If the old adage holds true that teams with strong guard play perform well in the NCAA Tournament then Clemson should be in good shape Friday night against New Mexico State.
The No. 5 seed Tigers have relied on the trio of Marcquise Reed, Gabe DeVoe and Shelton Mitchell all year, particularly since star Donte Grantham was lost for the season with an injury January.
The three veterans guards are scoring in double figures and are combining for more than 40 points per game entering the matchup with the Aggies.
“I think that’s a lot of basketball,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said when asked if guards win games in the tourney. “I think the ball’s in those guys’ hands a lot. A lot of us are going to be dependent on how well Reed, DeVoe and Mitchell play. When those guys play well we’re very difficult to beat.”
No. 12 seed New Mexico State, a team that is 28-5 entering the NCAA Tournament, is led by guard Zach Lofton, who is averaging 19.8 points per game.
Lofton is one of only two Aggies scoring in double figures and the only guard.
New Mexico State is shooting 33.3 % from 3-point range, compared to Clemson’s 36.6 percent, and the Aggies are shooting 64 percent from the free throw line, compared to Clemson’s 75.7 percent.
Even with those numbers, and the fact that the Tigers have an RPI of No. 10, New Mexico State over Clemson is a popular 12 over 5 upset pick. Brownell said that people picking against Clemson is nothing new.
“I think our guys are aware that very few people believed in our team for months now. It’s not just one game or one week,” he said.
The Tigers were picked to finish 13th in the ACC in the preseason and were on pace to far exceed those expectations when Grantham suffered a torn ACL on Jan. 20.
More doubters came out following Grantham’s injury, but Clemson finished 11-7 in the league and tied for third in the ACC.
Brownell is confident in his team as they prepare for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011.
“For us it’s more about us believing in ourselves and us believing in what we do and who we are. We’ve had to do that twice. We had to do that at the beginning of the season and we had to do that after Grantham’s injury,” Brownell said. “I told our team, ‘We can be as successful as we want to be. We’re good enough. But we have to play really good basketball, because all of the teams we’re going to play right now are here for a reason. They’re good.’ ”
Who: Clemson vs. New Mexico State
When: 10 p.m. Friday
Where: San Diego