ESPN College GameDay describes how Alabama, Clemson have changed since first matchup

On3 imageby:Matt Connolly03/30/24

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Clemson and Alabama will face off Saturday night in the NCAA Tournament with both programs looking to make their first trip to the Final Four in program history. The two teams met earlier this season in Tuscaloosa, with Clemson earning an 85-77 win.

However, both teams are much different now than they were back then.

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ESPN College GameDay previewed the game on Saturday and broke down the matchup on both sides. Analyst Jay Williams started by explaining the biggest difference between Alabama now, compared to earlier in the year.

“That was a different Alabama team. That was a team that was not as defensively locked in like this team is,” Williams said. “The way Alabama has defended, the way Mark Sears and company have shot the ball… this Bama team defensively is very different.”

While Alabama has been better on the defensive end of the court lately, Clemson has improved since then, too.

Chase Hunter in particular has played well as of late, averaging close to 20 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. PJ Hall, Ian Schieffelin and others have also stepped up and made big plays in the NCAA Tournament for the Tigers.

Clemson was an underdog against New Mexico, Baylor and Arizona in its first three games of the NCAA Tournament but led throughout most of those contests.

“I think for Clemson, PJ Hall cannot afford to get in foul trouble,” Jay Williams said. “And also Chase Hunter has to be exceptional. He wasn’t hunting his shot back then. They were playing more through [Joe] Girard. But I think him being aggressive has added a new dynamic.”

ESPN analysts Seth Greenberg and Jay Bilas also offered their thoughts on the matchup. They believe the Tigers have the edge inside, which could pay off in a big way Saturday night.

“Where Alabama’s vulnerable is inside. They don’t have a lot of strength inside,” BIlas said. “Their big guys are good, but they’re not, I don’t think, as good as PJ Hall and Ian Schieffelin.”

Hall is averaging 14 points in the NCAA Tournament, while Schieffelin is at 13.7. Schieffelin is also at 8.3 rebounds per game.

Bilas believes North Carolina had an advantage against Alabama inside, too, but the Tar Heels didn’t use it in the Sweet 16. He expects Clemson to take advantage of its mismatches inside.

“Carolina did not pound the ball inside and they played mostly a perimeter game. They didn’t get a piece of the paint. They didn’t win the battle of the paint,” Bilas said. “And I think that’s what Clemson has to do. … Their offense is going to limit Alabama in transition. As long as they take good shots, they should be able to limit Alabama in transition.” 

Alabama has had one of the best offenses in the country all season, but Greenberg believes the Tigers can give Alabama some issues.

“I love the length of Clemson,” he said. “Their length was a huge factor the other night. Their ability to guard with big wings. … The length of Clemson, I think, is going to be a factor defensively.”