Preview & Prediction: By Jeff Borzello
As we enter the beginning of February, the race for No. 1 and No. 2 seeds is heating up around the country. There are not many teams with the resumes to potentially reach these lofty rankings, but two of them will meet tonight as No. 4 Duke travels to South Carolina to take on No. 10 Clemson. Duke (19-2, 6-1) bounced back from its last-second loss at Wake Forest with a blowout win over Virginia on Sunday. Prior to the defeat last week, Duke had won 10 in a row. The Blue Devils have wins over Michigan, Purdue, Xavier, Davidson, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Georgetown and Maryland. Clemson (18-2, 4-2) is not the same Clemson team we are used to seeing in the past – the team that falls apart after a hot start. The Tigers have won two in a row, including a come-from-behind win at Virginia Tech, after losing their first two games of the season. In their 16-0 start, they won on the road against the likes of Illinois, Miami (Fl.) and South Carolina.
Duke is a balanced team that relies heavily on its deep and talented perimeter group. The Blue Devils spread the floor and create match-up problems. Kyle Singler and Gerald Henderson lead the way offensively. Singler is an inside-outside option at forward, while Henderson is an athletic force on the wing. Henderson is averaging 20.4 points over the past seven games. Jon Scheyer is a very good all-around player, while Nolan Smith has added quickness and defensive intensity in the starting lineup. Greg Paulus brings experience and leadership off the bench. Brian Zoubek provides height down low, while Lance Thomas backs him up.
Clemson is very athletic and explosive, with plenty of long, versatile players. The Tigers love to force turnovers and play in transition. Trevor Booker is a double-double threat every night down low, while K.C. Rivers has had three games of at least 28 points this year. Raymond Sykes has great leaping ability in the frontcourt. Terrence Oglesby is an outstanding three-point shooter, and Demontez Stitt is a good distributor and defender at the point guard spot. Off the bench, David Potter can stroke the three and Andre Smith provides excellent lead guard production.
Two of the best teams in the country will go head to head in a game that should feature plenty of up-tempo basketball and pressure defense. Clemson will need to force Smith and Paulus to turn the ball over in order to get transition baskets and avoid the outstanding half-court Duke defense. Furthermore, Booker will need to take advantage the edge Clemson has down low. On the other side, Duke is more fundamentally sound and makes smarter plays than Clemson. The Blue Devils may be able to force the Tigers into turnovers and poor decisions. Additionally, it will be interesting to see if Sykes can guard Singler. The match-up to watch is Henderson vs. Rivers – both players are outstanding. The difference will be Duke’s ability to handle Clemson’s pressure and their efficiency at both ends of the court.
PREDICTION: Duke MARGIN: 4-6
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About Jeff Borzello
National College Basketball
Jeff Borzello is a freelance writer who also runs and writes his own blog, March Madness All Season. During the season, Jeff has a weekly appearance on ESPN Radio 1300 in Baltimore and has appeared on AOL Sports Radio and CFRC Sports.. He constantly outdoes the "experts" in his projected brackets and also provides analysis and insight on every conference and team in the country. His favorite teams are Connecticut and Hofstra, showing love to both majors and mid-majors at the same time--indicative of his columns. Jeff is originally from Long Island, NY.