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Carlos Previews Clemson!

It would be easy to think that Clemson head coach Larry Shyatt is on the hot seat this year. After all, here's a guy that is entering his fourth season as the head coach and, after a promising first year, has gone 22-39 over the next two seasons and at a glance, his security would appear to be on shakier footing than Enron. Last year, things looked so bad for Shyatt that he received the dreaded "vote of confidence" from the Clemson AD. Then again, Shyatt did lead his team to a victory over the #1-ranked Tar Heels, almost got into a fight with Matt Doherty at the ACC Tournament, and told jokes about UNC choking when he addressed IPTAY club members. At Clemson, that's enough to guarantee another year as head coach. Around here, it's enough to label you an affable fellow.

In reality, Shyatt would have been back for this year even if he hadn't displayed such sportsmanship and a fine sense of humor. Shyatt has worked hard to bring in a number of quality recruits to get the Tigers back to being competitive in the ACC. This year, he's going to need every one of those recruits because the program was dealt a blow when backcourt star Will Solomon left early to test his luck in the NBA draft. When Solomon left, he took 27% of the team's offense with him. Worse than that, his departure forces a major change in the way Clemson goes about scoring any points. For most of the last two years, Clemson's offense was essentially giving the ball to Solomon and letting him create. On the occasions where Solomon didn't shoot, he forced the defense to adjusted and thereby created opportunities for his teammates.

Without Solomon, the team has still posted an early season record of 5-1 against a schedule with enough cupcakes to require post-game insulin injections. The Tigers' strength of schedule for games played ranks 283rd out of 327 teams. The only two major names on the Clemson schedule so far are Miami (FL) and Penn State. Neither of those teams are exceptional - Miami should finish in the middle of their division in the Big East and Penn State is simply woeful this year. Besides, there's no way Penn State should be able to beat an ACC team, right?

Compounding the loss of Solomon was the transfer of three other players - Dustin Braddick, Chucky Gilmore, and Pasha Bains. Braddick and Bains were regular contributors last year, each playing more than 10 minutes a game. Gilmore missed all of last season with a torn ACL after playing 25 minutes a game as a sophomore. The defections of three players, all of whom were receiving playing time, raises questions about the atmosphere of the Tiger locker room. In the case of Braddick, with the exception of Danny Miller, it's rare to see a senior transfer. With Gilmore, the Tigers are losing a guy who was a valuable contributor when healthy. The situation with Bains is just as curious, as not only was he a senior, but he had originally transferred to Clemson from Wyoming, following Shyatt when he accepted the Tigers head coaching position.


The one place where Clemson can claim to have experience is at the point, where 6-0 junior Edward Scott returns. With 50 starts over his previous two years, Scott gives the team some much-needed stability on an otherwise very young team. Scott played well against Duke last year, after struggling earlier in his career. He's a solid point guard who likes to penetrate and distribute the ball. What he's not is a shooter. This is a guy Duke fans want to pull the trigger. Last year, he converted on just 21% of this three point shot attempts. This year, he is wistfully looking back on last season as halcyon days. But then, that's what starting out the year shooting 2 for 13 will do for you.

Sadly for the Tigers, Scott's shooting troubles are not exceptional on this team. There are only two Clemson players hitting over 30% of their three point shot attempts. One of those, is shooting guard Tony Stockman, a 6-1 sophomore out of Ohio. Stockman was a sleeper recruit, only cracking the top 100 after his senior season in high school. Despite his modest ranking, Stockman proved to be on of the top rookies in the ACC last year.

In the first Clemson / Duke game last year, Stockman benefited from the Blue Devils' defensive focus on Solomon and ended up with 22 points in the game. In the second game, at Clemson, he didn't fare as well, but still posted 12 points to go with 5 assists. Stockman has been slowed somewhat this year by a knee injury, but when healthy he's clearly the Tigers' best offensive option.

What that means though, is that Stockman may have an unpleasant evening in Camero. In games against Duke last year, Will Solomon was held to about 8 points below his season average and his shooting percentage plummeted to around 30%. The defensive focus that was directed at Solomon last year will be turned on Stockman this year - assuming he's relatively close to full speed.

If Stockman is still hampered by his knee, Shyatt will start freshman Chey Christie at the shooting guard. The 6-4 Christie is a legacy at Clemson - his brother was Tony Christie, a guard on some of Clemson's best teams back in the mid-90's. The latest Christie is a fluid player who attacks the basket. I'm going to get tired of saying this and you'll get tired of reading it - he's not a good outside shooter. In fact, he's been struggling enough to seek out shooting advice from Scott.


Clemson has really improved their athleticism with a number of talented wing players in the last two recruiting classes. In addition to Christie (the highest ranked recruit to sign with Clemson in several years), the Tigers have added junior college transfer Jamar McKnight and Dwon Clifton from last year's recruiting class. This year, they also added the lyrically named Olu Babalola who is fresh off a gig with Ricky down at the Tropicana Club. Babalola hasn't played a great deal this year and the only reason he's in here is because I like saying Babalola. The fact that his first name is Olu is an added bonus. Olu Babalola, I hope this guy's around for a long time.

Clemson should start Dwon Clifton at the small forward spot. The 6-4 sophomore from High Point is one of several North Carolina products that have ended up on the Tigers' roster. (That number will increase next year when Shawan Robinson, a former teammate of Florida State recruit Anthony Richardson at Raleigh's Leesville Road, joins the team next year.) This should come a surprise to no one, but Clifton is not a very good shooter. He was a bad shooter last year, and he's a bad shooter this year. Like many of the other Clemson players, he is athletic and dangerous taking the ball to the hoop. On a team that had a little more perimeter strength, guys like Clifton and Christie could be very good. But without any significant outside threats, opposing defenses can pack it in and clog the driving lanes and limit the effectiveness of the Clemson wing players.

McKnight, like Stockman, has been suffering from an injury but is should be available for Sunday's contest. Also like Stockman, he's one of the few, make that he is the other, outside threat on the Clemson team. Of course, all things are relative and in this case, an outside threat on Clemson means he takes about 4 attempts per game. At 6-5, McKnight is also able to go inside and provide some rebounding help as well.

Babalola is a different type of player. He's a solid 6-6 and 245 pounds and can use that strength down low. But he's also quick and athletic and can take his defender outside. Unfortunately, he's not a great shooter, but you knew that already. But his name is Olu Babalola.


Up front, the Tigers are lacking in height but make up for it in girth. After losing Allen Alenspach to (hopefully) some sort of post graduation, basketball purgatory (I still haven't forgotten the cheap shot elbow he dealt Trajan Langdon in 1999), the Tigers were left with a roster with no player over 6-8. They addressed that with the signing of three freshmen; 6-8 Jemere Hendrix, 6-9 Sharrod Ford, and 6-10 Steve Allen. But the bulk of the playing time in the frontcourt has gone to the guys with the bulk.

The Tigers start a pair of 250 pound bookends up front with Chris Hobbs and Ray Henderson. Hobbs was on last year's ACC All-Freshmen team and the 6-7 Chapel Hill product has performed well this season, leading the team in scoring and trailing only Henderson in rebounds. Henderson is pulling down 8.5 boards per game while Hobbs averages 6.2. Of course, to be fair, when you're playing for Clemson, there are a lot of rebounds out there.

Atypical for the Tigers, both Henderson and Hobbs are pretty reasonable from the field, both converting on nearly 60% of their attempts. Backing up Henderson and Hobbs are Ford, Hendrix, and veteran Tomas Nagys, a 6-8 junior who started 6 games last year. He's a good rebounder and like many European big men, can pass the ball well. Ford and Hendrix lack the strength of the other frontcourt Tigers, but do add a measure of athleticism.


This game is all about the continued development of the Blue Devils. Duke should defeat Clemson and do so by a pretty comfortable margin. If you compare the two rosters, you would be hard pressed to find any Clemson player who would crack the starting lineup for the Duke. That will show up on the court on Sunday. Both teams are building for the future; it's just that for Duke, the future they are building towards is in April of 2002. Clemson's future, with their strong freshmen and sophomore classes, is a little more removed.

That may seem painfully obvious, but it's also something Duke fans need to keep in mind. There seems to be a general feeling of discomfort over the way the Devils have started the season. In a sense, that's understandable. Duke has yet to put together a full 40 minutes of the kind of basketball they were playing late last year. Dahntay Jones has struggled to fully integrate himself into the Blue Devil offense. Carlos Boozer failed to dominate an inexperienced Seton Hall team. Chris Duhon keeps shooting deeper and deeper three-point shots. Jason Williams is hitting on just 26% of his three-point shots. And Mike Dunleavy is…. okay, there's nothing wrong with Dunleavy.

It's tempting for Duke fans to become immersed in the negatives when looking at the season to date. The problem starts when this year's Duke squad is compared to the team that was on the floor of the Metrodome last April. That wasn't the same squad that struggled past Villanova and Temple 4 months earlier, just as this isn't the same squad that will be on the floor when the NCAA tournament rolls around this year. Relax and enjoy the ride.

In fact, in the last game, you can see noticeable improvement in the performance of the Devils, although there are several areas for improvement. It's troubling that the Blue Devils have not shown their customary intensity for a full game and it's doubtful that has slipped the attention of the staff and the team. Some of that is attributable to the unusual conditions in Maui, where the court prohibited aggressive play for much of the second half in the Ball State game. But some of it is also attributable to the condition of the Duke team down the stretch. In particular, Jason Williams appeared fatigued in the second half of the Iowa game. For Duke, a fresh Williams is critical in the second half of games, especially when the team is trying to preserve a lead by going into a delay game.

There are few players in college basketball who are as dangerous with the ball as Jason Williams, and there are even fewer who can stay in front of him when he's trying to drive the lane. However, Williams' effectiveness is impacted when he's fatigued and that shows up not only physically but mentally as well. A notable example of the latter would be the fast break, alley-oop pass Williams and Jones attempted late in the Iowa game.

Krzyzewski and the staff have taken steps to correct that when they named Chris Duhon as the full time point guard. With Williams off the ball during much of the game, he will hopefully have more energy left in the second half.

There are still offensive concerns regarding Jones and Duhon. Jones' struggles to adapt to the Duke offense have hindered not only his own performance, but also that of his teammates. Much of Duke's success last year was built around ball movement and excellent shooting. This year, the team has the potential to be an even better passing squad with Duhon moving into the starting lineup full time. But that potential can be squandered if the entire team isn't playing as a cohesive unit. The best ball movement in the world is negated if the last pass isn't made. Right now, Jones is the guy who is not making that last pass.

The struggles Jones is facing may be a part of the habits developed over a lifetime of basketball. Remember that Jones spent last year practicing with the Duke second squad while he was sitting out the redshirt year required of all NCAA transfers. The two years before that, Jones a star for some mediocre Rutgers teams. Before that, he played for Steinhart HS in Hamilton Square, NJ. The one constant in all of those places is that Jones was the best athlete and best player on his team. Duke's second team last year featured several good players - like Casey Sanders and Chris Duhon - but Jones was the guy most often credited with being the toughest to stop. At Rutgers he had several other talented players - like Todd Billet, now at UVa - but by his sophomore year, Jones was clearly the team's #1 option. In high school, the next best player on the team was a guard who went onto a backup role at Rider.

The difference in Jones' situation now is that while he's still the best athlete on his team, he's no longer the #1 option on offense. On every team up to now, Jones was responsible for creating his offense by using his great athleticism. That's not the case anymore for Jones and you can see him struggling to adapt to the new role. When you see Jones driving the lane for a 5.5 degree of difficulty shot while ignoring a wide open Jason Williams in the corner, you have to remember that the guy he's accustomed to have standing in that corner is not the leading candidate for player of the year. When you see him trying to force the issue, you have to remember he's not used to having a Chris Duhon, Carlos Boozer, or Mike Dunleavy there to benefit from his penetration.

What Duke has asked Jones to do is to change the way he approaches the game. That's a difficult task for a guy who has spent his entire life being "the man" and having to create his own offense. The good news is that you can see him growing in his new role. Once Jones adapts to the flow of the Duke offense he'll discover an amazing fact - it's going to be easier for him to score points. Instead of Jones trying to beat his own defender off the dribble and soar over a rotating defender, he's going to find himself cutting to the hoop and receiving a pass from a teammate who has forced the defense to rotate out of position.

If you want to get a true glimpse of Jones' potential, watch the difference in his results when he's getting to the hoop without dribbling the ball. Watch what happens when a teammate feeds after Jones moved without the ball as opposed to how effective he is when he's trying to take a guy off the dribble from 20 feet away from the basket. Duke fans need to have patience with Jones' offense and at the same time, not ignore the contributions he's making on defense and on the glass. While you're watching Jones, take a mental count of the number of times he pulls down a huge rebound in traffic.

Duhon, like Jones, is another guy carrying the burden of huge expectations. In Duhon's case, people are expecting him to shoot 75% from the three-point line and are questioning his shot selection as he hoists up shots from the first row of the bleachers. From my perspective, I want Duhon to take those shots. I want him to shoot from anywhere on the floor. I don't want him to stop shooting until the coaching staff tells him to stop, and I don't expect that to ever happen. Why - because Duhon has that kind of range. The biggest disservice Duhon can do to the team is to stop shooting. Duhon can tend to subordinate to the team too much and he's too good a shooter and scorer to do that. Besides, I'll take your basic 11 assist, 2 turnover, 43% three-point shooting evening any night. Smart money says that last stat will improve.

While the individual improvement of guys like Jones, Duhon, and Williams is a key to the overall progress of the team, the real development will actually come from the way Duke approaches their offense. Of course, the development of the team and the improvement of the individuals are tied together like Jason Capel and pump fakes. (Note to Jason: If they didn't bite on the first 7 pump fakes, that 8th isn't going to do the trick.)

There was an offensive sequence in the second half of the Iowa game that gave Duke fans a glimpse of just how good this team can be. In that sequence, the team rotated the ball until they had a good angle for the entry pass inside to Boozer. Boozer got the ball and the defense immediately collapsed on a double team so he quickly relocated the ball back to Chris Duhon at the top of the key. As the defense rushed to recover out on Duhon, he relocated the ball to Jason Williams on the wing. Williams nailed the wide-open three-pointer which, not coincidentally, was his only successful attempt of the game.

What that sequence shows is not only the potential of Duke's offense, but also how their tendencies can limit their potential. Last year's team was built around dribble penetration and having 4 excellent three point shooters on the perimeter. This year, the Devils don't have the same number of shooters on the perimeter and those that are out there have been struggling thus far in the season. But what they do have is an inside presence that has continued to improve to the point where he presents a matchup problem every night. When Duke takes advantage of Boozer's inside play, the outside shots become a little more open. When that happens, the shooting percentage of the team improves significantly.

Unfortunately, the tendencies of the Duke team doesn't allow them to play to their full potential. On most nights, the team will start out getting the ball inside to Boozer who typically responds with flurry of inside baskets. But then, at some point in the game, Duke remembers that they won a national championship last year by shooting a bunch of three-point shots. Suddenly the ball's not going inside a whole lot. Those first few three-point attempts are usually pretty open which is partially attributable to the defense being aware of the havoc Boozer has been doing inside. But then, as Duke forgets about their post presence, the defense adjusts and those open three-point shots are no longer as open. Instead of trying to reestablish the inside game, Duke has simply stepped a little further away from the basket and the team is taking 23-foot shots instead of 20-foot shots.

To compound the problem, you have a guy inside who hasn't seen the ball in a little while and suddenly, he may not be establishing the sound, deep position that makes him so much more effective. So instead of the power move right under the basket, Boozer is now trying a 7-foot hook shot. Even worse, is that any post player is less likely to relocate the ball out of a double team if he hasn't had a shot attempt in the last 10 minutes. The goal for Duke is to maintain the offensive balance that will allow all the players to continue to improve.

Duke is presented with an excellent opportunity to gauge their improvement with games against Clemson and Temple leading up to the Jimmy V Classic matchup with Kentucky. The focus tonight will probably be on putting together 40 minutes of Duke basketball. Tonight, don't just measure the Devils by the margin of victory. Measure them by the intensity of their performance.