WHERE: UD Arena (13,455) - Dayton, Ohio
WHEN: Tuesday, Mar. 15 (9 p.m.)
SPREAD: Clemson by 4.5
Clemson (21-11) will meet the University of Alabama-Birmingham (22-8), the regular-season champion of Conference USA, in a "First Four" game in Dayton, Ohio, tonight. If the Tigers win, they'd advance to an East Region game in Tampa against No. 5 seed West Virginia on March 17. It will be the first time two at-large teams have ever squared off in as part of the new first round of this year's Big Dance.
Clemson has been one-and-done in the last three NCAA Tournaments, so seniors Demontez Stitt and Jerai Grant are intent on capitalizing on their final opportunity to reverse that trend.
"I'm packing my bags for a week or so -- I don't want to be satisfied with winning one or two games," Stitt said. "We're in, and we're here to make the best of it."
The Tigers are listed a 4.5 point favorite.
Demontez Stitt scored a career-high 25 points in his last game against North Carolina. (Getty Images)
"The way it all ended up, I'm just glad we took care of business at the end," junior guard Tanner Smith said. "We wanted to be a higher seed, but right now we're just thankful to be in the tournament."
Stitt and Grant will become the first players in school history to play in the NCAA Tournament for four straight years.
"We expect to be here," Stitt said. "Now we want to quiet down all that one-and-done stuff that people talk about."
Stitt is the Tigers' unquestioned leader, both due to his competitive nature as well as his natural ability. And nowhere was that evident more during the ACC tournament, when he averaged 22.5 points per game and almost singlehandedly willed the Tigers to a win over North Carolina in the semifinals.
* Clemson's most successful NCAA run came in 1980, the first year the school was selected. The Tigers won three tournament games under Bill Foster that season and reached the Elite Eight of the tournament before losing to UCLA. Clemson also made the Sweet 16 in 1990 under Cliff Ellis and in 1997 under Rick Barnes.
* First-year Clemson coach Brad Brownell is taking his third different program to the NCAA Tournament. He took UNC Wilmington in 2003 and 2006 and Wright State in 2007. He has now taken each of his three schools to the NCAA Tournament in his first year with the program.
This will be the third program Clemson head basketball coach Brad Brownell has taken to the NCAA Tournament. (Getty Images)
* Clemson and UAB played two common opponents this year in Duke and East Carolina. Both teams lost to the Blue Devils while UAB beat the Pirates twice in the regular season before falling to ECU in the C-USA Tournament. Meanwhile Clemson beat East Carolina 71-59. * Senior G Aaron Johnson was named Conference USA Player of the Year, the first such honor for a UAB player.
* Senior G Jamarr Sanders was named first-team All-Conference USA. He has scored in double figures in five straight games through March 13. Junior F Cameron Moore was also named second-team All-Conference USA. He had 13 double-doubles this season through March 13.
KEYS TO VICTORY
Clemson hangs its hat on defense, and that certainly won't change in the NCAA Tournament, where the Tigers open against Alabama-Birmingham.
Clemson led the ACC in scoring defense at 60 points per game, and if they can hold UAB to around that figure, the Tigers' odds for success increase substantially.
The Tigers have won 15 of 16 games this season when holding their opponent to 60 points or fewer, including a 70-47 win over Boston College in their last victory.
UAB's Aaron Johnson leads the nation in assists with 7.7 per game, so he makes the Blazers go. Clemson will counter the 5-foot-8 sparkplug with an array of quick guards who love to play defense -- Demontez Stitt, Andre Young, Zavier Anderson and Cory Stanton.
If that quartet of defensive-minded guards can limit Johnson's effectiveness, the Blazers would have a hard time shaking the Tigers.
By bowing out early in the Conference USA tournament, falling to No. 8 seed East Carolina, the Blazers gave themselves plenty of stress on Selection Sunday.
Jamarr Sanders, a first-team All-Conference USA performer, leads the Blazers in scoring at over 17 points per game. (Getty Images)
"It was the longest three days of my life, man," UAB guard Aaron Johnson told the Birmingham News. "You try not to listen to it, try not to hear it, but you hear it anyway. I didn't get nervous until I sat on this couch. Now I'm just happy we get a chance to play in this tournament."
It's is the Blazers first chance at the NCAA Tournament in the Mike Davis era. The last time UAB made the tournament was 2006.
The Blazers come into the tournament having won seven of their past nine games, and that success starts with their defense.
UAB ranks second in Conference USA this season in scoring defense, allowing 62.3 points per game. The Blazers were also third in field-goal defense.
It's also important for Johnson to get his teammates into the game early. The Blazers are 8-1 this season when he has logged at least 10 assists. He scored 39 in UAB's Conference USA tournament loss to East Carolina, but he had just four assists.