We’ve finally reached the 2020-21 basketball season after an off-season that felt super long, It was, in fact, literally longer than usual due to the cancellation of March Madness and a 15-day delay to this season.
Clemson will play 27 games - seven non-conference games and 20 ACC games (Clemson season preview here). They begin in the Space Coast Challenge where Mississippi State, Liberty, and Purdue will join the Tigers and play in an empty arena in Melbourne, FL. This replaces the Cancun Challenge that was cancelled due to the pandemic. The Tigers’ first opponent of the tournament and the season will be the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Opponent: Mississippi State Bulldogs
Venue: Titan Field House - Melbourne, FL
TV: CBS Sports Network
Time: Wednesday, Nov. 25 - 8:30pm
Mississippi State finished last season at 20-11 (11-7), and was a #4 seed in the eventually-cancelled SEC tournament. It was the third straight 20-win season for the Bulldogs. Now they face a massive rebuilding project as they return just four players (and only three who played significant minutes). As a result, the Tigers should be favored to start their season on a winning note.
Mississippi State has one top-100 recruit (24/7) on the roster. He is incoming freshman PG Deivon Smith. Like Al-Amir Dawes for the Tigers last season, he’ll be thrust into fire early on. Expect him in the starting lineup. He’ll be someone to keep an eye on.
The Bulldogs do have a lot of size in the post with 6’11” Abdul Ado and 7’0” Quentin Post returning. Ado averaged nearly two blocks per game last season and will provide an interesting defensive challenge for the Tigers.
Beyond that, this game is about the Tigers. PJ Hall, who is the first #1 high school player in the state of South Carolina to choose Clemson in eons, is one of the players I’ll be most excited to watch. Clemson will need a lot from him this season to reach their potential, and Mississippi State has a lot of size to throw at him on defense. He’ll be playing alongside Aamir Simms in the post, who led Clemson in points, rebounds, assists, and blocks on a per game basis last season.
Clemson point guards Al-Amir Dawes and Nick Honor are two others I’m especially interested in watching. Dawes improved greatly as the season progressed. Hopefully he is able to continue that progress this season. Nick Honor had to sit out last season after transferring from Fordham where he was the star player.
It’ll be interesting to see how the two point guards play and how Brownell uses them. Dawes is 6’2” and Honor is 5’10”. Could they see time on the court together even with all the depth Clemson appears to have in the backcourt? It will be something to keep an eye on.
Overall, Clemson needs to start their season with a win over an opponent that brings back far less experience. KenPom gives the Tigers a 65% chance to win, but that may be low as the early season projections get their bearings. Last year, both Clemson and Mississippi State typically played low-tempo, low-possession games. With more experience at point guard and more depth along the perimeter, Clemson may push the pace a bit more this season. As such, a little bit more high-scoring of a game may be in order.
KenPom: Clemson 71, Mississippi St. 67
Ryan: Clemson 77, Mississippi St. - 63