#7 Wright State at #2 Clemson
When: Tuesday, 7pm
Where: Littlejohn Coliseum
The Tigers kick off NIT play on Tuesday against the Wright State Raiders of the Horizon League. The Raiders earned their invitation to the NIT by way of winning the Horizon League Regular Season Championship. They reached their conference tournament championship game before falling to Northern Kentucky, who in turn punched their ticket to the big dance as a no. 14 seed (vs. Texas Tech).
The Horizon League is a weak conference. KenPom puts Northern Kentucky as the top team in the conference at #100 and Wright State second at #127. The next highest ranked team in the conference is #188 Oakland, a familiar foe. The only top 100 teams Wright State has faced this season are Murray State (#52), Toledo (#58), Penn State (#40), Miss. State (#21), and Northern Kentucky (#100). They finished 2-4 against that group.
Despite being in the Horizon League, the Raiders have some size in their front line. Starting Center Loudon Love is 6’9” 280 lbs. He leads the team in points per game at 15.1 and rebounds per game at 8.2. He has scored below his season average in each of the past four games though and Eli Thomas can make that trend continue. The biggest concern here is Thomas getting into foul trouble and Wright State being able to lean on Love for offense in the post. Love averages 4.0 fouls committed per 40 minutes compared to Eli Thomas' 5.1. This is probably the biggest single factor - aside from motivation - in giving the Raiders a shot.
The other Raiders player to watch is 6’6” PF Billy Wampler. He has 72 made three-pointers on the season while shooting them at 38%. Both that raw total and the three-point percentage would lead Clemson. If he goes off from beyond the arc, he could makes things scary.
This is a solid rebounding team, ranking 62nd nationally in defensive rebounding percentage and leading the Horizon League during conference play. Their defense is not great though. They’re 286th in effective field goal percentage allowed. They like a slow-tempo, but don’t have the type of defense to pull it off. This one should be a fairly low possession game where each team wants to work it through the post. Clemson should consider speeding up the pace to take advantage of the first talent advantage they’ve had in a while.
Regardless of the pace, Clemson shouldn’t have trouble dispatching Wright State unless they lack focus and desire. KenPom gives Clemson an 87% chance to win and projects a 70-58 score. That score feels right, but the Tigers loss to Oakland two years ago makes that 87% win probability feel generous.
The Tigers simply have to want it. They have four senior starters. Will their last two games be a collapse to NCSU and a home loss to Wright State? They have to have some pride here and come out and control this game. Clemson has not won a post-season tournament (conference, NIT, or NCAA) since 1939. Although we thought another NCAA-run was in the cards for this senior squad, it would be great to see them take pride in being Tigers and try go out on a positive note.