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Next Up - Clemson

Playing Clemson in Littlejohn is never an easy trip

Duke Blue Devils guard Andre Dawkins (34) shoots against Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets guard/forward Marcus Georges-Hunt (3) at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Duke Blue Devils guard Andre Dawkins (34) shoots against Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets guard/forward Marcus Georges-Hunt (3) at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Next up for Duke is Clemson, a program which has long struggled to compete in the ACC and has typically chosen one of two strategies: recruit really good athletes and teach them to become basketball players (Bill Foster, Cliff Ellis) or take a team of lesser talent and focus them on fundamentals, notably on defense (Rick Barnes, Larry Shyatt and Brad Brownell).

Only Oliver Purnell has synthesized the two approaches.

Brad Brownell is the epitome of the defense-first approach. His current team may be limited offensively, but the Tigers play defense like, well, tigers.

We'll never forget Brownell's first trip to Cameron and Nolan Smith, being pushed and pounded from halfcourt to the lane and finally passing off and raising his hands in bewilderment to the nearest official.

It's not an easy style to deal with. Clemson has held three teams to less than 40 points and nobody has scored more than 72. Well here, check it out:

Opp. W/L Score
Stetson W 71-51
Delaware State W 58-37
South Carolina W 71-57
Temple W 72-58
Davidson W 85-54
UMASS L 62-56
Coastal Carolina W 69-40
SC State W 65-49
Arkansas L 74-68
Furman W 71-35
Auburn L 66-64
VMI W 80-50
Boston College W 62-60
FSU L 56-41

It's not everyone's ideal of how to win games, but so far this year, it's worked.

ACC play could be a bit different. Woeful BC nearly beat Clemson and Florida State, also a passionate defensive force, really didn't have too much trouble.

So what about Duke?

Well, Duke will surely be favored, but it may not be an easy game. Duke has the offensive juice Clemson lacks, to be sure, but Duke has also had some significant flaws on defense which were thoroughly exposed by Notre Dame. Other than Marshall Plumlee, Duke doesn't really have anyone who is as physical in the post as Clemson's big men are.

We're quite sure those flaws have been aggressively addressed since, but it's been a long time since Duke's gone this deep into the season with such a rocky defense.

Clemson's primary offensive weapon is forward KJ McDaniels, a 6-7 junior and an athletic freak.  He's averaging 16.5 ppg, 6.9 rpg and leads the ACC with nearly three blocks per game.

Rod Hall is the second primary threat, averaging 10.4 ppg. Jordan Roper gets just under ten and the rest are nickel and dime offensive players.

Big man Landry Nnoko, who is a seriously big big man, is averaging 6.6 rpg and 5.4 ppg and a bruise or two a minute.

Brownell is not scared to go into his bench and 11 guys are getting double figure minutes.

The ACC, having an occasional sense of humor or perhaps a cruel streak, scheduled Clemson and Virginia back-to-back. It may not sound like a tough stretch, but it's taxing to play teams like that.

At least Virginia is in Cameron. Littlejohn is a demanding place for anyone, much less young players like Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood, Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson. Don't be surprised if Andre Dawkins is asked to step up to play a bigger role.