WHAT: Clemson vs. Minnesota
WHEN: 9:30 p.m., Wednesday
WHERE: Williams Arena “The Barn” (14,625)
Clemson (7-0) plays its first game this week tonight at Minnesota (2-4) as part of the ACC-Big 10 Challenge, before heading down to Columbia on Saturday to go against rival South Carolina.
Two road games against two teams from power conferences is a tall, but manageable order to fill for Clemson.
“It’s the first big test for us on the road besides playing at Old Dominion,” Tigers guard K.C. Rivers said. “It’s a good test for us right now to see where we’re at as a team.”
Should the Tigers be an NCAA Tournament “bubble” team as many expect, a pair of wins this week will look awfully good on their resume when the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee pours through all the potential applicants in March.
Also, don’t forget Clemson already has a win over the aforementioned Old Dominion, which beat a ranked Georgetown team, and Mississippi State, which is from the SEC, as is South Carolina.
Should there be a split, other factors will come into play and the Tigers will have to rely on the misfortune of others.
By some chance Clemson loses both, a minimum record of 9-7 in the ACC will be required.
“This is going to be huge for us,” guard Vernon Hamilton said. “To get a win against the Big 10 and two against the SEC would be big for us. This is the biggest game of the season for us so far.”
The Gophers enter tonight’s contest with a four-game losing streak, which includes losses to Iowa State, Marist, Southern Illinois and Montana. However, in at least two of those, their starting center, Spencer Tollackson, didn’t play due to food poisoning.
Minnesota’s poor record may not match its quality of talent, Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell said.
“Minnesota is certainly a team right now that is kind of like a wounded animal,” he said. “So it’s very important for us to not get caught up in Minnesota’s struggles. … Anytime you take someone’s best player away, that’s going to change things.”
One state that is surely to grab the attention of Clemson is the fact that the Gophers are 59-8 in home games against non-conference opponents under head coach Dan Monson.
“We can’t act like we’re just going to go in there and beat them,” Rivers said. “They need a win. It’s going to be a 40-minute dogfight.”
Purnell has stressed to the Tigers to no end the importance of playing well in games like these, especially with so much of their future on the line.
“We’ve talked about the NCAA Tournament since Day 1,” Purnell said. “We talk about it weekly, if not daily.”
A couple of wins this week and that talk will get strong and louder and carry much more meaning.
G 3 Vernon Hamilton (6-0, 195) 10.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg
G 25 Cliff Hammonds (6-3, 197) 10.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg
C 35 Trevor Booker (6-7, 215) 9.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg
F 32 Sam Perry (6-5, 208) 5.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg
F 44 James Mays (6-9, 222) 11.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg
G 1 Lawrence McKenzie (6-2, 175) 15.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg
G 5 Limar Wilson (5-11, 160) 5.5 ppg, 1.5 rpg
C 50 Spencer Tollackson (6-9, 265) 10.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg
F 13 Dan Coleman (6-9, 230) 12.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg
F 23 Brandon Smith (6-6, 205) 4.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg