Clemson vs Rutgers
When: 9 PM EST
Where: Somewhere in the Swamps of Jersey (Piscataway, New Jersey...a death trap, a suicide rap?)
What Channel: ESPN2
The Tigers steamrolled Charleston Southern on Friday in a nice palate cleanser after the turd burger they ate in the Charleston tournament. There have been seasons where Clemson couldn’t score 91 points against an average intramural team, so scoring 91 points, even against a team like Charleston Southern, is an accomplishment.
Balance is the name of the game for Clemson this season. They have 4 players (Hall, Dawes, Honor, Tyson) averaging double digit points, but no one is averaging over 14 (Hall comes in at 13.9). This can occasionally be a problem in close games, because at some point you need someone to grab the ball and make a play, but it looks like Nick Honor has already cemented that role for the Tigers.
Guard depth is a strength this season with Chase Hunter, and Alex Hemenway (now healthy after missing the tournament with the flu) providing experience an occasional scoring off the bench. Wing depth is lacking with David Collins providing the only true wing presence on the roster. Hemenway can slot in on the wing as well, but he’s better suited as a 2 guard where his defensive liabilities aren’t a pronounced.
Post depth remains, and will remain, a massive issue throughout the season. If the Tigers had 1 more functional post player, they probably knock off St. Bonaventure. P.J. Hall was gassed in the second half, but freshmen Ian Schieffelin and Ben Middlebrooks aren’t ready to contribute in competitive games yet. When Hall went out, St. Bonaventure went on a run. When Hall came back in, it was clear he was still sucking wind, but Brad Brownell had little choice in the matter. Naz Bohannon provides solid relief for Tyson, but the burley 6’6 power forward won’t be confused for a center any time soon. Basically, Clemson has 3 guys to cover 2 front court spots, and one of those guys is limited to playing the 4 against most teams.
That said, this team can shoot the ball 1-5, and when they heat up, they really heat up. Buckle up, because this team is going to go on scoring runs when shots are falling, but they will have a tendency to let teams back into games when those shots stop falling. P.J. Hall’s post game and David Collins’s ability to drive are crucial when the bucket shrinks. Those 2 guys have to help Clemson weather offensive droughts with their ability to get to the free throw line.
I’m not sure how good this Clemson team is going to be, but I’m pretty sure they’re going to be both wildly entertaining and miserably frustrating, and that’s on a half to half basis, perhaps a media time out to media time out basis, not a game to game basis. Buckle up, because this could be a wild ride.
The Rutgers team from last year has vanished into the swamp, and the Butgers of old has taken their place. They’re currently 3-3 on the season, and are currently on a 3 game skid with losses to (KP 107) Depaul (73-70), (KP 283) University of Louisiana-Lafayette (53-51), and (KP 117) U Mass (85-83). They had to rally against Merrimack earlier in the season to pull off a 48-35 victory, which is more embarrassing than any of their losses, and yet, according to Ken Pom, that’s also their best win.
I will caution you though, this team, in theory, has plenty of talent. Ron Harper Jr., Paul Mulcahy, and Geo Baker (currently injured) all return as starters from their 2020 team and Cliff Omoruyi steps into a starting role after playing a key role off the bench last season. LSU transfer Aundre Hyatt rounds out their starting 5, but you’ll see plenty of 6’7” wing Caleb McConnell as well.
If Clemson lacks depth in the front court, it’s fair to say that Rutgers lacks depth everywhere. This is good news for the Tigers.
Ron Harper Jr. vs Hunter Tyson
Harper has to go off for Rutgers to win this game, and he’s certainly capable. The 6’6” 245 pound power(ish) forward leads the Scarlet Knights in 3 point shooting makes and attempts (10/33) and that’s part of their problem. They need him to shoot better than 30% from deep but that’s pretty much what he’s shot his entire career (31%). Tyson can’t get lost, give him a few open looks, and let him get hot, because he’s shown the ability to score in bunches on occasion.
Tyson has to make him work on defense, because Harper leads Rutgers in both scoring (15) and rebounding (9). Their isn’t much behind him in terms of depth, and what is behind him is young and not particularly good (which means one of them is going to shoot 7/7 from 3 against Clemson tonight and then fade back into obscurity). If Clemson can wear Harper out, or better yet, put him on the bench with foul trouble, the road to victory is wide open.
Rutgers Wins If
Clemson helps them. They need the Tigers to miss open shots and turn the ball over, because if the Tigers brings their A or even B game, I don’t see Rutgers having much of a chance. I wouldn’t be this confident if Geo Baker was healthy, but he missed their last game with a hamstring injury and it doesn’t sound like he’ll be ready for this game. I can’t see Steve Pikiell risking his senior guard this early in the season. Hamstrings are tricky, and generally slow to heal. If he tweaks it again, it could set him back another month.
Without Baker, I don’t think they can score enough points to win without a massive assist from Clemson, and even with Baker, I would still take Clemson.
Clemson Wins If
They show up and handle their business. They are the better, deeper, healthier, team and need to flex their muscle against a Rutgers team stuck in reverse. They’ve done well against teams like Rutgers this season, and that needs to continue. If they shoot between 30-35% from deep and keep the turnovers under 20, this game should be a walk-over.
Clemson 77 Rutgers 61
Clemson 64 - Rutgers 63 (47%)
We’ve got a wide prediction discrepancy for this game, but Ken Pom doesn’t factor in Baker’s injury. He’s the heart and soul of a team that’s already struggling. The Tigers jump on them early, and have this thing wrapped up midway through the second half....and yes, I realize I’ve doomed the team.