N&O | N-R
| Fayetteville |
H-S | H-S
Number one Duke travels to Clemson and to Littlejohn, one of the last of the
classic ACC pits, for a Saturday afternoon tiff.
Cameron, Reynolds, and Carmichael got most of the glory in the ACC, but Cole
Field House was a very difficult place to play, as was University Hall, and as
is the Thriller Dome in Atlanta.
Virginia Tech has Cassell, which can generate quite a bit of passion, but
since they are in their second ACC season, it can't possibly qualify as an
old-time ACC arena.
Clemson has, in the past, pulled off some beautiful upsets in Littlejohn,
including Duke from time to time (Duke is 20-16 all-time in Littlejohn, barely
better than breaking even, and that counts a current Littlejohn win streak of
seven games), and it would be foolish to think they're not capable of doing it
again. It's clear that Duke is favored, of course, but basketball only has
five guys on the court, and emotion and passion, along with a wild
homecourt, can make things happen you'd never expect. Think Chaminade, for
one great example. Notre Dame's classic upset of UCLA in the Walton era is
You don't necessarily have to be a great team to beat a great team.
Of course, it helps if the better team doesn't play up to their potential,
and we could see that happening in this game.
Clemson, after all, is (for the purpose of this argument), nobody. They
have no frontcourt, and no celebrated backcourt play, either. They lost to
Elon, for heaven's sake.
Duke, on the other hand, just got through dismantling two teams which have
given them fits in recent years in Wake Forest and Maryland. There's a
very real danger of going to Clemson somewhat flat. And if the game stays
tight, who knows?
Clemson, of course, just upset Wake Forest, a team with some reasonable
frontcourt power in Eric Williams, replete with his new Jules Winnfield
look, and Trent Strickland and a cast of, well, some other guys who can
play and who would start for Clemson.
They lost their best rebounder when James Mays was ruled ineligible, which
probably had something to do with Eric Williams turning into a vacuum cleaner on
the boards and beat a team which, really, should have won.
Clemson's strength, though, is in the backcourt, where they can reasonably
expect to compete with most teams. Cliff Hammonds surprised a lot of
people last year; apparently everyone expected him to play football in
college. But the 4.0 student went for hoops instead, in a lucky break for
Clemson. With Vernon Hamilton, Sam Perry, K.C. Rivers, and Shawan
Robinson, the Tigers are really deep and athletic in the backcourt, and they
victimized Wake Forest with it, forcing 22 turnovers.
Sam Perry emerged last year as a defensive stopper, and odds are he'll guard
J.J. Redick. He's listed as a forward, but so is Redick from time to time,
and he's clearly not a forward. Perry is big enough and athletic enough to
stay in Redick's grill.
Clemson can also run several players at Greg Paulus in an attempt to rattle
or wear him out. Sean Dockery could also play a key role in this one, as
he'll likely be Duke's most athletice perimeter defender, and he can take
pressure off of Paulus in the event that
Freshman Julius Powell, out of Newton, is also starting, but he wouldn't be
if Mays were eligible.
Obviously Clemson is going to rely on their perimeter - center Akin Akingbala
is fairly athletic, but he's never been overly strong, and he'll have to deal
with Shelden Williams and Josh McRoberts inside. Julius Powell will have
to deal with them as well, and this is going to be very tough for Clemson.
They'll have a very difficult time matching up in a man-to-man defense, but
Redick makes a zone just about impossible to enforce.
Clemson's best chance is to try to force turnovers, and to have their little
guys move faster than Duke's big guys, and to avoid a halfcourt game whenever
possible. And while most coaches would try to get shots in the paint, this
is going to be tough for the Tigers, and we wonder if they might not actually
prefer long shots which of course generate long rebounds.
But while Duke is clearly favored, and rightly so, Littlejohn has a certain
magic to it. In 1992 for instance, the Tigers were just killing perhaps
Duke's finest team ever before the Devils mounted a comeback.
It's never a place where you can relax or go in assuming you'll win. Do
that, and there's an excellent chance you will have your head handed to
you. Would we be surprised if Clemson won? Somewhat. Shocked? Not at
all. Dangerous coach, dangerous team, dangerous crowd, dangerous
arena. There are no guarantees in Littlejohn.