Next up for Duke is Clemson, and while Duke has traditionally dominated the Tigers, they've always been tough at Littlejohn, and that aside, Oliver Purnell has done a brilliant job of building his program into one which can challenge anybody.
Clemson was expected to take a significant dip after last season, but here it is, February, and they've managed to hang around the Top Ten.Â Despite losing James Mays, a remarkable leader in Cliff Hammonds, and defensive stopper Sam Perry, Clemson has built an 18-2 record and is keeping pace not just with Duke but also UNC and Wake Forest.
Clemson has regrouped (as opposed to rebuilt) around 6-7 junior Trevor Booker in the post, 6-5 senior K.C. Rivers, 6-2 sophomore point guard Demontez Stitt, and 6-2 gunner Terrence Oglesby. They can also turn to Raymond Sykes, a 6-9 senior, 6-6 junior David Potter, 6-8 soph Jerai Grant, and freshmen Tanner Smith (6-5) and Andre Young (5-9).
What's immediately striking is that it's not as talented as some recent Clemson teams, or at least not as quick.Â Nonetheless, the defense has been superb: Clemson leads the ACC in turnovers forced with 17.9 per game and steals at 9.6, just ahead of Duke's 17.4 turnovers and 9.2 steals.
They still like to press after made baskets, and haven't missed James Mays as much as we thought they would, since he was the point man in their press.
Trevor Booker presents some real challenges for Duke as well.Â He's much quicker than Brian Zoubek (though probably stronger) and far stronger than Lance Thomas.Â He's a load for anyone. He's also an excellent shotblocker and he's expanded his game to the point where he can occasionally take (and hit) a three pointer.Â He continues their long tradition of finding under-appreciated big men in South Carolina and Georgia who go on to have great ACC careers.
Raymond Sike is less effective but certainly not wretched.Â He'll probably match up with Kyle Singler, so Duke has an advantage there.
K.C. Rivers has become a solid all-around player for Clemson and one of the better players in the conference.Â He's not celebrated as much as he should be, but he's really, really good. He's averaging 14.6 ppg, 6.4 boards,Â 1.9 assists, and he leads the team (along with Stitt) with 30 steals.Â Presumably, he'll match up with Gerald Henderson, which will provide a fascinating game-within-the-game.
Clemson's backcourt is pretty dangerous.Â After a rookie year of getting pounded, point guard Stitt bulked up and has been much more effective.Â He's a solid defender, although he is also the Tiger with the most fouls.Â He's very capable.
At the other guard spot is Oglesby, whose range has been compared to that of J.J. Redick.Â He can really, really shoot, although at 39.4%, he's erratic.Â He shoots higher from behind the line actually (39.9%)Â He'll be going up against a bigger guard in Scheyer.
Potter, Grant, Young and Smith provide a very solid bench. They rarely suffer when Potter comes in, and Grant is an effective shotblocker and rebounder.
They're all useful players, but we love Smith's game.Â He reminds us a lot of Jon Scheyer as a very alert gamer.Â Clemson came up with quite a steal in him.
Obviously this is going to be a defensive game, but with Duke's traditional pressure on the passing lanes and the ball handler, and Clemson's pressing game, there will be lots of potential opportunities on the offensive end.Â But here are a few things to consider.
- Jon Scheyer showed signs of emerging from his offensive funk in a big way against Virginia.Â If it continues, he's due for an eruption
- Don't expect Kyle Singler to end the game with five points and five rebounds again.
- Dave McClure has become an amazingly versatile defender for Duke.
- Other than the inside guys, Clemson really doesn't shoot that well. Rivers is 46.3/39.1, but Stitt is 42.5/27.3, and Oglesby 39.4/39.9. You'd really think, on first glance, that he'd be much higher. The rest fall off sharply from there.
- Free throw shooting has improved but is still an issue.Â The team shoots 67.6% collectively, but only Oglesby and Potter are top-flight from the line.