Where: Littlejohn Coliseum
When: Tuesday, 7pm
TV: ACC Network
Election Day is pretty loaded with college basketball games to get the season kick started. Clemson fans will get their first real look at this season’s team as it hosts The Citadel Bulldogs from the Southern Conference. If you want to take in a “cupcake” game, this is one that the casual fan should find entertaining thanks to the uptempo, quick shooting attack the Bulldogs employ. Points and hot and heavy transition action should be plentiful in this first game of the season.
The Citadel, led by Duggar Baucom, were the #2 team in the nation in adjusted tempo last season while Clemson was 274th. Their goal is to run you ragged trying to keep up with their preferred pace. I spoke with a current Wofford Terrier basketball player over the summer who said he hates playing the Bulldogs more than any other team because of the strain it puts on you.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Clemson’s experienced and high level backcourt will be difficult to manipulate and should know exactly when to attack the full court style vs. slowing the pace. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Bulldogs are undersized compared to the Tigers, which is the case for most every mid-major team, but the style Coach Baucom prefers makes having big, powerful posts pretty much impossible. I expect the Tigers will look to operate inside, especially if Elijah Thomas is back from injury and ready to play in this one, when they aren’t attacking the rim in transition.
The Bulldogs will launch three-pointers with regularity, so the Tigers will need to make sure they aren’t falling asleep on closeouts and rotations. The Citadel was one of the worst defensive teams in the nation last season, ranking 332nd in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com. The Bulldogs gave up 90 or more points 13 times last season, so the Tigers should have ample opportunity to eclipse the 90 it put up against Boston College last season. The Tigers have a lot of proven players in Marcquise Reed, Shelton Mitchell, David Skara, Aamir Simms, and (if available) Elijah Thomas. I will be paying closer attention to the newcomers and young backups like John Newman, Clyde Trapp, and Javan White. We should get a good sense of how these guys move in an open style game like this will often be.
The Citadel returns most of their scoring and production from last year’s team which had no seniors. They lost a couple of guys to transfer, which is not uncommon for a military school (and really any school in this era of transfer madness). Guys to watch would be post Zane Najdawi and guard Matt Frierson who averaged 15.5 and 13.5 points per game respectively in 2017-2018. Najdawi was the primary “5” man for The Citadel, though they don’t play with a traditional post offensively, and he was a very effective 41.7% three-point shooter last season. This is definitely a game the Tigers can afford to not have Elijah Thomas in the middle if he isn’t 100% ready to go.
So, get ready to take in some Tiger hoops in what should be a fun, up and down affair on Tuesday night. The football season has been tremendous, and the basketball team will look to do its part to build on the promise of last year’s Sweet 16 run. KenPom currently projects the Tigers to finish 21-8 and 11-7 in the ACC, which would easily put the Tigers back in the NCAA tournament at around a 4-5 seed. They project a Clemson victory in this one 94-69.