This afternoon, the Duke Blue Devils look for their first true road win of the season as they travel to Littlejohn Coliseum to face the Clemson Tigers at 2:00 PM. The Blue Devils (12-3, 1-1) come into this one after a 22-point win against Georgia Tech. The Clemson Tigers (10-4, 1-1) are coming off of a very tough home loss to FSU losing by a final of 56-41. The Tigers did not have a very hard non-conference schedule, but they did play against a very good UMASS team (losing by a final of 62-56).
The starting lineup for Clemson in their last game vs. FSU was as follows: junior Rod Hall (6-1, 210lb guard), sophomore Jordan Roper (5-11, 165lbs guard), sophomore Josh Smith (6-8, 260lbs forward), junior K.J. McDaniels (6-6, 200lbs forward), and sophomore Landry Nnoko (6-10, 250lbs center). The leading scorer is K.J. McDaniels with 16.5 per game and shooting about 47% from the field. After McDaniels, Rod Hall is the next leading scorer with 10.4 per game, shooting 51% from the field. McDaniels is also the leader in rebounds per game with 6.9 (2.1 offensive rebounds) and Nnoko averages 6.6 per game (2.4 offensive rebounds). Rod Hall is the team leader in assists per game with 3.9 and sophomore reserve Jordan Roper is the next leader in assists with 2.7, but he also averages almost 10 PPG off the bench.
Clemson is a very young basketball team, with 4 freshmen, 4 sophomores, 5 juniors, and no seniors. As we have learned from past Duke teams, senior leadership is very important when playing against good teams especially in close games where it may come down to a few possessions late. Playing against a team as good and experienced as Duke, Clemson may struggle if they get down early. For most of these players, it will be their first time playing a home game where Littlejohn Coliseum will be sold out and cheering as loud as they have ever heard them. For the Tigers, to have a chance in this one, they will have to play within themselves and not try to do anything spectacular. They have two big men in Nnoko and Josh Smith who will have a size advantage for most of the game, so look for them to be playing from the inside out. If they can’t do so, they will most likely look for offense from McDaniels.
Duke is also a very young team, but they have the senior leadership in Hairston, Thornton, and 5th year senior Andre Dawkins that is necessary when playing road games in the ACC. The Blue Devils need to attack early on and try to knock Clemson out early. Duke must control the paint. Teams have quickly realized that if you drive against Duke, there is no Brian Zoubek, Miles Plumlee, or Mason Plumlee. They don’t have a shot blocker, so they can drive at will. If the Blue Devils can find a way to stop the penetration and have somebody step up as a shot-blocker, Duke will be a very scary team. Something to watch in this one is how Jabari Parker starts. Jabari has had a rough past two games at Notre Dame (7 points, 2-10) and against Georgia Tech (12 points, 4-12). January-February is generally the time when players hit the so-called “Freshman Wall” and that may be what has happened to Parker. Everybody knows that Jabari is a consistent player and this is his first time struggling with the Blue Devils, but this is happening to the other freshman stars Andrew Wiggins (Shooting 6-21 from the field in his last 2 games) and Julius Randle (3-9 shooting in the loss to UNC and 3-7 in the win against Mississippi State). It is okay that this is happening to Jabari because when (note I said “when”) he gets out of this funk, he will know what to do and how to work harder than he has before. An important thing to note as well is the fact that Duke can and have played well while Parker has been struggling, especially with the emergence of Rodney Hood (27 points in 2 straight games).
In the last game, Coach Krzyzewski shook up the starting lineup, inserting both Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson in for Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton. I would expect the matchups for this one to look as follows: Cook-Hall, Sulaimon-Roper, Hood-McDaniels, Parker-Smith, and *Jefferson-Nnoko*. I headlined the Hood v McDaniels matchup because it will be crucial for the Blue Devils to slow him down as well as be able to handle the post with Amile Jefferson giving up 2 inches and a lot of weight to Landry Nnoko. If Duke controls and handles their business in the paint, they should have no trouble in this one.