The Blue Devils are bouncing back.
The month of January has been a rough one. Two ACC losses, including an overtime heartbreaker at Florida State, have defined Duke’s conference play. However, it seems to have rebounded against Syracuse, putting up one of its best offensive and defensive games of the season. There is still a lot of basketball left to be played, and the pressure is on Duke to retain their top-10 ranking.
Clemson is hungry. When the first matchup was originally scheduled for, Dec. 29, the Tigers were coming off of a four-game win streak including a dominant performance against ACC opponent Virginia. After the postponement, they lost much of that momentum, dropping four conference games. The Tigers are coming off of a blowout win against Pittsburgh, and will do everything they can to upset the ninth-ranked Blue Devils. Here’s five things to look for as Duke attempts to keep the Tigers at bay when they come to Cameron Indoor Stadium Tuesday evening for a 7 p.m. tipoff.
Freshman Trevor Keels still hasn’t practiced after injuring his lower leg against Florida State. The guard is doubtful against Clemson, according to head coach Mike Krzyzewski. Without such a key part of their starting lineup, Duke (15-3, 5-2 in the ACC) has been forced to adapt to the change.
The injury occurred in just the third game in which Duke was playing its new starting five, switching out Jeremy Roach for AJ Griffin. However, with Keels hurt, Roach has returned. The sophomore has the opportunity to not only make up for Keels’ lost production, but prove why he deserves a starting spot. He fell short of that against Syracuse, shooting 2-of-10 from the field and 2-of-8 from the arc. He did record nine assists, his most this season. However, he must be able to contribute with his own shots in order to be an indispensable part of the lineup and make up for Keels’ absence.
This change and uncertainty is a vulnerability that Clemson (11-8, 3-5) is sure to exploit. If Keels plays, the Tigers are sure to target him as he has yet to practice. If he is out, which looks likely, they will force Roach to step up and make plays, which he hasn’t been able to consistently do. It is crucial that the Blue Devils stay flexible and ready for whatever comes their way, and execute in order to make up for Keels’ absence or limited capabilities, whatever it may be.
A star is born
And his name is AJ Griffin. The freshman put on a shooting clinic against the Orange, making 5-of-9 3-pointers. Duke’s long ball woes seem to disappear as soon as Griffin steps onto the court as that is his 10th straight game with a made three. The forward is shooting 53.5% from the field this season, and that number only seems to be getting higher.
Griffin’s addition to the starting lineup has also been beneficial on defense. His tough, powerful play has been a welcome addition to Duke’s lineup. Griffin grabbed a key steal on the first possession against Syracuse and immediately turned around and made a 3-point jumper. That series set the tone for a game that Duke would dominate on both ends of the court. He recorded six rebounds and was instrumental in countless other, showing off his vertical as he tipped the ball to his teammates.
Griffin has a golden opportunity against a Clemson team that gave up 91 points to the Orange. Two of Syracuse’s starting five scored over 20 points, most of which came from the arc. Griffin can show off his shooting skills and defensive mastery against a Clemson team with clear flaws and weaknesses.
Beware the 3-point attack
Against Pittsburgh, the Tigers made 12 threes of their own. Each starter contributed to that tally, with junior Al-Amir Dawes hitting 5-of-8 of his attempts. Dawes scored 19 points, his second most of the season. Though he is inconsistent from the arc, shooting as low as an 11.1% mark against South Carolina, he has the ability to knock them down and make the Blue Devils hurt. Sophomore PJ Hall and senior David Collins each sunk both of their attempts. The 3-point attack can come from anyone on Clemson’s lineup, and the Blue Devils have to be prepared. While their perimeter defense has been better as of yet, it has been a weak spot and can be easily exploited if the opponent can sink their shots.
On the offensive side, Duke has been inefficient at time with its 3-pointers–but it doesn’t mean the Blue Devils don’t attempt them. Against N.C. State, they shot just 31%. Miami was worse, as they only made 6-of-21 attempts. The Blue Devils are a big team, and have the advantage in the paint. Especially with Keels doubtful, one of their best shooters, Duke must be wary of continuously taking contested shots that won’t fall.
The wildcard in Duke’s 3-point shooting is senior Joey Baker. He has come off the bench and produced for the Blue Devils, but struggled in some games. He did, however, make 3-of-6 attempts in his 11-point performance against Syracuse. Opponents don’t shoot incredibly well against Clemson, averaging 32.5% from deep, but Baker can change that narrative by giving a solid performance off the bench.
Power in the paint
Mark Williams has recorded three double-doubles so far, and has been the dominant paint force that Duke desperately needed. The center is averaging just under seven rebounds and just over three blocks a game. His epic eight-block game cemented himself as a force to be feared by opponents.
He has, however, struggled against smaller teams. And Clemson is a smaller team. Their two tallest players are both 6-foot-10, but of their five starters, three are 6-foot-6 or below. If Duke opts for the small ball lineup, they lose that Williams x-factor. Williams must prove, and prove early, that he can be effective and use his height to his advantage against smaller teams.
Let Paolo cook
Was anyone surprised when Paolo Banchero took home another ACC freshman of the week title? The freshman is making his case to be the first lottery pick. Though he did break his 20+ points per game streak against Syracuse, he grabbed a season-high 13 rebounds and showed off his defensive prowess. He has four double-doubles, and there isn’t much any opponent can do to stop him from tallying another.
An interesting aspect of Banchero’s game is his ability to flip a switch and turn his game around. In the first half against Syracuse, he only scored four points, though he did grab eight rebounds. He then scored 11 points in eight minutes before he was subbed out. Against Virginia Tech, he scored 17 second-half points, allowing the Blue Devils to pull away after a subpar first-half performance.
Banchero is a force. He is the kind of player who will take over and change the course of a game in minutes, yet he doesn’t always perform at that level for entire games. With so much uncertainty surrounding Keels’ status and the starting lineup, it is crucial that Banchero make his presence known early and hold on to the ball. He has been inconsistent with ball security, often contributing to the team’s turnover numbers, but Clemson averages 12 forced turnovers a game. They will be looking to exploit that Blue Devil weakness, and that starts with Banchero.
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