Duke comes calling to Littlejohn, facing Clemson in Saturday matinee
CLEMSON - It's a little weird, seeing Duke without a single-digit number next to its name.
Losses to Arizona, Kansas and Notre Dame (the first two neutral, the last one on the road) have the Blue Devils sitting outside the Associated Press top 10 for the first time in six seasons, which makes them a little bit vulnerable, right?
Wrong. Just the opposite.
"They're just, as you would expect," Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said, "a talented Duke team and provide a lot of difficult matchups."
It's a tall task for the Tigers (10-4, 1-1 ACC) to shake off the offensive doldrums from Thursday's 56-41 loss to visiting Florida State, turning around in less than 48 hours to focus on No. 16 Duke (12-3, 1-1) at Littlejohn Coliseum, which will be awash in orange shakers distributed to its sold-out crowd.
"I think, to start, our guys should have great energy," Brownell said. "Hopefully if we're playing well, we'll maintain that throughout the course of the game and feed off our crowd."
It's hard enough to defeat Duke, which has won 27 of the past 29 meetings (Clemson won back-to-back affairs in 2008 and 2009.) But having precious little time to get ready for the Dukies is a sore subject for Brownell.
"You certainly would like to have a little more time to prepare and put in a defensive gameplan and devise some offensive things to help you," Brownell said. "But in 36 hours, you kind of just got to go with what you're doing, make one or two little adjustments, and go play."
Duke features its usual cast of future NBA players, highlighted by freshman phenom Jabari Parker (19.8 points per game, 7.6 rebounds) sophomore Rodney Hood (18.5 points) and junior Quinn Cook (14 points, 6.1 assists.)
Those three alone average 52.3 points per game, about a basket below Clemson's NCAA-leading scoring defense. But the Tigers haven't faced any team with Duke's combination of production (84.3 points per game, No. 17 in the country) and efficiency (49.4 field-goal shooting percentage, tied-14th.)
"Yeah, I think this is the most athletic team they've had since I've been here," Clemson point guard Rod Hall said.
How can Clemson hang with Duke?
"If we can defend at a high level, but it comes down to offensive execution for us. We can't turn the ball over like we did (Thursday) night," Brownell said. "We've got to have a little more balance scoring, find a way to get the ball inside, and all our main guys - Rod, (Jordan) Roper and K.J. (McDaniels) - are going to have to play well."
Like Brownell said, a season-high 18 turnovers against the Seminoles wasn't the plan for victory.
"It's hard, I understand, fans don't appreciate the finer points of the defense. That's not what everybody wants to see," Brownell said. "From that standpoint, for most fans, it was hard to watch some of it. Now, when we start having careless turnovers, then it becomes no fun. It's not fun for us, for the players, for the fans. Then it's poor offensive basketball."
Parker, a staple as ACC Freshman of the Week and projected top-five draft pick next summer, promises to be the biggest main attraction to walk onto the court at Littlejohn Coliseum this winter.
"He's pretty doggone good. 6-8, 235, making 3s, turnaround jumpers, driving the ball ... I mean, he's a pro," Brownell said. "He's an unbelievably gifted guy that plays with great confidence."