clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Next Up - Clemson

You could sort of see it coming last season. Clemson, even after James Mays lost his eligibility, had flashes of really solid basketball. But despite not losing a game with Mays in the lineup, the Tigers went from 11-0 to the NIT. That won't happen this year.As is always the case, Clemson hasn't been able to recruit head-to-head with Duke and UNC and more recently Georgia Tech, as the Yellow Jackets have become solid recruiters in Georgia and South Carolina. But despite this, Oliver Purnell has managed to put together a tough-minded, athletic group, which sort of refutes Rick Barnes, who famously argued that he couldn't recruit well enough at Clemson to compete with, well, with Duke and UNC.

With a core of Vernon Hamilton, Cliff Hammonds, Sam Perry, James May, and rookie Trevor Booker, the Tigers are athletic enough, thank you very much, and can apply a lot of defensive pressure. The Slab Five they ain't.

K.C. Rivers has perfected the sixth man role, averaging 14.3 ppg. Clemson also gets extensive minutes out of Julius Powell, David Potter, and Raymond Sikes.

The Tigers have ridden this bunch to an 18-2 record after starting 17-0.

This game is very likely to be defined by the defense no matter who you are pulling for: Duke has been playing lock-down D all year, and Clemson's defense has been a strong point too.

The Tigers have held opponents to .436 from the floor, and have forced 19 turnovers a game. They've held opponents, on average, to 63.2 ppg.

They lost a lot last year when Mays departed, and obviously they're a better team with the Garner, NC native (little Garner has also produced Donald Williams and Melvin Whitaker, who had talent, although serious issues as well). But the two guys on that team who are scary defensively are Sam Perry and Trevor Booker.

Perry has long since made his bones as a defender, and Booker has shown up this season as a guy who can contribute points, rebounds, and shot blocking. And also energy.

Booker was relatively skinny in high school: no longer. At 235, he's a powerful player. Moreover, double-teaming Mays is no longer an option.

And he allows Purnell to put Mays at the front of the press on defense, because Booker locks down the back.

He still makes mistakes, but the kid belongs.

Just how Duke defends the two big men will be interesting, since neither are strictly speaking a good matchup.

Clemson's backcourt, while not big high school stars, have done well. Vernon Hamilton is an excellent defender, and his pressure D helps the Tigers swipe the ball 10 times a game (somewhat suprisingly, Mays is the team leader in steals, but obviously Purnell knows where to use him in the press).

Cliff Hammonds was a spectacular high school student and a star football player who turned down Stanford to play basketball at Clemson.

Pretty obviously, Clemson is hoping that Duke's periodic turnover problems resurface. Just as obviously, in the lack of a truly natural offensive performer outside of K.C. Rivers, Duke is hoping to stick it to Clemson on defense. Either way, we expect a close game. But there's a potential wild card.

Clemson is simply dreadful from the line. Really, really bad. In a close game, they can't count on the foul line. They're shooting .578 overall, but only 47.1% in conference.

So if you want to simplify it, try this: Duke's ball control vs. Clemson's free throws. It's a vast oversimplification, but not without some merit. If Duke can hang on to the ball, they have a chance in a strongly defensive game. And if it comes down to it, put them on the line: Rivers is hitting 71.4%, but Mays is at .563, Hamilton at .422, and Perry at .462. Ugh.

For the Devils, with an impressive three game streak behind them, this is a big game. Everyone has stepped their play up lately - singling anyone out is almost unfair. Josh McRoberts has one of the best all-around games of any big man in the country. Jon Scheyer has become a critical player rather quickly, and a surprisingly good defender. DeMarcus Nelson is on the verge of becoming a great defender. Greg Paulus has steadied his game and is showing Duke fans why he was so highly regarded in high school. Lance Thomas has a ways to go but plays with great energy. Dave McClure is turning into an impressive all-round player and a surprisingly good rebounder. Brian Zoubek has shown flashes, and Marty Pocius has played hurt a lot, which holds him back. We were kind of scrambling last night between adapting to the new system and our machine crapping out and forgot to mention Gerald Henderson. The kid is really coming on. He should be a major factor in this game on both ends.

Duke has won 19 straight against Clemson, but the series is about to get a lot more competitive, starting tonight. Expect a hard-nosed defensive matchup, and not necessarily a lot of scoring. It might look ugly, but if so, it'll be a product of intensity, and not because of a lack of same. Watch closely: you'll see Duke, a proud program trying to get to its accustomed level, and Clemson, a sturdy and well-coached bunch who are determined to grab a foothold in the upper echelon of the ACC. We could be wrong, it could be an offensive explosion somewhere, but our gut instinct is that this will be a game for those who love defense.