something that is more than likely not overlooked by the committee. Keep this in mind as the Clemson Tigers (7-2) travel to Birmingham to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide (5-4) on Saturday afternoon.
The two programs will be meeting for the 10th time in program history with Clemson holding a narrow 5-4 series lead, but recent memories of the Crimson Tide basketball team bring unpleasant memories to the Tiger faithful. Clemson lost last season in Greenville in heartbreaking fashion as Donte Grantham threw away an inbound pass with under 30 seconds remaining in a gut wrenching 51-50 loss.
The Tigers will be hitting the road for the first time since returning from Orlando, and enter the contest on an impressive five game win streak, including three of their most complete performances of the year against Coppin State, Mercer and South Carolina State. Part of the reason for the Tigers recent success has been the emergence of Shelton Mitchell as the primary point guard. Out in the beginning of the season with a knee injury, Clemson was hurt early on by turnovers. Since Mitchell’s return, the Tigers now lead all ACC teams in turnovers per game, with Mitchell coughing up the ball less than 1 time per game.
When looking at Alabama, nothing on their schedule pops out. Out of their five victories, the best appears to be a victory over Saint Louis in the MGM Classic, with missed opportunities for quality wins against the likes of Dayton, Texas and Oregon. Much like their schedule, Alabama does not have a primary scoring threat as they do not have a player on their roster that averages double figures. Alabama is led in scoring by Freshman forward Braxton Key with 9.9ppg’s and is followed closely by Freshman Dazon Ingram (9.7ppg) and Senior Corban Collings (8.8ppg). The overall youth and lack of a go-to scorer has Alabama with the 276th overall scoring offense in the country, averaging only 68.8 points per game.
There are some keys to the game that could lead the Tigers to a road victory in Birmingham on Saturday. During their three-game surge, Clemson hoisted up 83 three point attempts, converting on 29 of them. (34.9%) The guards can hit them in bunches (especially Gabe DeVoe, Avry Holmes and the recent hot shooting Donte Granthem) but the key will be not to fall in love with the three-pointer. If the Tigers go cold on the road, they may find themselves in trouble. The second key will come on the glass, and specifically from Sidy Djitte. Alabama lacks a go to scorer, and they also lack a dominating presence on the glass. Donta Hall leads the Tide in rebounding with only 6.1rpg. Djitte (10.3rpg) will have the major advantage on the glass, and look for the Tigers to get second chance opportunities with Djitte providing the chances.
Finally, Saturday will mark the debut of Redshirt Freshman Elijah Thomas. Thomas, a highly-recruited prospect out of Texas, (part of the ESPN 50) and Texas A&M transfer will provide much needed depth in the Tiger front court, and his return is highly anticipated. I preach the fans to be patient with the young man. It is important to remember that Thomas has not seen live game action since December 5, 2015 in which he played only two minutes. Thomas will have the athletic ability to wow the fans, but expect it to take some time for Thomas to mesh with the rest of his teammates in live action.
Stay tuned to Shakin the Southland for more Clemson Basketball coverage.