Clemson (4-0) vs. Alabama (3-1)
Location: State Farm Arena, Atlanta, GA
Time: ~7:30 PM (30 minutes after prior game)
TV: ACCN Extra
Saturday is about football - no doubt. The Alabama at Arkansas and Georgia at Missouri games are at noon, and then the ACC third place game, UNC at Miami, is at 3:30pm. If you’re looking for something in the night slot and don’t want to watch two average teams in the Commonwealth Cup or see Florida drub LSU, figure out how to get the ACC Network Extra fired up and check out the undefeated Clemson Tigers taking on Alabama in basketball.
Clemson is off to an excellent start to the year. After taking care of business against a rebuilding Mississippi State team to start the year, they upset the Purdue Boilermakers to win the Space Coast Challenge and start 2-0. They improved to 3-0 with a blowout of SC State, then notched a win for the ACC in the ACC/B1G challenge by beating Maryland by 18 (67-51) on Wednesday.
The Tigers are leveraging the best roster depth they’ve had in eons to send fresh bodies at their opponents and keep the defensive pressure high nearly the entire game. It’s a small four-game sample size, but as of this writing they’re ranked 6th in defensive efficiency (KenPom) and are holding opponents to an ugly 38.8% on two-pointers. On offense, they’re less reliant on the three ball than a year ago. This year, 41.9% of their shots are from beyond the arc as compared to a whopping 46.4% last year. They’re more effective on the fast break, and don’t seem to settle nearly as often.
There are many reasons for optimism, and they’ll try to keep that going when they face the Crimson Tide under year two with Coach Nate Oats. In one season plus four games under Nate Oats, Alabama has shown us they’re going to get out and run. They had the 4th highest tempo last season, and are top 10 again this year.
Alabama is replacing their star player, Kira Lewis Jr. The point guard averaged 18.5 points and 5.2 assists per game for the Tide last season, and was selected #13 in the NBA draft. Point Guard Jahvon Quinerly has filled the void nicely in the early going. The former five-star transferred in from Villanova and sat out last season. He is averaging a team-high 15.3 points and 3.0 assists across the team’s first four games.
We’ve seen Clemson play with a little more pace this year at times, but nothing like the breakneck pace that Alabama employs. Clemson doesn’t necessarily want to be in high-scoring games, but they want to pressure the ball and use their depth to wear teams out. It’ll be interesting to see how Clemson’s point guard duo of Al-Amir Dawes and Nick Honor - who have been great so far - handle the pace and defending Alabama’s top scorer (assuming they do and John Newman doesn’t guard Quinerly). The two Tigers combined to score 22 points against Maryland, and Nick Honor continued to rack up the steals adding three to his season total of nine through just four games.
Nick Honor was been a lot of fun to watch. His defense has been excellent. Against Maryland, the Tigers put both him and Dawes on the court together to help break the full-court press in the second half. The combination worked beautifully. This year’s Tigers team has the depth to handle an up-tempo game, and the talent at point guard to slow Alabama’s leading scoring. I like the Tigers in this one, but I am always hesitant to get overconfident as a random cold shooting night has been known to doom the Tigers.
KenPom: 74-71 Clemson win (60% confidence in win)
Ryan Kantor: 78-74 Clemson win (66% confidence in win)