Duke at Clemson
No. 6/8 Duke (14-2, 2-0) at Clemson (9-7, 1-1), 6:00 PM, ESPNU
Like most ACC teams, Clemson can’t find any semblance of consistency. The Tigers crushed Florida State by 20 and had one of their best offensive games of the year, following it up by losing at Boston College with their worst shooting performance since December 22nd. Even Duke has yet to be truly dominant in ACC play, but the Blue Devils have certainly looked like one of the best teams in the league. Winning a game like this convincingly will help a Duke team searching for confidence a nice shot of it.
Stat to watch: The free-throw line. Clemson has had trouble getting to the foul line all year, but the Tigers have improved that quite a bit in recent weeks, averaging 24.7 attempts over the last three games after averaging 15.9 in their previous 13 games. The Tigers are 6-0 when they shoot 20 or more free throws and 3-7 when they don’t. Clemson’s offense has struggled but if they can be aggressive offensively and get Duke into foul trouble (and knock down their foul shots), the Tigers will have a much better shot. Duke hasn’t had much trouble getting to the line, averaging 28 attempts a game. But the Blue Devils are shooting just 68% from the charity stripe and are coming off of a 42.1% performance against Virginia. The 19 attempted foul shots were Duke’s second-fewest in a win this year. In losses, Duke attempts just 15.0 free throws per game in losses compared to 29.4 in wins. But regardless, the Blue Devils will have to make them.
Most important players: Mason Plumlee, Duke and Tanner Smith, Clemson. Duke knew it had a size advantage (or at least a skill advantage) against Virginia, and they used it: Mason Plumlee had 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting and could have had more, if not for a 2-of-10 performance at the foul line. He was dominant and Virginia had no answer for him. They will have a similar size/skill advantage down low against Clemson, and Duke needs to remember to get the ball to Mason. When they do that instead of jacking up ill-advised three-pointers, they are very difficult to beat.
For Clemson, Tanner Smith is their do-it-all guy and he had a horrific game against Boston College. He was 2-of-9 from the field, 1-of-5 from the three-point line and had nine points, three fouls and six turnovers in 29 minutes. He still had five rebounds, two assists and four steals, showing how valuable he has been to Clemson in other areas. He averages 5.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.6 steals this year. Smith has shot just 5-of-18 in ACC play (2-of-9 from three), but he has made 10-of-11 foul shots. He played well in last year’s close loss at Duke but picked up four fouls, which limited him to just 20 minutes. He has averaged just 3.8 points on 5-of-19 shooting (1-of-7 from three) in his career against Duke, adding just 2.3 rebounds and 0.8 assists.
Random stat: Clemson is just 29-103 against Duke all-time, but 13 of those wins have come over top-25 Duke teams. Despite such a lopsided overall margin in the series, Clemson is 17-23 against Duke in Littlejohn Coliseum.
Prediction: Duke 75, Clemson 66
Last week: 6-3 (4-2 ACC)
Season: 69-26 (8-6 ACC)