As 11th-ranked Clemson hosts No. 12 Duke in Tigers' biggest basketball game in 21 years
Today’s game at Clemson is the biggest game at Littlejohn Coliseum in quite some time when the 11th-ranked Tigers host No. 12 Duke at 1 p.m.
In fact, the last time Clemson and the Blue Devils met as ranked opponents came in 2010, when those seventh-ranked Blue Devils beat those 17th-ranked Tigers by 23 points. The year before that, a 10th-ranked Clemson team, led by now NBA star Trevor Booker, downed a No. 4 Duke team by 27 points in Littlejohn.
In case you are wondering, the last time Clemson entered a contest with Duke as the higher ranked team was the 1996-’97 season when a No. 5 ranked Clemson team beat a 10th-ranked Duke team in overtime, 86-82. That game was also played at Littlejohn.
“We know it is an important game and there is a lot of interest and tickets are sold out and that kind of stuff,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said.
Clemson and Duke come into the game battling for second place in the ACC standings. Currently, both are tied with 9-4 records. The winner will obviously get sole possession of second place, while the loser will slip to fourth behind North Carolina, who is now won five straight and is 10-5 in ACC competition.
The top four seeds in next month’s ACC Tournament earn a two-day bye and will not have to play until the Quarterfinal Round on Day 3.
Both teams will be without two of their star players. Duke announced on Saturday Marvin Bagley will miss his third straight game with a knee injury, while Clemson point guard Shelton Mitchell is doubtful for the game as well with a concussion.
Brownell said Bagley’s absence will not affect how they will play the Blue Devils. He said on Friday to the media that they planned to prepare like he was going to play, but he said Duke does not run a different offense when he is the game.
“Your team is mostly who you are right now and you are what you want to believe, how you want to coach and how you want to play,” he said. “We know they have been playing some zone lately a good bit. They have mixed in man and zone throughout the season so we have to prepare for both of those things.
“Then offensively, they have a package of things that they run that highlight their best players and we try to do the same with ours. I don’t think it drastically changes how you prepare in any game.”
Brownell says with Mitchell likely out, the biggest concern for him is his own team.
“Mostly, that’s what coaches are thinking about,” he said. “You are not worried about who you are playing. You are certainly putting a plan together, but you are worried about what your team looks like.”
Mitchell is third on the team in scoring among active players, averaging 10.3 points per game. He also leads the Tigers in assists.
Clyde Trapp is expected to start the game in place of Mitchell. Brownell said Scott Spencer and A.J. Oliver could also get more time today than they have seen this year, but not exactly at the point guard position.
Marcquise Reed, who plays the No. 2 spot when Mitchell is in the game, can run the point as well and Gabe DeVoe handles the ball well enough to play the position, too.
“Not everything we do is pure single point guard,” Brownell said. “We have multiple ball handlers handle it. You saw some of that in the last game, and that will continue. So we will have to figure out some way and we might have to tinker with some things, but we will work on that.”
Obviously, this is not the first time Clemson has played without one of its star players. It has played the last six games, and will for the rest of the season, without star forward Donte Grantham, who tore his ACL in his right knee on Jan. 20 against Notre Dame.
The Tigers are 4-2 without Grantham.
“We will adjust again,” Brownell said. “We have to do it already and our guys have done well with it for the most part. You hate for anybody to be hurt right now because this is an exciting time of the year.”
And it does not get any more exciting than a Clemson-Duke game with ACC Tournament seeding implications at stake, along with NCAA Tournament seeding.
–Photo Credit: Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports