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Walking in Memphis: Clemson Basketball in a Big Cat Clash

NCAA Basketball: Hall of Fame Series-Toronto-Clemson at Texas Christian John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson Tigers 9-0 (1-0) at Memphis Tigers 7-2
When: 3:00pm, Saturday 12/16
Where: FedEx Forum - Memphis, TN
Odds: Memphis -2.5, Memphis ranked 31 by KenPom with 56% chance to win, Clemson ranked 24th by KenPom

The blue suede shoes are on and the Clemson Tigers have boarded the plane. They’ve touched down in the land of the delta blues in the middle of the pouring rain for their toughest test to date. This past week Clemson basketball moved from 24th to 13th in one of the largest jumps in AP history following another major win in Toronto against TCU.

But this weekend is no neutral site game awaiting the purple and regalia clad Tigers. Instead they will face their bizarro basketball twin in the Memphis Tigers at the FedEx Forum (also home of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies).

Let’s start with the tale of the tape for the home-standing Memphis team.

This team poses the most problems for Clemson so far this season. From a power rankings stand point, Clemson comes in with an RPI of #1 in the country. It’s an amazing feat that should be noticed, but you don’t even have to scroll down to see that Memphis rolls in to Saturday’s match up with an RPI of 7th.

Both Clemson and Memphis have some impressive wins. Clemson obviously has a streak of beating Alabama, Pitt, South Carolina and TCU in a row, 3 of which were away from Clemson. Memphis has a resume that matches up well with ranked wins over Arkansas and Texas A&M, both away from home. Factor in 2 more road wins against Michigan and Missouri and the resume looks nearly identical to Clemson’s, even with both the Wolverines’ and (Missouri) Tigers’ struggles to start the year.

Memphis is not without some inconsistencies. They were thumped by a pedestrian Villanova team in the Bahamas, lost a winnable game on the road to Ole Miss, and nearly gave away a game in overtime to VCU.

Nonetheless, this Memphis team is dripping with NBA talent that starts and ends with Dale Jones, the 6’6” Senior forward from the D.R. He leads the Black and Blue Tigers in scoring (20.1 PPG), rebounding (6.6 RPG), and steals (2.4 PG). The only category he doesn’t lead is in assists, which is held by the other NBA caliber guard on this team, former Alabama transfer, Jahvon Quinerly. Along side of 4.8 assists a game, he’s 2nd on the team in scoring with 13.3 ppg.

The good news for Clemson is that their team keeps rounding in to form. PJ Hall remains a dominant force on the low post, leading the team in scoring (20.1 ppg) and blocks (2.3 bpg). Joe Girard continues to heat up, cracking the 2nd spot on the team in scoring at 15.1 ppg. Girard and Chase Hunter are essentially 1A and 1B as team leaders for assists. Lastly, Ian Scheffelin continues to make every old school basketball fan pleased by leading the team in rebounding with a whopping 9.6 rebounds per game.

This is arguably the stiffest test Clemson has faced yet (with all due respect to Alabama). A loss wouldn’t derail anything, however, a win would start to perk up even more national interest.

If the (Clemson) Tigers are able to walk out of Memphis with a “W” Saturday, the narrative becomes less of a “nice little story” and instantly shifts to “how serious of a contender are we talking about here?.” Hold on to your hats, it’s going to get interesting.