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New Mexico St

vs.

Clemson

March Madness

Pick

3/16/18

Clemson finds itself in the spot of the 5-12 matchup in which many people are picking the underdog. The Tigers haven’t looked like the same team since Donte Grantham went down and that’s reason enough to go with New Mexico State in this game. Clemson opened as just -5 point favorites at 5Dimes Sportsbook.

Even worse for Clemson is that it has to travel across the country to San Diego in addition to being the late game Friday night. None of those signs are great for the Tigers, which have lost five of their last eight games. Clemson beat North Carolina without Grantham, but that may be its only legitimate win without its second-leading scorer and that’s most relevant for this game.

New Mexico State relies on a couple guys for offense, but the team is based around its defense. That was seen in non-conference games against tough competition, from neutral-court wins over Davidson (69-68) and Miami (63-54) to the loss against USC (77-72). That win over Miami stands out the most because the Hurricanes scored just 54 points and are another ACC team.

This game will probably be a tad lower scoring than fans want with both teams ranking in the top 14 in the country in defensive efficiency. Clemson’s weakness is defending the three, while NMSU doesn’t appear to have a major weakness. Offensively, nothing stands out for either team, but the Aggies rank well on the offensive glass and that could play a big role in this game, especially if it’s close. Clemson’s offense fell apart in conference play because that’s what happens when a player like Grantham goes down as he was the team’s best shooter and scored 14.2 points per game.

Neither team has overwhelming size and that’s good news for NMSU because it has one of the top rebounders in the country in Jemerrio Jones (11.0 ppg, 13.2 rpg), who is only 6-foot-5. He’s an absolute monster on the boards that will need to be contained by either Elijah Thomas or likely Aamir Simms. Inconveniently, Grantham would’ve been the guy to lock down Jones.

Clemson still has plenty of players that can shoot and score between Marcquise Reed, Gabe DeVoe and Shelton Mitchell. It’s just a question of how good that NMSU three-point defense actually is because it ranks top 10 in the nation. The Tigers will have a clear size advantage at guard because NMSU’s AJ Harris is just 5-foot-9, although that hasn’t really mattered this season. Miami point guard Ja’Quan Newton went just 2-of-8 from the field in that loss and the Hurricanes went 2-of-18 as a team from long range. That’s something Clemson can’t do if it wants to win.

On the other end, there’s one player Clemson needs to focus on stopping and that’s Zach Lofton, who averages 19.8 points per game and is really NMSU’s only relevant shooter at 37.3%. Lofton is a senior that’s been around the country previously at Texas Southern and Illinois State and each year has been his team’s best player. Last year against UNC in the tournament, Lofton managed only nine points on 2-of-11 shooting. If Lofton gets locked down by DeVoe and Clemson, NMSU will have a long road. No one else is a consistent scorer and that includes the undersized Harris, who shoots below 30 percent from three.

This is a great spot for an upset pick, but it’s hard to rely on one guy to do most of its scoring, especially from a mid-major. If Jones dominates the glass for NMSU then it’s anyone’s game, but the balanced offense of Clemson is the outlier in this matchup.

Our Pick - Clemson -4.5

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