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Next Up - Clemson Tigers

Time: 1:00 || Venue: Littlejohn Coliseum || Video: ACC Network

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Virginia Tech v Duke
DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 14: Gary Trent Jr. #2 of the Duke Blue Devils pulls down a rebound against the Virginia Tech Hokies during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 14, 2018 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 74-52.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Next up for Duke is Clemson and while the Tigers won’t have point guard Shelton Williams, benched with a concussion, Duke won’t have Marvin Bagley again (knee sprain), and the Tigers have never been an easy out in Littlejohn.

They won’t be this time either.

Brad Brownell has perhaps the best team he’s ever had as a coach. Although the Tigers lost Donte Grantham, a senior and their best player to a knee injury, it hasn’t slowed them down too much: the Tigers have lost just once since he went down, last time out to Florida State.

And to make things even more interesting, the winner has the definite inside track on #2 in the ACC race.

Virginia has been a bit of a surprise but everyone understood that Tony Bennett had put together a heck of a program. It’s just no one saw this group coming.

And Clemson? No one saw the Tigers doing this well. They lost a lot from last season, notably Jaron Blossomgame, and even with him Brownell was on the hot seat.

So this is a major surprise and even more so that Clemson has gained ground after Grantham went down.

Clemson has done it largely from the perimeter. Guards Mitchell, Gabe DeVoe and Marcquise Reed.

The Tigers have shot well from the perimeter. Mark Donnal, a 6-9 grad transfer from Michigan, doesn't shoot a lot but hits over 50% on threes. DeVoe is hitting 43.4%. Reserve Clyde Trapp, who will get more minutes, is at 42.9%. Reed is hitting 37.3% and Mitchell isn’t far behind at 36.5%.

You don’t have to have everyone hitting; one guy getting hot will do. But every guy has to be guarded and that gets a bit tricky.

Duke hasn’t defended the three very well this season so we’ll see.

We don’t think Clemson is going to beat Duke on the inside. Elijah Thomas is vastly improved but he’s only playing 25 mpg. He’s in far better condition than he was last year though and can hurt you inside.

After Thomas, Clemson runs out of size pretty quickly. Like Thomas, Donnal is also 6-9, but he likes to drift outside. David Skara, a transfer from Valparaiso, is 6-8 but thin. Aamir Sims gets minutes too, and at 6-7 and nearly 240, he’s pretty thick. He could have a hard time with Duke’s height inside though, which could be true for all of Clemson’s interior defenders.

So you could argue that this game will come down to Duke’s interior against Clemson’s perimeter.

That’s a gross oversimplification though.

One of the reasons why Clemson has done so well, even with real adversity, is that this is an experienced and very well coached team that defends with passion.

Brownell’s rotation is almost entirely upperclassmen; Duke’s is almost entirely freshmen. No one would argue that Duke isn’t more talented, not even Brownell. But you can’t teach experience. It has to be earned. Clemson’s guys have been beaten up for several years before they toughened up to this point. It’s a huge advantage for them.

That’s not to say it’s the only advantage or that it’s necessarily enough to guarantee a win but it’s a big deal.

We’ve all seen those nature shows where the young lion has to learn how to hunt. He might be the biggest young lion for miles around but they all make the same mistake: they don’t focus on the right prey and the entire herd escapes.

Eventually they learn and know how to focus and they attack the weak link.

It’s similar to basketball in a sense. The older you are, the more you’ve screwed up, the more likely you are to know better.

In other words, you could have told Wendell Carter early on that a freshmen dominated team would probably have a lot to learn, but you can’t tell people what they don’t know. They have to find that out themselves (parents learn this lesson too).

Duke has had some setbacks lately but it also appears to have profited from them if the Virginia Tech game is any indicator.

A win at Clemson would be a sign of further growth and maturation. Anyone who doesn’t understand what a challenge Clemson is at home just isn’t paying attention.

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