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Next up for Duke is Clemson, and while you might think that's a pretty sure bet, we'd suggest you think again for several reasons.
First, Duke is coming off a huge and very emotional win over UNC. The Blue Devils invested an incredible amount of energy into that game and it won't be easy to hit that level again. That gives Clemson a window.
Second, Jahlil Okafor is likely to play but isn't going to be 100%. That could diminish Duke's biggest weapon.
And third, Clemson has improved considerably. In December, it wasn't clear how the Tigers would come together after losing KJ McDaniels (inexplicably traded by Philly to the Houston Rockets, but Brad Brownell has done a tremendous job.
Not surprisingly, he's reason #4.
If there were any doubts, Brownell has really proved his worth this season. Clemson was widely expected to, well, fail. Instead, Brownell has his team cruising along at 15-11 and 7-7 in the ACC. Duke and Notre Dame on the road would be tough wins, but State and Georgia Tech at home are games Clemson can take.
Clemson has developed a pretty decent fronctourt. Landry Nnoko, at 6-10 and 255, is a very powerful post player. Jaron Blossomgame and Donte Graham are both agile and versatile forwards. Graham is going to develop into a terrific ACC player.
Rod Hall and DaMarcus Harrison give Clemson the rarest thing these days, an all-senior backcourt. First guard off the bench, Jordan Roper, is a junior.
Toss in two beefy reserves in Sidy Djitte (6-10/240) and Josh Smith (6-8/245) and Clemson has a nice mix of talent, power and experience.
That's not what Duke needs to see after a tough game against UNC, and you can count on the Tigers defending Okafor as physically as possible (we still remember seeing Nolan Smith appeal to the officials after being bounced around like a pinball by Clemson's defense).
So really, not to demean Clemson's rather significant challenge, but Duke's biggest challenge right now is simply human nature.
Can Duke put a great experience behind it and still gear up for a serious challenge from an underestimated foe?
That's what's at stake Saturday, and along with it, a potential #1 bid which will be less certain with a major upset.
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