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Hoops Preview: Clemson takes on #21 Colorado in Las Vegas

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

When: Tuesday, 11:30pm EST
Where: Las Vegas

The Tigers rose from the grave to notch a very good win over TCU late Sunday night and have set themselves up for a tremendous resume builder against a ranked Colorado squad from the Pac 12. Colorado is ranked 21 in the AP and 24 by the coaches. KenPom has the Buffs at 28 after their 56-41 win over Wyoming in the Semi-finals of this tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Aamir Simms had a very forgettable first 30 minutes or so of the first round game against TCU, and the Tigers really had a very hard time competing without their leader providing offense. Once Simms started making plays off the bounce, the entire game turned and Clemson was able to draw fouls and create good looks from 3. Simms is an undersized 5, so it makes sense that he can attack from the outside against bigger front court players such as TCU’s Kevin Samuel.

Tevin Mack showed why he was such a highly regarded prospect, and he nearly carried the Tigers by himself through the first half. Perhaps the most encouraging sign for me was how Al-Amir Dawes shook off a pretty rough night and made some big time plays and hit a big time 3 in overtime to push the team to victory. That showed a ton of mental toughness and that he is not a guy who is going to lose confidence and go in a shell on those tough evenings that are bound to happen. The Tigers also were effective in their press and it is actually something I’d like to see the team do more of going forward, not just when trying to come back from a late deficit.

Colorado looks a lot like TCU on paper, just a little tougher on defense. The Buffaloes are currently 9th in defensive efficiency after strangling Wyoming in the semi-final game. They also can shoot the 3 effectively, ranking 28th currently. After having to deal with TCU’s Desmond Bane on Sunday, the Tigers will now have to face Tyler Bey from Colorado. Bey is a do it all, fill up the stat sheet, likely future NBA talent. He currently averages a double/double at 14 and 12, while also producing an impressive 3.3 steals and a block per game. It is very likely Bey will be assigned to slow down Tevin Mack, and Bey’s 6’7” size and long arms make him a very difficult guy to score on. This is certainly an excellent chance for Clemson to redeem itself after allowing a similarly built wing in VT’s Landers Nolley kill the Tigers in the season opener. Of course, that loss isn’t looking so bad after VT remained undefeated on Monday by knocking off Michigan State in Maui.

Clemson should continue to allow Aamir Simms to play like a point forward (or point center even) against man-to-man defense. Not many teams are going to have a 5 who can handle him off the dribble. Of course, if Simms can start knocking down 3’s at a better rate than his current 12.5% (yikes!), that would also be helpful because then folks would have to close out harder on him rather than sag in the paint. Clemson’s only real attack the rim guy otherwise is John Newman at the moment. Dawes can get there but his smaller size limits him a bit. Chase Hunter has potential but has been very up and down as a freshman so far.

Clemson has made strides defensively already and looked very good most of the game against TCU in that regard. The biggest issue currently is keeping folks off the offensive glass, as TCU had a lot more second chance opportunities and points. Colorado isn’t as good on the offensive glass, but is one of the best teams in the nation at holding folks to one shot. Fortunately offensive rebounding isn’t as vital to the Clemson offense as in some years past, but the Tigers will really need to make their initial shots count in this one.

Ultimately, this is an outstanding opportunity for Clemson if it wants to have a shot at the NCAA tournament. Clemson’s last appearance was bolstered mightily by big out of conference wins against Ohio State and Florida. A loss in this game doesn’t hurt things nearly as badly as if the Tigers were facing Wyoming and lost. In a sense, it allows the Tigers to play with “house money” in Vegas.

KenPom calls for Colorado to squeak out a 68-64 win, but this game is another one that might not make it to 120 points combined in regulation.