Rutgers or Clemson? Picking 10 vs. 7 matchup looks tricky in 2021 March Madness bracket

The 2021 NCAA Tournament field has been set, giving us plenty of fascinating first-round matchups such as 5-seed Colorado vs. 12-seed Georgetown and 8-seed North Carolina vs. 9-seed Wisconsin.

But perhaps no first-round matchup is more peculiar than the 10-7 matchup between Clemson and Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights (-1) opened as the only 10-seed to be favored in their respective matchup, though both they and the Tigers have issues the other team can capitalize on in the first round. Neither team inspired much confidence heading into March Madness, which makes their meeting all the more interesting.

Clemson (16-7, 10-6 ACC) has a better record than Rutgers (15-11, 10-10 Big Ten); but it’s important to note the Tigers play in what’s considered a mediocre ACC while the Scarlet Knights record is likely skewed by the difficulty of the Big Ten, which is the clear top conference in basketball this season.

With that, here’s everything you need to know about the matchup between Clemson and Rutgers, including rankings, key players, season breakdowns and more:

EXPERT BRACKET PICKS:
DeCourcy (Gonzaga) | Bender (Illinois) | Fagan (Gonzaga) | Lutovsky (Baylor)

When is Rutgers vs. Clemson?

Rutgers-Clemson is scheduled as the 17th overall game to be played on March Madness, including First Four games. Below are the details of their game, including time, TV and venue.

Rutgers (15-11, 10-10 Big Ten)

Rutgers is in a curious position, history-wise. This is the Scarlet Knights’ first time dancing in 30 seasons, when they suffered a first-round loss to Arizona State in the 1991 NCAA Tournament. So, there’s no telling how Steve Pikiell’s team will make the most of their opportunity. Regardless, the Scarlet Knights are squarely where Sporting News predicted them to land heading into the NCAA Tournament.

Like Clemson, this team enjoyed a good bit of its success in the early part of the season, starting with a 6-0 record that included a 91-88 win No. 3 overall seed Illinois. The Scarlet Knights did not secure another ranked win (losing seven games, in order, to Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and Illinois).

Even so, Rutgers did enjoy several notable wins over the season, including eventual 11-seed Syracuse, 10-seed Maryland, 4-seed Purdue and First Four team Michigan State.

Key players

Ron Harper (6-6, 245-pound junior guard)
15.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.6 apg

Jacob Young (6-6, 185-pound senior guard)
14.4 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 3.5 apg

Geo Baker (6-4, 195-pound senior guard)
10.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.1 apg

Montez Mathis (6-4, 210-pound junior guard)
8.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 0.8 apg

Myles Johnson (6-11, 255-pound junior forward)
8.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 0.8 apg

REGION BREAKDOWNS:
WEST | EAST | SOUTH | MIDWEST

Clemson (16-7, 10-6 ACC)

The Tigers may be a tad overseeded at No. 7, based on Sporting News’ final field of 68 predictions; Bill Bender projected Clemson as a 9 seed.

That said, they enjoyed considerable success and looked to make a run at a much higher seed before suffering some setbacks around mid-January. The Tigers opened their season at 9-2, enjoying wins over 2-seed Alabama (64-56), 4-seed Purdue (81-70) and 4-seed Florida State (77-67). They finished with six losses in their last 13 games, which included a 63-50 win over 8-seed UNC but also a dismal loss to Miami in the ACC Tournament.

Key players

Aamir Simms (6-9, 245-pound senior forward)
13.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.7 apg, 54.3 field goal percentage, 40.7 3-point percentage

Al-Amir Dawes (6-2, 180-pound sophomore guard)
9.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.8 apg, 42.4 field goal percentage, 38.7 3-point percentage

Nick Honor (5-10 sophomore guard)
8.4 ppg, 2.3 apg, 1.4 spg, 1.3 rpg, 40.5 field goal percentage, 38.5 3-point percentage

Hunter Tyson (6-8, 215-pound junior forward)
7.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 47.3 field goal percentage, 41.7 3-point percentage

Clyde Trapp (6-4, 203-pound senior guard)
7.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.6 apg, 40.3 field goal percentage, 34.5 3-point percentage

BRACKET TIPS: KenPom | Play the odds | Idiot’s guide

Rutgers vs. Clemson breakdown

Rutgers-Clemson could be a low-scaring affair: Both teams rank no better than 75th in offensive efficiency, while each ranks in the top 20 nationally in defensive efficiency.

The Tigers in particular have only one player in Aamir Simms to average more than 10 points per game. He’s also the only player in the ACC to lead his team in points per game (13.3), rebounds per game (6.2) and assists per game (2.7), a feat he accomplished for a second consecutive year in 2021. Rutgers could try to pit 6-11 Myles Johnson (8.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 0.8 apg) against Simms to keep him from dominating in the post, but the latter is an efficient shooter from all over the court.

The Scarlet Knights have considerable senior leadership on their team, including three players who average more than 10 points per game: Ron Harper, Jacob Young and Geo Baker, whom Mike DeCourcy tabbed as a player to watch in the Midwest Region. The best of those players, however, is Harper. The 6-6 junior guard leads the team with 15.4 points per game and ranks second on the team in 5.9 rebounds per game.

Clemson can get hot from 3-point land and play good defense, but will need to maintain that against a more battle-tested Scarlet Knights team. Otherwise, you could see a 10 seed beat a 7 seed for the 12th straight tournament.

History of 10 vs. 7 matchups in NCAA Tournament

Fans who want to rely on history can look at the overall record between 10 and 7 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Overall, the 7 seeds have an 85-55 advantage since the bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985. That might seem like a good reason to pick the Tigers (assuming you aren’t actually analyzing the matchup), but that means there’s a roughly 40 percent chance the Scarlet Knights win the matchup.

There’s also recent history to consider: A 10 seed has won its opening-round game in every tournament since 2008, when Stephen Curry led Davidson to an incredible March Madness run. Twenty 10 seeds have won their respective opening-round game from 2008-19, including three each in 2019, 2010 and 2009. Curiously, Clemson has been beaten twice in that span.

Below is a breakdown of the wins 10 seeds have enjoyed over 7 seeds the last 10 tournaments:

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