The No. 4-seed Auburn Tigers and the No. 13 Clemson Tigers will face off on Sunday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the right to move on to the Sweet 16. Auburn outlasted the College of Charleston in the opening round of the tournament while Clemson defeated New Mexico State.
Midwest Region: No. 5 Clemson (24-9) vs. No. 4 Auburn (26-7)
Time: 7:10 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Where: Viejas Arena (San Diego)
Keys for Clemson
Since forward Donte Grantham went down on Jan. 20 to a knee injury, Clemson has been a totally different basketball team. Clemson now plays small and has struggled against teams that have size.
The Tigers’ guards will need to hit open shots on the perimeter and find a way to secure long rebounds against an Auburn team that has the size advantage. Clemson also needs Shelton Mitchell to come through again. Mitchell led the way with a team-high 23 points on 8-of-15 shooting (2-for-3 from 3-point range) on Friday night.
Keys for Auburn
Clemson is one of the best defensive teams in the nation, limiting the opposition to 65.9 points on 41 percent shooting. So Auburn will need to be smart about shot selection and take advantage of its size on the boards.
The Tigers also needs Bryce Brown to return to form. Against College of Charleston, Brown scored only 10 points as he was 3-for-11 from the field. As a team, Auburn shot just 35.6 percent overall and made just five of 24 attempts (20.8 percent) from 3-point range. The Tigers forced the Cougars into 21 turnovers and made more free throws (15 of 32) than the Charleston shot (7 of 14). The bottom line for Auburn is the offense must be more efficient and it starts with Brown.
Both Clemson and Auburn are very similar teams. The biggest difference between these pair of Tigers is that the ones from ACC have fared better on defense throughout the season. And defense could be the name of the game on Sunday.
Neither team looked all that impressive in their opening round matchups and this game will more than likely have its ugly stretches as well. It’s possible that the outcome could come down to the free-throw line. While Auburn (32) more than tripled Clemson’s attempts (nine) from the charity stripe in their first games, the former missed more than half of theirs (made 15 for 46.9 percent) while the latter missed just twice (77.8 percent). That and Clemson’s guard play should allow the ACC representative to claim this tightly contested Tiger tussle and move on to the Sweet 16.
Prediction: Clemson 68, Auburn 65
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
(Top photo courtesy of Clemson Men's Basketball Facebook page)