No. 16/17 Gonzaga (3-0) takes on Clemson (2-0) in the first round of the Old Spice Classic Thursday at 6:00 p.m. in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. The game will be televised by ESPN2.
The Stats – One word you could use to describe this year’s Clemson team through two games is “efficient”. The Tigers have taken care of the ball, averaging 16 assists compared to just seven turnovers. That’s keyed by point guard Rod Hall, who has 11 dimes and not a single turnover. On top of that, many of Clemson’s key players have shot exceptionally well early on. Their top five scorers - Devin Booker, Milton Jennings, K.J. McDaniels, Damarcus Harrison, and Hall are a combined 40-for-67 from the field (59.7 percent). One thing they haven’t done particularly well is shoot from deep. Dave Brownell’s team has just nine makes on 24 attempts. Gonzaga has nearly as many makes (23) as Clemson has tries.
The Stars – Mark Few compared GU’s first opponent in Florida to West Virginia. That likely has something to do with Clemson’s strength in the frontcourt. Booker (13) and Jennings (10.5) are their only double-figure scorers. But they’ve done their damage against a pair of over-matched opponents – Furman and Presbyterian. Once again Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. appear to have the edge as far as the backcourts go. But the tone will likely be set in the paint. Elias Harris and Sam Dower have similar frames (and slightly better numbers) to Booker and Jennings. The GU frontcourt starters combined for 28 points and 27 rebounds against South Dakota. If Harris and Dower can flex again Thursday, Gonzaga will be in great shape.
The Storylines – The only other time these teams met, Matt Santangelo and Clemson’s Greg Buckner scored 19 apiece in an 84-71 Gonzaga win in 1997. Clemson was ranked 5th heading into the game, which resulted in one of the Zags’ first marquee victories, followed a year later by their Elite Eight run. Clemson, on the other hand, doesn’t have a long list of wins against ranked opponents outside of the ACC. Their last came against No. 10 Butler in 2009, giving them eight all-time heading into their Thanksgiving meeting with the ranked Bulldogs.