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Hoops Preview: Clemson at Duke

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The Season is on the Brink

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

When: Saturday at 1pm
Where: Cameron Indoor

TV: ACCN (check your local listings for provider in your area)

Well, there isn’t much left to say about this basketball season other than it has been an extreme disappointment since the calendar turned to 2017. The NCAA tournament goal is shockingly not eliminated yet, but the clock is nearly at midnight as the Tigers find new and creative ways to lose games in the ACC.

The script this season has been nearly the opposite of most of Brad Brownell’s tenure where his teams normally play best during the conference slate after poor starts. His teams usually defend at a high level as well, and this year’s group just hasn’t. When they do force some misses, many of those are getting cleaned up on the offensive glass. I can tell you from experience that no matter how efficient or explosive your offense might be, if you don’t defend and more importantly defensive rebound at least adequately, you aren’t going to be much above a .500 squad. The team has got to dig deep and find the fight to go on after getting drug by Florida State and then shot through the heart by Syracuse at the buzzer. Outside of going to Chapel Hill, the LAST place I’d want to have to go to play under this scenario is Durham. The basketball gods have not smiled on this team much at all.

Duke, as usual, is loaded with talent and some future NBA first round guys. This year’s team was a favorite of many to win the ACC title, but injuries and controversy surrounding guard Grayson Allen have the Devils “struggling” at 7-4 in the ACC and 19-5 overall. Must be nice when that is struggling. Conversely, we know Clemson winning just 8 or 9 would be considered struggling in football whereas Duke loves seasons like that. Being good at both is apparently too much to ask right now for the Tigers. However, throwing a huge out of nowhere upset in front of the Dookie students and fans would be a nice tonic for those of us following hoops. The chances are slim, though, as KenPom gives the Tigers a paltry 19% chance to win.

Duke has not been as deadly from three as they usually are. Leading scorer Luke Kennard is lighting it up at 46% but the team is just 37% when the Devils usually hover around 40 as a team under K. Clemson is around 36% as a team this year to give you some frame of reference. Of course, several teams have gotten healthy from the three-point arch facing the Tigers this year who rank 201st in three-point FG% defense. One slight silver lining going into this game is it follows Duke and UNC part 1, so an emotional letdown of sorts is possible on a short turnaround following that rivalry game. I’d feel so much better about it if the game was in Clemson, but alas...

At this point, it really doesn’t matter much who the team is on the other side or what venue it is in. The Tigers have to find some kind of defensive formula that will work with this roster. The team has to get away from trying to block as many shots and go for box out positioning in an attempt to climb out of #319 in the country in offensive rebounding% defense. Coach Brownell’s words after Syracuse were very telling in talking about how well Clemson played on the offensive side. Five guys in double figures, well over 50% shooting from the floor, and an L to show for it. It didn’t matter in the end because of the “only” eight turnovers, three or four were at CRITICAL junctures like at the end when Clemson couldn’t inbound the ball (again). Things like allowing dunks on out of bounds underneath situations down the stretch just are hard to fathom at this level.

I’m not sure Clemson can play better on offense than they did on Wednesday outside of Djitte not dropping a pass for an easy dunk or Grantham clanking a couple of three’s. If that was its best and Clemson couldn’t beat Syracuse with it at home, well, 19% win probability in Durham seems a little high. Clemson must force Duke under the 75 point mark to have any shot at all and I just don’t think they can do it. I’ll be watching with a cringing look on my face most likely.