The conference grind is officially underway for No. 1 Duke (14-0, 1-0 in the ACC).
After handling Wake Forest in an 80-62 win Saturday, the Blue Devils will host Clemson Tuesday night at 7 pm in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Known for playing a physical and defensive-oriented brand of basketball, the Tigers (8-5, 0-1 in the ACC) have the necessary athleticism and grit to compete with ranked clubs. Clemson fought valiantly against No. 17 Gonzaga and No. 3 Arizona earlier this year, but ultimately came up short in eight and 12-point losses, respectively.
Jumping passing lanes, applying ball pressure and blocking shots are the primary ingredients that Clemson needs to knock off the top-ranked team in the country. The Tigers tally 8.3 steals per game, which is second best in the league. And at 4.9 blocked shots per contest, the Tigers are third best in the ACC at rejecting field goal attempts.
With a roster comprised of five freshmen and six sophomores, the team’s biggest weakness is its youth and inexperience, which has led to inconsistency all year long, especially on the offensive end. Clemson averages a meager 66.6 points per game, and it has failed to score more than 55 points on the road this season.
Senior Devin Booker is relied upon heavily for leadership and production. The 6-foot-8 and 250-pound center is force in the paint, averaging 11.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per outing.
Providing the primary support offensively, sophomore wing K.J. McDaniels and senior forward Milton Jennings also average double figures with 11.4 and 10.1 points, respectively.
Making a huge jump from his freshman season, McDaniels has quickly evolved into one of head coach Brad Brownell’s most reliable offensive weapons and also one of the most improved players in the conference. A bouncy athlete at the small forward position, McDaniels is also one of the best-shot blockers in the ACC, swatting nearly two shots per game, which is the third highest figure in the conference.
Jennings entered the college ranks as a highly touted five-star recruit, who was arguably the most decorated Clemson basketball recruit of the last decade. For the most part, Jennings has not lived up to the lofty expectations. The lanky 6-foot-9 athlete, however, is now averaging double figures for the first time in his career in addition to grabbing 5.2 boards per game.
In their first conference tilt Saturday, the Tigers’ second-half rally was not enough to defeat defending ACC champion Florida State.
Searching for a signature win to turn its season around, Clemson will likely attempt to limit possessions and make it a grind-it-out game, as the Tigers attempt to pull off a huge upset against the top-ranked Blue Devils on the road.