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Next Up - Clemson Tigers

And in Littlejohn. That’s a tough road trip for any ACC team.

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Duke
Captain Jack White instructs freshman Vernon Carey
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

As we’ve been saying, Saturday through Tuesday could have been the greatest stretch of sports glory in Clemson history. That’s changed since LSU knocked off Clemson in the football championship but it still could be for basketball.

How the football loss affects Clemson as it prepares for Duke remains to be seen. Presumably Brad Brownell has curfew and certainly he runs a disciplined program.

Still, there was a tremendous amount of excitement followed by a letdown. Will that affect attendance? Will the crowd be less boisterous? Will the basketball team be flat? The town itself is going to be depressed and football pulls the Clemson train. Basketball isn’t quite the caboose but it’s a good bit behind the locomotive (Clemson’s win over UNC did get basketball on the front page of the Greenville paper but if the Tigers lose to Duke, we’ll bet you that that story will be hard to find).

Clemson’s seen a lot of emotion the last few days, starting with the huge win in Chapel Hill Saturday. And if you watched this, you know that Clemson was awesome - for the last two minutes of regulation and overtime.

Prior to that, UNC led the whole way.

So while the comeback was magnificent, for about 38 minutes, Clemson was as bad - worse - than UNC.

The Tigers came back because they were able to press UNC and exploit their poor ball handling and lack of confidence and because they were good enough to pull it off even though they had played poorly to that point.

No one can take that magnificent comeback away - they looked like worldbeaters - but only for seven minutes.

We’re not saying they won’t be up for Duke - everyone is up for Duke - but it’s hard to play at a high emotional pitch consistently.

And Duke is still a young team, and young teams are always vulnerable on the road. For anyone who doesn’t know this, for big games, Littlejohn is as dangerous as any place in the ACC.

As we saw at UNC, 6-8 junior Aamir Simms is capable of brilliance. Honestly, at the end of that game he looked like Len Bias. The guy was electrifying, just off the charts.

We’ve seen enough of Al-Amir Dawes to understand that he’s going to become a very good point guard. He’s not bad now. He’s a solid defender already. He’s not shooting well and he’s averaging (slightly) more turnover than assists, but he’ll get there.

John Newman is solid at 6-5 and he and 6-6 Tevin Mack give the Tigers a pair of athletic wings who can run, defend and score.

Clyde Trapp is playing and that’s really impressive because the 6-4 junior tore an ACL at the end of June. He’s only been back for five games but he’s getting 28 mpg already and at an athletic 6-4, adds to the impact Newman and Mack can have.

However, the Tigers are 3-2 in those games and in the four prior to that they were 0-4.

We’re not saying he makes all the difference for Clemson, and he probably has some rust to work out, but clearly he’s helping.

Clemson’s bench is not spectacular but it’s not bad - and roles are being recast as Trapp improves.

Curran Scott is a 6-4 grad transfer from Tulsa. He started at Charlotte actually, established that he could shoot at Tulsa and will finish at Clemson.

Chase Hunter played a lot early but hasn’t lately. At a minimum he’s got some experience and knows what to do.

Hunter Tyson, a native of Monroe, NC, has had some flashes. He can be streaky and you want to keep a close eye on streak shooters because you never know when they’ll go off.

Clemson was hoping for a better year from thin big man Jonathan Baehre but a knee injury ended that.

Sophomore Khavon Moore is playing but his stats are minimal. He’s 6-7 though and agile.

Clemson’s record isn’t great but we think this is a dangerous team.

We’ll never forget when Brownell brought his first Clemson team to Cameron. Nolan Smith was dribbling upcourt and guys were bumping him the entire way like he was running a gauntlet. He got to the Duke end and looked at the refs, shocked no foul(s) had been called.

Clemson’s physical defense hasn’t much changed but Duke is more used to it.

And it’s hard to see Clemson winning just on defense this year because Duke’s defense is probably better.

Dawes for one could have an interesting night. Tre Jones is possibly the nation’s best on-ball defender and Jordan Goldwire isn’t far behind. There’s no rest, no break from pressure.

As we’ve said before, defense is infectious. You see guys like Alex O’Connell and Matthew Hurt buying in. Everyone defends and some guys, like Jack White and Joey Baker, are natural born hardasses.

That said, this is a game where we’d love to see Wendell Moore. Out with a finger injury, Moore would be really useful against Clemson’s athletes. As we’ve seen, he can defend just about anyone from Dawes up to Simms.

So what to expect? Well, we see an intense defensive game. As ACC play has cranked up, we’ve seen teams really going after Vernon Carey. That’s worked out okay because Duke’s shooters have benefited and hit (so far). And of course the Blue Devils have gotten a lot out of turnovers, steals, and transition play.

One of the things that’s pleased us most in the last few games has been watching Hurt and Cassius Stanley toughening up. Hurt has been much more willing to mix it up and Stanley is starting to play with the sort of arrogance that his talent affords. Earlier he wasn’t sure what to do inside; now he’s asserting himself more and more.

Bottom line: if Duke defends harder than Clemson, the Blue Devils should be okay.