The Clemson men’s basketball team gets set to face a fun, close-proximity opponent in the Georgia Bulldogs in the semifinals of the Grand Cayman Classic tournament. After a sloppy 72-69 quarterfinal victory over the Akron Zips that moved their record to 4-0, the Tigers will likely face a somewhat stiffer test in the Bulldogs. Tip-off is set for 1:30 PM EST.
Georgia stands at 3-1 after taking down the Illinois State Redbirds 80-68 in their quarterfinal game of this tournament. The Bulldogs’ lone loss in the young season came at the hands of Temple, something to which the remaining players from last year’s Clemson squad can relate. The Bulldogs are likely still adjusting to new head coach Tom Crean—formerly of Indiana and Marquette fame—and a more uptempo style of play.
“We’re trying to play a very quick pace, but we don’t want to be giving the ball back to the other team,” Crean said prior to Georgia’s 75-64 win over Sam Houston State last Friday.
Georgia’s starting lineup, based on the Illinois State game, projects as follows:
- G - Tye Fagan (Fr.) - 6-foot-3, 185 pounds; 6.0 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 2.0 APG
- G - William Jackson II (Sr.) - 6-foot-4, 185 pounds; 4.0 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 2.3 APG
- F - Derek Ogbeide (Sr.) - 6-foot-9, 250 pounds; 12.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG
- F - Rayshaun Hammonds (So.) - 6-foot-8, 235 pounds; 12.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG
- F - Nicolas Claxton (So.) - 6-foot-11, 220 pounds; 11.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG
The Bulldogs’ strength is largely up front, so that will magnify the roles of Elijah Thomas, Aamir Simms, and David Skara in neutralizing those weapons. Hammonds went off for 31 points against the Redbirds while Claxton posted a double-double with 22 points and 11 boards. Beyond that, Clemson should have the edge in terms of backcourt production with Shelton Mitchell (22 points, five rebounds, and three assists versus Akron) and Marcquise Reed (16 points). Reed will just have to avoid the foul trouble that plagued him against Akron and limited him to just 23 minutes.
Off the bench, key players for Georgia include junior guard Tyree Crump, sophomore guard Teshaun Hightower, and senior forward E’Torrion Wilridge. Crump reached double figures in scoring in each of Georgia’s first three contests before seeing more limited action against Illinois St. and failing to find the score sheet. He and Hightower could be X-factors for the Dawgs to help complement their frontcourt depth. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to gauge how Crean will deploy his lineups, as he and the Dawgs are still figuring things out in the early-going.
“We haven’t had a lot of separation, we haven’t had a lot of guys establish themselves like they’re going to get these minutes,” Crean said last week. “Really, the measuring stick for us is defending on the ball and off, and not turning the ball over, and until we get that corrected we’re not going to have that style of play that we need, we’re not going to have that consistency, and we’re not going to look very good. But we’ll get there.”
Per KenPom, in the limited sample of four games, Georgia ranks 105th in adjusted tempo (72.5), 120th in adjusted offensive efficiency (103.8), and 70th in adjusted defensive efficiency (96.8). While Clemson has much better adjusted efficiency both offensively and defensively, the Tigers play a much slower brand of basketball, making Georgia’s adjusted tempo ranking of 105 (up from 334th last year) look incredibly fast.
Clemson should have the edge in this contest, and indeed, KenPom predicts a 75-67 win for the Tigers. Of course, a close call against Akron and a slow start against Sam Houston State could be causes for concern, so the Tigers will have to be sharper than they have been so far this season.
Tom’s Prediction: Clemson 78, Georgia 73