As Al Featherston points out, Duke gets Clemson less than 48 hours after a huge win over UNC.
Being sharp is going to be a challenge on both ends.
Against UNC, we saw a great effort on offense and some superb defense as well (UNC shot quite well but Duke had some great stretches, particularly by Matt Jones, but there were other plays, notably Jayson Tatum’s monster block of a would-be Luke May fast break and Marques Bolden’s..what do you even call it? It wasn’t so much a block as a swallow. The shot went up and he just ate it. It was a dream block, really, and an incredibly intimidating move.
Staying at that level now is going to be tough and Clemson won’t help.
Despite their last-second surrender to Syracuse, the Tigers are a very problematic team.
We still remember the first time we saw Brad Brownell’s Clemson team play. Nolan Smith came down court and bounced off of nearly every player. He turned to the official in frustration but didn’t get a call.
Welcome to Clemson ball, or really, Brownell ball.
His teams are usually rugged defensively but this team has some offensive spunk too.
Clemson’s best player is the euphoniously named Jaron Blossomgame who certainly has blossomed at Clemson.
This year he’s averaging 17.8 ppg and 5.5 rpg. He’s a fluid, agile forward with guard skills.
Clemson pairs him up front with Donte Graham and the West Virginia native is averaging nearly 10 ppg and 2.3 rpg.
Center is a bit problematic but Sidy Djitte is a capable defender and rebounder. He’s pulling down 7.8 rpg.
The Tigers have a nifty backcourt: Avry Holmes, Marcquise Reed, Dave DeVoe and Shelton Mitchell combine for 37.9 ppg.
By comparison, Duke’s guards - Luke Kennard, Grayson Allen, Frank Jackson and Matt Jones - average a cumulative 54.4. That’s better than what Clemson gets but the Tigers are certainly capable.
Transfer Elijah Thomas (he joined the team for the second semester) rounds out the rotation and is averaging 7 ppg and 3.6 rpg.
Mitchell, who committed to Wake Forest and Jeff Bzdelik once upon a time, ended up at Vandy but left for Clemson after one year in Nashville (when he faced his old coach Kevin Stallings, now at Pitt, Mitchell had 12 points, six assists and three rebounds).
When you look at Clemson, you see 13-10 and has struggled in conference play.
But if you set aside the Louisville disaster (a 32 point loss), the painful loss to Florida State (109-61) and Georgia Tech’s 12 point win, then look: Clemson lost to UNC by three in overtime, Notre Dame by five, Virginia by four, Virginia Tech by one, Pitt by seven and Syracuse by one.
That’s six losses by a total of 21 points. That’s pretty much the definition of being competitive.
Clemson gets a bit of a break with Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones still slowed by injuries.
On the other hand, though defense is Brownell’s calling card, Clemson has some tough matchups.
Holmes is 6-2 while Reed, Mitchell and Defoe are all 6-3.
Frank Jackson is 6-3 but his jumping ability makes him taller. Allen and Jones are 6-5 while Kennard is 6-6.
Look for Duke to try to exploit those mismatches inside when possible and to try to draw fouls on Clemson’s guards. If the Blue Devils get them in foul trouble, it becomes a game of attrition.
Blossomgame is a tough matchup for someone - probably Jones or Tatum - and Grantham is a better offensive force than his stats would suggest.
And as we often remind, matchup problems cut both ways. Chasing waterbug guards around is no fun, least of all when you just exhausted yourself against your biggest rival.
And in a sense, Duke’s toughest opponent Saturday isn’t Clemson. It’s themselves.
Bob Knight always said that one’s toughest opponent is always oneself. It’s easy to be tired, to be lazy, to cut corners or rationalize.
But as he so often does, Coach K is pointing to the quick turnaround as an advantage, a chance for his young team to prove it is tough and has grit. It’s a great opportunity to get ready for March and win or lose, valuable experience.
This is probably not going to be a pretty game. It’s highly likely to be scruffy and rough around the edges, and it won’t surprise us in the slightest if things get a bit chippy (just as we won’t be surprised if Clemson tries to egg Allen into doing something rash).
However, it may be one of the most intense games of the season. Clemson has struggled but that’s one tough bunch of Tigers. They’re well-coached and capable of (at least) being in striking position in winning time.
Don’t expect prettiness but do look for toughness. If the Blue Devils show that, win or lose they'll gain from playing a team like Clemson.
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