The winner of this tilt will take on either fourth-seeded Kentucky or 13th- seeded Princeton in the third round on Saturday.
Seeded 12th, Clemson is one of eight teams that took part in the first round of the tournament, dubbed the "First Four", and the Tigers were certainly impressive in a 70-52 romp over the UAB Blazers. With that victory, Clemson is now 22-11 overall and handled Boston College easily in the recently completed ACC Tournament before falling to North Carolina in overtime in the semifinal round. The Tigers are 9-10 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, and this year marks their fourth straight appearance in the "Big Dance". Furthermore, Tuesday's win was the first for the program in this event since 1997.
The East's fifth seed, West Virginia owns a 24-23 record in 23 previous trips to the NCAA Tournament and has never won the event. This is WVU's sixth NCAA appearance in the last seven seasons, and the only year the Mountaineers didn't get selected to the "Big Dance" during that span they won the NIT. Bob Huggins is making his 19th Division I NCAA Tournament appearance as a head coach, and only four active coaches have played in this event more often. WVU is 20-11 overall this season and failed to win a single game in the recently completed Big East Tournament.
The Mountaineers have won three of their four all-time meetings with the Tigers, and the most recent came in the 2007 NIT title game, a 78-73 victory for WVU.
Heading into Tuesday's clash with UAB, Clemson was yielding only 59.9 ppg on 39.7 percent shooting from the field, so it came as no surprise that the Tigers were able to shut the Blazers down. UAB was limited to 37.5 percent shooting from the field, including 30.8 percent from three-point range. At the offensive end of the court, Clemson knocked down 52 percent of its field goal attempts and earned a decisive 14-4 edge in points from the foul line. Jerai Grant picked the perfect time to have the game of his life for the Tigers, as the post presence scored a career-high 22 points on 10-of-15 field goal efficiency. Milton Jennings added 11 points, while Devin Booker and Tanner Smith posted 10 points apiece. The fact that the Tigers were able to win by 18 points despite getting only seven points from leading scorer Demontez Stitt is impressive.
Through 31 outings, West Virginia is scoring 69.5 ppg while allowing 64.1 ppg to opponents. Sure, the Mountaineers' defensive numbers aren't as impressive as those posted by Clemson thus far, but coach Huggins' group can certainly be proud of the fact that it is limiting foes to 40.9 percent shooting from the field. At the offensive end, Casey Mitchell paces WVU with 14.1 ppg. Kevin Jones checks in with 13.1 ppg and has started all 31 games to date. Jones also leads the club with 7.4 rpg, but is a liability at the foul line. That can't be said for Darryl "Truck" Bryant, an 82 percent foul shooter who brings 10.9 ppg and 92 assists to the court. On a down note, Bryant is shooting a lowly 32.8 percent from the floor.
Clemson was quite impressive on Tuesday and is more than capable of knocking off West Virginia. Still, don't expect that to happen, as the Mountaineers are well rested and eager to get back on the court after the disappointing showing in the Big East Conference Tournament.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: West Virginia 69, Clemson 62