ARIZONA BASKETBALL

Clemson basketball looks to continue ‘underdog’ run against Arizona in Sweet 16

Mar 27, 2024, 10:26 AM

Chase Hunter #1 and PJ Hall #24 of the Clemson Tigers high five during the first half against the B...

Chase Hunter #1 and PJ Hall #24 of the Clemson Tigers high five during the first half against the Baylor Bears in the second round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at FedExForum on March 24, 2024 in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)

No. 6 seed Clemson basketball wasn’t supposed to beat No. 3 seed Baylor on Sunday. In fact, a few days earlier, they were widely projected to get bounced by No. 11 seed New Mexico.

The Tigers won both games, beating New Mexico by 21 and ending the Lobos’ Cinderella hopes early. Then Clemson upset Baylor, 72-64.

The Tigers will now face No. 2-seeded Arizona on Thursday in Los Angeles. According to FanDuel Sportsbook, the Wildcats are favored by 7.5 points.

Why has Clemson succeeded in the tournament? CBS Sports’ Chip Patterson puts it best.

Clemson put together two of its best performances of the season at the perfect time in wins over New Mexico and Baylor. Consistency has been the issue with Clemson this year, boasting wins against North Carolina and Alabama but also carrying losses to Notre Dame and Boston College. The real key to the Tigers’ success was an inspired effort on the defensive end, limiting a pair of potent opponents to offensive outputs well below their season average.

Clemson is ranked 23rd in overall KenPom rating, 24th in offensive efficiency and 38th in defensive efficiency. On Sunday, it held Baylor to 25 points in the first half.

The Tigers limited a red-hot New Mexico team to only 56 points after the Lobos won the Mountain West Conference Tournament in the game prior.

Clemson is led by coach Brad Brownell, who is in his 14th season coaching for the team. This is its fourth appearance in the NCAA Tournament under the head coach.

“We obviously had a hot start to the year. Like most teams, we had a couple of bumps in the road, but these guys never doubted it. We never quit. We just kept working,” Brownell told reporters after upsetting Baylor. “And we came into this tournament pretty determined and pretty confident. I’m just glad to see it paid off.”

Ebbs and flows of Clemson’s season

The Tigers did indeed have a hot start to the year.

They were 11-1 through their first 12 games, including a win over No. 23 Alabama on the road.

However, after beginning ACC conference play, they lost three straight games and continued to go back and forth in the win-loss column.

Clemson would lose by 21 points to a lowly Boston College team in the second round of the ACC Tournament to finish the regular season 21-11 and 11-9 in ACC play.

Despite the losses, the signs of a good basketball team were always there. On Feb. 6, Clemson pulled off an upset against UNC in Chapel Hill. UNC (29-7, 17-3) is the No. 1 seed in Clemson’s region and will play the winner of Clemson-Arizona if it can get past Alabama on Thursday.

With five Quad 1 wins, the Tigers rank No. 35 in the 2024 NET rankings. Clemson lost four games in the ACC by just one basket.

Tigers guards lead the way

Three seniors lead the Tigers in scoring: PJ Hall (18.5) Joseph Girard III (15.3) and Chase Hunter (12.7) all average above double digits.

The 6-foot-10, 238 pound Hall has been Clemson’s first option on offense this year. But he’s been in foul trouble all tournament. Hall fouled out after scoring 11 points against Baylor and was toeing the line with four fouls against New Mexico and finished with 14 points.

The star of the tournament so far has been Hunter, who scored 21 points in the win over New Mexico before registering 20 points and six assists to help lead the Tigers over Baylor.

“I wanted to make sure I came in here and was on it defensively, offensively, and just really impacting the game at all levels,” Hunter told reporters postgame. “I just wanted to come in this tournament and fight for my teammates. That’s what I did.”

Junior Ian forward Schieffelin averaged 9.8 points per contest this season but has taken his game to a different level during the Big Dance. Schieffelin scored 16 points on the Lobos before helping secure the upset against Baylor with 11 points.

Schieffelin credits the depth of Clemson’s squad with its success. On Sunday, sophomore forward RJ Godfrey scored eight points off the bench against Baylor.

“One of the strengths is the depth of our team,” Schieffelin said postgame. “And we’ve got guys off the bench that can fill anyone’s role. And RJ was big today. He knocked down some big free throws. And we’ve got a lot of guys that can go.”

Time and TV channel for Clemson vs. Arizona in NCAA Tournament Sweet 16

Clemson will take on Arizona on Thursday.

Tipoff is slated for 4:09 MST and can be watched on CBS.

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