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Next Up - Clemson

DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 25: Duke Blue Devils guard Jeremy Roach (3) drives past Clemson Tigers guard David Collins (13) during the college basketball game between the Clemson Tigers and the Duke Blue Devils on January 25, 2022, at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, NC.
Photo by Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
  • Date: 2/10
  • Time: 8:00
  • Venue: Littlejohn Coliseum
  • Video: ACCN

The nature of college basketball in general, and the ACC in particular, is that it comes fast and furious and there’s no time to look back and think about what might have been.

Duke plays Clemson Thursday, in the reschedule due to Duke’s Christmas Covid outbreak (the game was originally scheduled for December 29th).

As you’ll recall, Clemson gave Duke an outstanding game in Cameron, losing 71-69.

You may remember that Hunter Tyson missed a three-pointer with :05 left and Duke up 71-67. Clemson did get another basket with two seconds left. It was that close.

Tyson started in Durham and finished with 13 points and eight boards. He won't do that this time: Clemson’s solid forward is out with a broken clavicle. Tuesday he was on the sidelines against UNC in a sling. We can’t imagine any way he would be able to go Thursday.

Clemson still almost beat UNC without him. And obviously this isn’t a great Tar Heel team but it’s not without talent. Clemson went toe to toe with the Carolina, only losing when a brilliantly conceived play failed.

So what to expect Thursday?

Well, Clemson is probably the team you least and most want to see right now. The least because Duke has struggled with hard-nosed, physical teams - see Virginia for the most recent example - and the most because, as you may have gathered, Coach K is not at all fond of soft play. We don't know if Duke is going to rip Clemson in half, but we are sure that Mike Krzyzewski is not happy about the reluctance to be hard-nosed against hard-nosed teams.

So our guess is that Duke is going to come out with a huge chip on its collective shoulder and will try to bury Clemson as soon as possible.

That’s easier said than done although Duke does have some major advantages assuming they don’t shy away as they did against Virginia.

Mark Williams is capable of greatness but he needs to be careful about fouls and, to an extent, his emotions which can get the best of him at times. Paolo Banchero is not too far from an NBA career. He’s capable of playing much better than he did against Virginia, where the Cavs essentially shut him out in the second half. The packline is a very difficult defense to deal with, true, but there’s no way that should have happened.

Only Theo John gave it back to the ‘Hoos, perhaps because he’s more of a grown man than either Williams or Banchero and capable of getting rough with anyone.

One of the guys who has struggled with really physical teams is AJ Griffin, who after a sensational stretch scored just two against Virginia.

But there were a lot of problems in that game. Jeremy Roach, who had also put together a superb series of games with brilliant ball control, had four assists and three turnovers against the Cavaliers, including a catastrophic turnover in the lane with 1:49 left. And Wendell Moore also had a subpar game.

So what does all that tell us? Well, if history is any judge, we might expect a lineup change. We don’t know that obviously, can’t guarantee it, but in the past, when people have underperformed, Coach K tends to tweak things. We may be in line for another February shift. It won’t surprise us if Trevor Keels moves back into the starting lineup.

As far as Clemson goes, not having Tyson is a hit. He’s done well. And we didn't realize it but PJ Hall, who Coach K rightly called perhaps the most improved player in the country, has been dealing with a foot injury.

In Durham, Hall and Tyson combined to take 33 shots but made only 12. Hall was just 6-21 while Tyson was 6-12.

Virginia just gutted Duke inside despite three shotblockers. You can reasonably infer that Duke will focus on that shortcoming but perhaps mostly, as Jeff Capel said last year, the focus will be on who is willing to fight. We can easily imagine a team meeting with Coach K saying something like this. This is just our guess from watching closely over the years. We could be way off. But here goes:

”I want to beat Clemson, but I don’t care who you are. If you are in and you're not playing hard, you’re backing’re coming out. If that means we end up with Bates, Keenan, Stanley, Michael and Spencer for 30 minutes, so be it. No one is going to play if they can’t maintain our standards and the first standard is effort. I’d rather lose with a great effort than ever play like we did Monday night again.”

We think the basic sentiment is right. And, correspondingly, we hope to see a supreme effort in Littlejohn, which, may we remind you, is one of the great pits in ACC history, at least for Duke and UNC. They’re going to be ready. Duke has to be more so.