Before Duke men's basketball has Clemson in town for their first matchup of the year, the Blue Zone has three keys and things to watch for in Tuesday's game.
No more Simms
It was former forward Aamir Simms who helped elevate Clemson’s play the last few seasons. Simms, Tevin Mack and John Newman III defined Clemson’s squad in the 2019-20 season, elevating the Tigers to a win over Duke. But when Mack and Newman graduated, it opened the Blue Devils up to a 79-53 win last January. And now that Simms is gone, too, there doesn’t seem to be much stopping Duke from earning another decisive win in Cameron Tuesday.
Simms was known for his energy and antics that fueled Clemson’s momentum and served as a leader on the floor. His gameplay was dominant, too—beyond his decent shooting and rebounding, he could create opportunities for the Tigers at the low post and off the dribble.
Head coach Brad Brownell admitted he was a “significant loss” and knew it would be a struggle to replace him, and after a recent 13-point loss to Syracuse, among other scrappy losses, it’s clear the Tigers have not been able to replicate Simms’s energy and talent. Ultimately, Duke has much less to fear going into this game than it did in 2021.
Hall versus Banchero
Clemson’s 6-foot-10 PJ Hall leads Clemson in scoring with 14.8 points per game, so they’ll likely rely on the forward to make plays from the paint and challenge Duke’s 6-foot-10 freshman Paolo Banchero inside. Hall is currently making 49.3% of his field goals and 31.5% of his 3-pointers—both stats similar to Banchero’s 50.9% and 33.3%—so this will probably be the most decisive and exciting matchup of the game.
It’s also worth noting that Clemson and Duke each have three players that are 6-foot-8 or taller on their rosters that consistently see minutes. The question Tuesday will be who can better utilize their size to score points under the basket, another question that will most likely be answered by either Banchero or Hall.
Bates Jones and the bench
Duke’s head coach Mike Krzyzewski played graduate transfer Bates Jones in the first half against Syracuse after the Blue Devils started to more confidently dominate the game. Jones also made a brief two-minute appearance in Duke’s loss against Florida State recently.
With freshman guard Trevor Keels still out due to a leg injury and Clemson looking to be a rather bland opponent, Coach K will likely continue to rotate in Jones and other players who see fewer minutes, like freshman guard Jaylen Blakes, throughout the contest rather than in the final five minutes. Jones and Blakes looked slightly sloppy against Syracuse, with three combined personal fouls and each logging a turnover, but more practice on the court with Duke’s first- and second-string players should help settle their nerves and help the Blue Devils find new scoring opportunities.
If the Blue Devils come out as strong against Clemson as they did Syracuse, Duke fans can expect to see some more new and interesting lineups Tuesday as Duke continues to navigate ACC play.
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Leah Boyd is a Pratt senior and a social chair of The Chronicle's 118th volume. She was previously editor-in-chief for Volume 117.