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Next Up - Clemson

This may sound familiar - Clemson has vastly more experience than does Duke

Duke v Louisville
 LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - JANUARY 23: David Johnson #13 of the Louisville Cardinals and Jordon Goldwire #14 of the Duke Blue Devils battle for a loose ball at KFC YUM! Center on January 23, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Next up for the Blue Devil is old rival Clemson and while it’s usually easy money in Cameron, it’s a bit different this year: with a young team and no fans, Duke’s home court advantage is less than it normally is.

  • Date: 1/30
  • Time: 12:00 noon
  • Venue: Cameron Indoor Stadium
  • Video: ESPN2

And both teams are coming off of three-game losing streaks that they each broke in the last game.

Although both programs were affected by Covid, the losing streaks were a bit different.

In Duke’s case, the pandemic has played havoc with the schedule and Coach K was in quarantine for a time although he never tested positive. An overwhelmingly young team, Duke has not had time to develop continuity or, as Coach K said the other day, good habits.

Clemson’s situation is a good bit different.

The Tigers were hot early and were 9-1 when the program was forced to pause. It was bad timing: Clemson was going to Chapel Hill with great momentum and seemed likely to have its first-ever win streak at UNC, not least of all because the Tar Heels were very vulnerable (and less so now).

When they returned they got clobbered three times in a row, losing to Virginia by 35, Georgia Tech by 18 and Florida State by 19.

The win against Louisville was therefore obviously crucial.

And these teams are different in another key respect.

Against Louisville, Clemson started Hunter Tyson, a 6-8 junior, Aamir Simms, a 6-8 245 lb. junior, Al-Amir Dawes, a 6-2 sophomore, John Newman, a 6-5 junior and Clyde Trapp a 6-4 senior.

If there were a Zion Williamson or Marvin Bagley or a Jones brother on the roster, Duke would be favored without question.

But right now, with the season being so bizarre and unpredictable, well, you can’t predict much of anything and Clemson’s experience is a big edge. They’ve been through the battles before.

By most estimations, Duke has more talent and in fact does nearly every year. Matthew Hurt, Jalen Johnson, DJ Steward, Jeremy Roach, Wendell Moore - those are guys that Clemson doesn't typically get (they were very much in play for Zion Williamson, however, but lost him too).

It was much the same situation against Georgia Tech on Tuesday. The Yellow Jackets are a much more experienced team and in particular Jose Alvarado killed Duke, consistently exploiting the defense and making the right play like he was Bobby Fisher in Adidas high tops.

Despite Tech’s considerable experience, Duke did win that game and won it in large part because the Blue Devils were tough down the stretch. Aside from a circus shot by Bubba Parham, Duke made most of the big plays in winning time, including a huge turnover Goldwire forced from Alvarado and six made free throws in the last 0:46 seconds.

Also important: Johnson and Hurt, who have struggle with foul trouble, were both in the game at the end and while Johnson had two, Hurt finished with none.

And Duke only had 10 fouls for the game.

In general, it really appeared to be a game to grow from.

Of course growth isn’t always a straight line and Duke could grow more and still lose to Clemson Saturday.

And the Tigers do present a different sort of challenge. First, Clemson likes an ugly game. They’re not going to run past anyone. Instead they want to get in the trenches and pull you in.

Aamir Simms is an interesting talent in that he can bang inside or shoot outside. He’s not a great three point shooter or anything but he’s not tied to the lane either. Simms also leads Clemson in points, rebounds, assists and blocks. He’s turned into a very good ACC player.

Tyson isn’t tied to the lane either and he can get streaky, too.

Clemson’s three-guard offense features Dawes, Newman, who has stung Duke before, and Trapp.

We thought Dawes looked impressive as a freshman and he should only be better now.

Trapp has never been an elite player but he’s always been tough and rugged. He’d play in anyone’s rotation. And every Tiger defends or he stays on the bench.

As that suggests, Brad Brownell is a defense-first coach but what a lot of people overlook this year is that he has a very deep rotation with 11 guys getting double-digit minutes.

It’s not going to be an easy game by any means and we expect that this Duke team is going to learn the lesson that Nolan Smith learned in Brownell’s first season with the Tigers.

Clemson came to Cameron and Smith came down court and was bumped by basically every player on the court, a sort of our world-and-welcome-to-it moment by Clemson. It reminded us of nothing so much as a pinball rolling down the face of a pinball machine and getting bounced off of every single object. Smith got downcourt and just raised his arms to the officials in frustration.

It’s not dirty or anything; please don’t misunderstand. But Brownell’s style is tough and physical and a young team has to answer that kind of approach - and do so without getting into foul trouble. Beating Clemson with serious foul trouble would be very difficult.

We’ll add more links as we find them.