clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Next Up - Clemson

The Tigers are battle tested and will give the young Blue Devils a tough test.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NCAA Basketball: Texas Tech at Duke
Dec 20, 2018; New York, NY, USA; Duke Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski reacts in the first half of the Ameritas Insurance Classic against Texas Tech Red Raiders at Madison Square Garden.
Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

Duke opens ACC play at home on Saturday against Brad Brownell’s Clemson squad.

As you may remember, Clemson had perhaps the second most stunning performance in last year’s NCAA tournament with a complete destruction of Auburn.

UMBC’s win over Virginia was historic and amazing but please remember that UVA played without De’Andre Hunter. Clemson came at a tough, physical fast breaking Auburn and beat the Tigers at their own game.

It was so good that when the Tigers lost to Kansas next time out it almost didn’t matter. Clemson has a long history of choking in the tournament. That win really changed things for Clemson.

Things were going so well that the Tigers seemed destined to sign Spartanburg prodigy Zion Williamson and that would have put them on a completely different plane. The sky, briefly, was the limit.

As it turns out, Williamson’s stepfather said he told Clemson’s staff that they were losing ground and when he chose Duke, it was a shock to many but not to the family or the Tigers.

So Saturday, Clemson will come to Duke without the most exciting player in college basketball and instead will see him introduced as a Blue Devil.

This has been Clemson’s ACC fate for a long time. With Brad Brownell though, the Tigers are at least challenging it.

And playing Brownell’s Clemson teams is anything but fun.

First, the Tigers defend passionately and physically. We’ll never forget the look on Nolan Smith’s face the first time Brownell brought a team to Cameron: he was shocked and dismayed as he came down court like a pinball out of the chute with Clemson players acting as the bumpers.

And secondly, he’s put together some pretty smart and talented offensive performers who are willing to D up.

Clemson lost Gabe DeVoe from last year but returns Marquise Reed, Shelton Mitchell, David Skara, Aamir Simms and Elijah Thomas.

Reed missed a few games with an injury but came back against South Carolina and played well and followed up on that with another solid game against Lipscomb. He’s averaging 20.1 ppg and backcourt mate Mitchell is putting up 13.8 ppg.

Elijah Thomas, who is 6-9 and 245 and in the best shape of his life, is a bear inside. He’s getting 13.5 a game and 7.6 rpg. He left Texas A&M as a frustrated player but now he’s happy and productive.

At 6-7 and 248, Aamir Sims is also thick. He’s averaging 10.1 ppg and 4.7 rpg.

The fifth starter is 6-7 David Skara. He’s a skilled player but he’s not as passionate about defense as Brownell would probably like.

Is Clemson as good as they were at the end of last year?

No. But remember that the Tigers lost Donte Grantham in the middle of the season and had to rebuild and was still good enough to ruin Auburn’s season and nearly take down Kansas.

None of their losses are particularly bad this year. Creighton, Nebraska and Mississippi State are all likely tournament teams as is Clemson. Expect a rugged game Saturday.

As far as Duke goes, we heard someone somewhere say that the long Christmas layoff could hurt Duke Saturday.

We don't buy it.

As we’ve said many times, Duke’s Coach K has brilliant time management skills and obviously his people skills are superb.

Give that man two weeks to identify and correct flaws and the results could be incredible.

There will be a certain amount of adjustment to what Clemson does but in a bigger sense, that long layoff gives Duke a big advantage.

To us the biggest issue in this game, from Duke’s point of view anyway, is how the young players deal with Clemson’s physical play. But there’s another factor to keep an eye on and that’s Williamson.

He remained effective in December but was somewhat, let’s say, restrained. At one point Coach K said he wanted him to play with joy again.

You can bet he’s worked with him on that but remember too that Williamson has a special relationship with Clemson. His stepfather played there and obviously he nearly went there too. He knows the players and the coaches very well.

Remember when Seth Curry played at his dad’s alma mater Virginia Tech? The poor guy fell apart and had a dreadful game.

We don’t know that Williamson will have a similar problem - we have no idea how he’ll react emotionally - but we’re sure Duke will be prepared in case it happens.

Also key: how Barrett and Reddish react to a highly physical defense. Clemson will certainly try to restrain Duke’s explosiveness and to keep the game at a slower pace but so far that’s been easier said than done.

If you're going to shop Amazon please start here and help DBR
DBR Auctions|Blue Healer Auctions| Drop us a line