CLEMSON — College basketball analyst Ken Pomeroy recently ran 10,000 computer simulations of this season’s conference races. Duke won the ACC in 8,797 of those simulations, Clemson won eight.
There are underdog stories, and then there is Clemson traveling to Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C.
The only place where Clemson (8-5, 0-1 ACC) is more unlikely to win than at No. 1 Duke — where the Tigers are 4-57 — is eight miles down Tobacco Road at North Carolina, where Clemson has never won.
Clemson’s already unlikely chance of an upset tonight will be nearly impossible if it does not improve its transition defense.
Duke (14-0, 1-0) is a veteran, sharp-shooting team that thrives in transition via layups and open 3-pointers. The Blue Devils shoot 42 percent from 3-point range, in part because of easy transition opportunities. Clemson coach Brad Brownell noted his Tigers struggled with transition defense vs. Florida State, which allowed a normally suspect-shooting Seminoles team to make 10 3-pointers.
“Certainly transition defense is a difficult concept,” Brownell said. “It’s one of the hardest things, defensively, to do. And certainly with Duke’s shooting, it will be an emphasis in this game.”
On one transition possession Saturday, freshman guard Adonis Filer didn’t see Jordan Roper guarding the ball handler and left his man, freeing up FSU for an open shot.
On another transition opportunity, four Clemson players were doing everything right. The big men were running with the FSU big men down court. Two of the three Clemson guards were in the right spot. But Roper, a freshman, was not.
And on yet another transition possession, freshman center Landry Nnoko double- teamed the Florida State center, leaving the trailing forward open.
Underlying the transition issues is inexperience: all three breakdowns Brownell described involved freshmen.
“They’re things we’ve done a million times. It’s things they know,” Brownell said. “But in the heat of battle, when things are really coming at you, it’s different. You end up making a mistake, and at this level they shoot it in.”
And no team in the country takes advantage of transition breakdowns better than Duke, which Clemson guard Rod Hall noted has four starters who are accurate from 3-point range, including forward Ryan Kelly (50 percent) and guard Seth Curry (40.8 percent).
“They get most of their baskets in transition,” Hall said.
While some of the transition issues are tied to a Clemson team in transition and loaded with youth, the other problem is Clemson’s inefficient offense.
The transition defense issues are compounded if a team has a poor shooting night, like Clemson did Saturday.
“The problem was in the first half (vs. FSU) we were constantly in transition because we couldn’t score,” Brownell said. “One of the keys is we have to be able to get good shots and make some of those shots so we don’t have to play transition basketball against Duke all night.”
Or else it could be a long night.
Duke forward Ryan Kelly (34) drives past Wake Forest forward Tyler Cavanaugh (34) in the first half at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina, Saturday, January 5, 2013. Duke defeated Wake Forest, 80-62. (Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT)×