The Clemson Tigers (17-15) will return to a postseason tournament for the first time since 2014 as they have been invited to participate in the NIT as a #2 seed in the field of 32. While this may be the Tigers first postseason tournament in three season, Clemson has a history in the NIT. The Tigers are 18-15 overall, and have won 12 straight at home, where they will remain until a potential quarterfinal showdown with #1 seeded Iowa. Clemson last appeared in the tournament in 2014 where they made a run to the semifinals of the event in Madison Square Garden before falling in a closely contested contest to the Mustangs of SMU.
The field of 32 features #1 seeds of Syracuse, California, Illinois State and Iowa and Clemson has managed to find themselves in a field that is crowded with power 5 conference competition. In the lower right portion of the bracket where the Tigers find themselves, they are joined by #1 seeded Iowa (18-14), #4 seed TCU (19-15) and #3 seed Alabama (19-14). An opening round victory against Oakland could land the Tigers in a rematch with the Crimson Tide, in which Clemson claimed victory on the road earlier in the season by a score of 67-54.
The Tigers will open up play on Tuesday evening at 8pm against the Oakland Golden Grizzlies from the Horizon League. The Golden Grizzlies hold a 24-8 record and won the Horizon League regular season title, but had their NCAA Tournament dreams snapped in the quarterfinals of the Horizon League tournament after being shocked at the buzzer by Youngstown State. The two programs have met once on the hardwood in the 2014-15 season, in which Clemson claimed victory by a score of 70-60.
Oakland is not a team that can be taken lightly as they had won 9 consecutive games before their buzzer beater loss in the Horizon League Tournament. A majority of the Golden Grizzlies threat comes from the offensive side of the ball, where they average 79.4 points per game, which is good for 43rd in the country. Oakland is led in scoring by Junior guard Martez Walker, who averages 17.4 points per game, and is a matchup nightmare with his 6’6” frame. Oakland rounds out their double figure scorers with Junior forward Jalen Hayes averaging 16.2 points per game and 8.0 rebounds per game and Senior guard Sherron Dorsey-Walker averaging 13.3 points per game.
The Golden Grizzlies have something that most mid-major contenders do not have, and that is size. With both guards on the floor listed at 6’4” or higher, and a high powered front court, the Tigers will have their hands full on the defensive side of the ball, and specifically on the glass where the Grizzlies average 38.9 rebounds per game, good for 34th in the nation. The Achilles heel for Oakland comes on the defensive side of the ball where they allow over 70 points per game, and have several major defensive lapses, which cost them a chance to play in the NCAA tournament in their loss to Youngstown State.
The Tigers enter the contest after playing better basketball down the stretch. Clemson managed to win 3 of their last 4 games before being ousted from the ACC Tournament and bounced off of the bubble for good by the Duke Blue Devils, and much of the praise needs to go to the back court tandem of Shelton Mitchell and Avry Holmes. Mitchell is averaging 16.8 points per game in the Tigers last 5 contests, and has drained 10 of his last 16 three point attempts. Holmes has also managed to stay hot from behind the arc, making 8 attempts in his last 4 games.
The key to a Tiger victory will be their ability to adapt to Oakland’s style of play. I’ve managed to catch Oakland on national television twice this season, and they play fast and furious on the offensive side of the ball, but in particular, it can be extremely sloppy. This can play to the Tigers advantage, but only if they limit the extraordinary number of second chance opportunities that an offense like this can create. Look for Sidy Djitte to play a key role in keeping the large Grizzlies off of the offensive glass, and if they can limit Oakland’s ability to score second chance points and take advantage of a lackluster defense, the Tigers should be able to advance in the tournament.
Stay tuned to Shakin the Southland as we bring you all of the coverage of the Tigers run through the NIT.