Duke and Clemson fans came together to celebrate the Tigers’ road win against North Carolina Saturday night—their first win in Chapel Hill in program history—but will be on opposite sides once again this week, as Clemson will play host to the Blue Devils back home in the Palmetto State.
The third-ranked Blue Devils will go back on the road to face the Tigers in Littlejohn Coliseum at 7 p.m. in Clemson, S.C., Tuesday evening. In the past two weeks, Duke has won four ACC games by an average margin of 28 points, most recently looking virtually unstoppable against Wake Forest in Durham Saturday night. Although the Tigers’ win Saturday night to snap an 0-59 stretch on the road against the undermanned Tar Heels certainly gives them some momentum, they will need to turn in a distinctly better performance to finish off a Tobacco Road sweep Tuesday night.
Should Clemson pull off the unlikely upset, it will be thanks to its stout defense, which ranks in the top 50 in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com, as well as among the nation's best in terms of foul rate.
"Well, the main thing [the Tigers] do on defense is play well," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "And if you play defense, well, you don't foul too much. [Clemson head coach Brad Brownell] is really an outstanding coach and they've always played really well on the defensive end. You have a different attack for each team because it depends on their defense and they're smart, so they're not going to put you on the foul line."
To spoil the Blue Devils’ perfect start to conference play, Clemson will turn to Aamir Simms, a former four-star recruit who has had to step up on a team decimated by injuries this season. The junior forward had a team-high 20 points in addition to eight rebounds and six assists against the Tar Heels and is undoubtedly the most important piece on the Tigers’ roster. He averages nearly 14 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, both good for best on the team, and has shot 38 percent from deep, also good for best on the team.
Complementing Simms is Tevin Mack, a versatile forward averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. Mack, a graduate transfer from Alabama, has also proven to be key contributor for Clemson (8-7, 2-3 in the ACC) and is another reason why the Tigers have managed to stay afloat despite suffering a string of injuries to starters. With several impact players out for the season, Clemson’s offense has struggled repeatedly thus far, but its defense has been respectable.
Against Duke (15-1, 5-0), however, the Tigers will need to be more than just respectable on offense and defense, as they take on the only team ranked in the top four in both KenPom.com’s adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. The impressive strength, versatility and depth of the Blue Devils’ offense was on display Saturday night against the Demon Deacons, as the team notched 20 assists and eight players finished with five or more points. Duke shot over 50 percent from the field and nearly the same clip from deep, falling short only at the charity stripe, one of the few areas where the Blue Devils have struggled this year.
"I think good passing is contagious," Krzyzewski said. "[Point guard Tre Jones] can make what would be a chancy pass at times for another player.... The guys are looking for one another and they have all year, but they're seeing each other a lot better right now."
On the other end of the floor, Simms, Mack and the rest of the Clemson offense will be tasked with besting the strongest defensive unit they have faced this season. Duke has forced opponents to commit at least 15 turnovers in five straight games, most recently pressuring Wake Forest into coughing up 17 turnovers.
With a win against the Tigers, Duke would not only reach 100 wins in program history against one of the Blue Devils’ longest-standing opponents, but also extend its best start in ACC play in more than a decade ahead of a top-15 matchup against Louisville in Durham Saturday.
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