Duke (12-3, 1-1) – Clemson (10-4, 1-1) Preview
Randy Dunson & Brian Horace
January 11, 2014
Duke faces Clemson at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson, S.C., Saturday in the Blue Devils’ third ACC matchup of the season. Duke is ranked No. 16 in the Associated Press and No. 13 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll. The Blue Devils are 11-9 all-time when ranked No. 16 in the AP Poll. Duke has won six of their past seven games. A 79-77 loss at Notre Dame in the ACC opener on January 4 interrupted a five-game winning streak. Duke rebounded to defeat Georgia Tech 79-57 the next time out. Duke has held six of its past seven opponents under 70 points, including three of the past four under 60 points. Saturday’s game will be only Duke’s second true road game of the season. Duke has played five times on a neutral court and once – at Notre Dame – in an opponents’ gym.
The Tigers lost 10 of their last 11 games last season, and head coach Brad Brownell experienced his first-ever losing season. Clemson had difficulty finding and making open shots and could not generate points out of its solid half-court defense. Brownell has said this year’s Tiger squad feels like a “new generation of Clemson basketball”. Sure, he could have been referencing the fact that all 14 players on the 2013-14 men’s basketball roster were recruited by Brownell and his staff. For the first time since 1995-96, Clemson will not have a senior on the roster. However, that does not mean the Tigers will lack experience in 2013-14. Eight players return who earned significant minutes last season, including juniors Rod Hall, Damarcus Harrison, and K.J. McDaniels. Clemson’s strength will shift from the post to the perimeter, not only due to the fact that veteran big men Devin Booker and Milton Jennings have moved on to professional careers, but also because of the sheer numbers Brownell’s team returns at the one through three positions in the backcourt. The fact Clemson does return so many players at the guard and wing positions has not been lost on Brownell, whose emphasis this offseason was to try to devise easier ways for the Tigers to score.
Team Seasons Thus Far
When Clemson won its ACC season opener at Boston College last Saturday, it was only the seventh time in history the Tigers have come away with a win on an ACC team’s home court to start league play. However, following that very close victory (62-60), the Tigers committed a season-high 18 turnovers and Florida State converted them into 25 points in a 56-41 loss for the Tigers last Thursday at Littlejohn Coliseum. The loss dropped Clemson to 1-1 in the ACC. K.J. McDaniels led the way for Clemson with 14 points, but the Tigers turned the ball over and struggled shooting the ball as well. The Tigers made just 15 of 50 field goals, 30 percent. Clemson also struggled from long-range, connecting on 5-of-19 from outside the arc (26 percent). Florida State scored 44 of its 56 points in the paint, often in transition after Clemson turnovers or misses. The Seminoles shot 47 percent overall but just 1-for-11 from three. Only 13 free throws were attempted by the two teams combined.
The Tigers are led by junior forward K.J. McDaniels (16.5 PPG, 47.6 FG%, 6.9 RPG). He is complemented primarily by junior guard Rod Hall (10.4 PPG, 51.0 FG%, 3.9 APG), sophomore guard Jordan Roper (9.8 PPG, 41.2 FG%, 2.2 APG), and sophomore center Landry Nnoko (5.4 PPG, 63.5 FG%, 6.6 RPG). Clemson has held three straight opponents to 60 points or less. Hall has 28 assists and four turnovers in eight home games. McDaniels and Roper lead the team with at least one three-point basket in 11 different games this season. Nnoko needs three field goals to make three times as many as he had (12) all of last season. Finally, junior guard Damarcus Harrison has made a three-pointer in three consecutive games, a season-long streak for the junior.
Duke Blue Devils
The Blue Devils topped Georgia Tech 79-57 in Cameron Indoor Stadium last Tuesday. Rodney Hood scored 27 points in the second straight game, hitting 8-of-12 shots from the field and 5-of-7 from three-point range. Hood connected on his final four shots from beyond the arc. Quinn Cook (13 points), Jabari Parker (12), Rasheed Sulaimon (11), and Andre Dawkins (10) also scored in double figures, marking the fifth time this season Duke had five players score at least 10 points in a game. Amile Jefferson grabbed 10 rebounds to lead Duke in rebounding for the fifth time in the past seven games. Duke shot a season-high .880 (22-of-25) from the free throw line while Georgia Tech did not make a single free throw. Georgia Tech’s 0-of-6 performance marked the first time since February 3, 1982 versus Georgia Tech (0-of-7) that Duke did not allow a made free throw.
Duke continues to lead the ACC in scoring (84.3 PPG) and FG% (.494). The Blue Devils have scored 80 or more points 10 times, while shooting 50 percent or better from the field on six occasions. Duke has made more free throws than an opponent has shot in four of the past six games. On the season, Duke has made 276 free throws, compared to just 301 free throw attempts by the opposition. Duke averages 22.3 points per game from its bench this season, compared to 10.5 per game in 2012-13. Sulaimon averages a team-high 8.9 points per game when coming off the bench, while Andre Dawkins averages 8.5.
Duke leads the overall series 105-29 dating back to 1926. Since 1980, the Devils have continued their dominance over the Tigers, winning of the 51 of the 63 games played. Since consecutive wins over Duke in the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons, Duke has reeled off five straight victories over Clemson. Clemson owns just 29 victories all-time against Duke, but 21 have come at home and 17 inside Littlejohn Coliseum. Prior to this game, Iker Iturbe will receive his framed No. 15 jersey in a special Senior Day ceremony – 16 years after his senior season. He was eligible to return for the 1998-99 season, but turned professional and never enjoyed a Senior Day.
Thus far this season, Clemson has held both of its first two ACC opponents to 60 points or less. The Tigers are shooting 77.5 percent as a team from the free throw line, best in the ACC and fourth best in the nation this season. K.J. McDaniels and Duke’s Jabari Parker both rank among the ACC’s top 10 players in points per game, rebounds per game and field goal percentage. McDaniels leads the conference with 2.9 blocked shots per game and also ranks fourth in free throw accuracy (.867).
For the Tigers, they have to contain a trio of offensive threats. Duke can certainly put stress on Clemson’s highly regarded scoring defense, which ranks 17th among NCAA teams. The Blue Devils average over 84 points per game and have three players, Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood, and Quinn Cook, which combine for over 62 percent of Duke’s scoring. In addition, Duke has four players that have made at least 21 three-point shots this season. Clemson’s leader, K.J. McDaniels, has made 19.
Duke has three keys (factors) that favor them while the Tigers have a slight edge in one. Duke holds a commanding edge in eFG%, 57.3% to 48.1% and in shooting free throws (FT rate), 43.5% to 33%. They are also a better ball handling team when looking at TO% (14.5% to 18.3%). Not surprisingly, Clemson has an edge in OR%, 37.4% to 30.7%. This latter factor may change though if Duke can reproduce its efforts in from the Georgia Tech game.
Duke will need to up the ante in regard to rebounding, Clemson has the size to give Duke fits on the board and the moxie to use that to its advantage. Duke cannot fall asleep, each and every rebound must be contested boxing out hasn’t been the strong suit of Rodney Hood but if he can give Duke 5-8 rebounds and Jabari Parker can pull in around his average Duke has a shot. Duke has the shooters to throw a knock-out punch to Clemson but it must take into account shot selection, a long rebound from a 3 point shot that is not in the flow of the offense is just as bad as a turnover as Dukes transition D has been suspect this year. If Duke doesn’t shoot the ball well from the floor then it will need the defense to step up, Clemson is much more prone to turning the ball over and Duke can take advantage if Clemson is loose with the rock.
Another road test for Duke, it’s a change to get what isn’t a must win, but one that they would like to have. With most teams holding serve with regard to home-court, road wins are going to be crucial at the end of the year if things are tight. I see Duke winning but not in blowout fashion, the Georgia Tech game score was inflated so I see Duke winning by 12-15 points and that is if they can rebound reasonably well and either hit shots or drive the ball aggressively to force the refs to make the call.