Take a deep breath Rutgers fans, because the time has finally come. The No. 10 seed Rutgers Scarlet Knights (15-11) will be taking on the No. 7 seed Clemson Tigers (16-7) in the first NCAA Tournament game for the Scarlet Knights since 1991!Here is a full break down of the program’s first NCAA Tournament game in 30 years with a preview of the Clemson Tigers and the game.
The Clemson Tigers come into the NCAA Tournament at 16-7, where they went 10-6 in what would be considered a down year for the ACC overall. They started off the season 9-1 with wins over Purdue, Maryland, Alabama, and Florida State, but went 7-6 over their last thirteen games. Clemson is led by senior forward Aamir Simms, who averaged 13.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, and 2.7 apg. He is the only Clemson Tiger averaging over 10 ppg. Guards Al-Amir Dawes and Nick Honor average 9 and 8.4 ppg, respectively, which is good for 2nd and 3rd on the team. As a whole, Clemson averages 65.3 ppg (311th nationally), while shooting 34.6% from 3 (133rd), and 49.2% from 2-point range (210th). According to KenPom, their offensive efficiency is ranked 99th, but their strength and identity comes from their defense, which is ranked 20th nationally.
The Rutgers Scarlet Knights enter the NCAA Tournament at 15-11, where they went 10-10 in the Big 10, arguably the best conference in the country. Rutgers finished 10-10 in Big 10 play and has gone .500 or better in Big 10 play in back-to-back years. This is the first time this has happened since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big 10 in 2014. They started off the season 7-1 with wins over Syracuse, Purdue, at Maryland, and Illinois during that stretch. Following the 7-1 start, the Scarlet Knights lost five in a row and then won four straight before going 4-5 in their last nine. Rutgers is led in scoring by junior forward Ron Harper Junior (15.4 ppg), followed by senior guards Jacob Young (14.4 ppg) and Geo Baker (10.1 ppg). On the defensive end, Rutgers is led by Big Ten All-Defensive Team player, Myles Johnson, who averages 2.5 blocks per game. As a whole Rutgers averaged 70 ppg (210th nationally), while shooting 31.1% from 3 (297th), and 51.9% from 2-point range (111th). According to KenPom, Rutgers offensive efficiency is ranked 75th, while their defense is ranked 18th nationally.
On paper these two teams match-up quite well. Both teams struggle to score the ball consistently and are prone to extended droughts on the offensive end. Clemson does not do anything exceptionally well, but they go as Aamir Simms goes. He is not only their leading scorer but their most important player. Meanwhile, when Rutgers is able to get out in transition on offense by forcing turnovers on defense they are often able to get into a much better flow offensively. This game will come down to whichever team is able to avoid the long droughts on offense that have hurt both of these teams at times during the regular season, and whichever team is able to assert themselves down low. The match-up to watch is Myles Johnson vs. Aamir Simms down low, and if Myles Johnson is able to contain Simms, then I like Rutgers’ chances. If Johnson gets into early foul trouble, a common occurrence this year, then that could be trouble for the Scarlet Knights, but 4-star freshman Cliff Omoruyi has shown at times this season he is more than capable of defending at a high level against Big Ten big men. This is a very even matchup, and whichever team is able to execute better offensively down the stretch will likely come out on top and advance to the Round of 32 vs. the winner of Houston/Cleveland State.