An old adage says that good things come to those who wait, and after a 16-day break between games for Duke, Blue Devil fans should have some lofty expectations as the team begins the grind of conference play.

The ACC season will officially kick off for top-ranked Duke Saturday when Clemson comes to Cameron Indoor Stadium for a battle between two Sweet 16 teams from last season. The game is set to tip off at 8 p.m. on ESPN with much anticipation around how the four Blue Devil freshmen starters will respond to the nature of the ACC.

“[The veterans], as well as the coaches, have been telling us that our record is 0-0 again,” freshman guard Tre Jones said. “None of these games in the past have really meant anything to these ACC games and the ACC is a different beast.”

If there’s a team that can give this young Duke team a taste of what conference play is really about, it’s the Tigers (10-3, 0-0 in the ACC), who boast one of the most experienced teams in the country. Four of Clemson’s regular starters are seniors, alongside sophomore forward Aamir Simms, who has made a big jump from his freshman year.

The Tigers showed a lot more promise earlier in the season, as coach Brad Brownell’s squad—fresh off their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2011—was ranked preseason No. 22. However, a rough patch after Thanksgiving saw Clemson fall apart and lose three of four games while barely beating Saint Peter’s at home.

The Tigers are led by guards Sheldon Mitchell and Marcquise Reed, the former Robert Morris transfer who turned in a surprising season last year. Now with some of last year’s key contributors gone, the senior ranks third in scoring in the ACC with 20.1 per contest. The Blue Devils will have to turn to either Jones to shut down Reed, or maybe even captain Jack White, who has made a point to shut down the opposing team’s best player this season.

“The thing that makes my job easier in that respect is I don’t feel I’m alone out there guarding their best player,” White said. “I’ve got support behind me. Whatever happens, if I switch and [R.J. Barrett] is on him, then R.J. is going to do a good job. I think we’re starting to bring out that defensive identity that all of our guys are versatile defenders and can lock up from a number of different positions.”

That ability to switch is what has vaulted Duke (13-1, 0-0) to No. 3 in defensive efficiency according to, a ranking that coach Mike Krzyzewski’s teams have not come close to while playing man to man since having an experienced team with Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler in 2011. Last year’s Blue Devil squad reached the top 10 of the rankings mainly by giving teams defensive looks they had not seen when they combined significant length with a 2-3 zone.

“Our defensive pride has grown a lot over the course of the season so far,” White said. “I think defense will be a focus for us tomorrow in taking [Reed and Mitchell] out and showing why we’re one of, if not the best defensive team in the country.”

After a nonconference season where games can come sporadically, highlighted by this long break since handing Texas Tech in Madison Square Garden, the Blue Devils will look to gain flow and routine to their season as ACC play gets underway. There’s always potential to come out sluggish and rusty, but the team sees the extended break as a way to get refreshed, and still feels like they can come out of the gates swinging.

“We came back from break almost refreshed,” Jones said. “We got to spend almost a week with our families back home, and we all came back refreshed. We’ve gotten about a week of practice in, so we don’t feel rust at all. We’ve been going extremely hard, and we’re ready for ACC play.”

Duke has struggled recently when opening up ACC play in the last five years, going just 2-3. However, Krzyzewski hasn’t lost a home conference opener since 2007 when unranked Virginia Tech pulled off an upset in overtime.

After hosting the Tigers, the Blue Devils will finally make an appearance on another team’s home floor, as they travel to Winston Salem to take on a struggling Wake Forest team Tuesday.