Clemson made a real commitment to returning to the power program of the early 1990s when the administration hired Oliver Purnell to rebuild the once proud Tigers. So far the results aren't great in stature, but the substance is certainly there. It's the same steps Purnell took in building successful programs at Old Dominon and Dayton.
So far through the young season, Clemson hasn't played much in the way of high major competition, though the Tigers have managed to win nine games while losing a trio to UAB, Georgetown, and Boston College. The lone "name" win came in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge as the Tigers ran past Ohio State 80-73.
C- Sharrod Ford (6'9, 225 SR) – Ford is the kind of player Purnell loves to utilitize all over the court. At nearly 6'10 he's not a bruising power player by any stretch, but has a long wingspan and is quick off the floor. Offensively he can make a living off of rebounds, but can also use his quickness and a bit of added off season strength to operate in the lane.
The story on Ford, however, is on the defensive end where he finished second, albeit distantly, to Shelden Williams in the blocked shots category last year during ACC play. Again he utilizes his quickness and athleticism coupled with his long frame to become a recovery shot blocking artist.
Match Up: Against Duke, Ford will have to face the league's best shot blocker in Williams, who has become a double-double machine for the Blue Devils during his junior year. With no one other than himself standing more than 6'5 on the front line, Williams will need to stay out of foul trouble on both ends of the floor.
PF- Akin Akingbala (6'9, 220, JR) – Another long and wiry athlete, Akingbala has improved each year he's been at Clemson, finally becoming a starter this year. While not as gifted as his running mate, Ford, Akingbala has proven the ability to harness his physical gifts and use them as he continues to learn the game and improve. He's the team's second leading rebounder at nearly five per game, and has shot a very efficient 64% from the field on the year.
Match Up: Duke will start 6'5 former football player Reggie Love for the first time since the 2001 Championship season when Love started for the injured Carlos Boozer. While he's not expected to contribute mightily within the offensive flow, Love can provide additional support to Williams with strength inside and long arms that allow him to play much bigger on the boards. The key for Reggie will be to stay out of foul trouble early on, which has been a recurring problem for him at points this year.
SF- Cheyenne Moore (6'6, 190, FR) – Moore, a native of Connecticut, has been a pleasant surprise for Purnell and the Tigers this year. A good slashing wing player, he's still struggled with his jump shot but has proven the ability to stay in front of his man and, once again, he's another long armed player who can play much bigger than his listed height.
Offensively he's still learning to play at the ACC level, but has shown the ability to get to the basket and score when there. However, he's been woefully bad at the free throw line, hitting just 44% on the season Defensively he is usually assigned to a perimeter threat, and can use his long arms to block or alter jumpers and his quick hands to come up with steals. So far he's swiping 1.3 steals per contest.
Match Up: Moore will likely draw the challenge of staying with Duke sharpshooter J.J. Redick, the ACC's top scorer at more than 21 points per game. Redick will likely run Moore off a number of screens throughout the afternoon in order to get open looks and avoid his long reach. Redick will also have to contribute a bit more in the rebounding department as will all the Duke perimeter players.
SG- Cliff Hammonds (6'3, 175, FR) – One of the top prospects in the state of Georgia last season, Hammonds brings his explosive scoring ability to the Tigers, though he's been up and down so far during his first season. After scoring over 22 points per game as a high school senior, Hammonds is hitting for 10.5 point per contest this year, good enough for third on the team. However, he's failed to reach double figures in five of his last six games, though the one time was a 22 point performance against UAB.
On the year he's shooting nearly 49% from the floor and 36% from the perimeter. As UAB found out, when he knocks home the first three, he can begin to fill up the state sheet in a hurry. Despite his 6'3 frame, Hammonds is also a very good rebounder who isn't afraid to swoop in and grab loose balls inside.
Match Up: Hammonds will face the toughest test of his young career on Sunday when he matches up with Duke's Daniel Ewing, who has made the transition from scoring guard to point/combo guard very smoothly. Ewing should be able to get his shot off against the freshman, and his on the ball pressure will reveal a lot of where Hammonds is as a player.
PG- Shawan Robinson (6'2, 180, JR) – A converted scoring guard, whom his coach would like to see look for his offense more, Robinson has spent a good amount of time deferring on the offensive end this year, though he has still managed to become the team's second leading scorer at nearly 13 points per contest, while leading the team in assists at four per game.
Offensively he's very quick and can light it up from the perimeter (43%), but manages to play within the goal of the offense, and doesn't take many bad shots. Defensively he's one of Purnell's best on the ball, and seems to always make the correct decision when rotating to help.
Match Up: Sean Dockery continues to evolve into the player many expected to see out of high school two seasons ago. After spending the entire summer working on his offensive game, Dockery is now the team's most efficient shooter, which compliments his high intensity on the ball defense nicely. Against Clemson, Dockery will be asked to check both Robinson and Hammonds, while leading the likely full court press attack throughout the afternoon.
Off the bench for Clemson comes one of the ACC's most unique players in the form of 6'6, 255 pound England native Olu Babalola. Despite his height disadvantage, the Londoner can move pretty well laterally and is a good rebounder and strong presence in the post – probably the strongest on the roster. This year he's playing inside more in replacement of the departed Chris Hobbs. Other reserves of note include 6'0, 195 pound guard Vernon Hamilton, the team's fifth leading scorer (6.9 PPG), and freshmen James Mays (6'9, 215), and 5'7, 190 lbs back up point Sam Perry.
Match Up: Duke counters with a trio of wings beginning with freshman DeMarcus Nelson, who is finally cleared to play without a cumbersome wrist guard that limited his ability to grip the ball. Nelson's raw athleticism and strength (bench pressed 225lbs 12 times in the preseason, good enough for third most behind Shelden Williams and Love) allow him to play much bigger than his 6'3 frame, and he's arguably the teams second best rebounder. After Nelson comes 6'6 wing David McClure, a heady player who can play either forward spot in a pinch. Then there is 6'7 junior Lee Melchionni, who has seen his role increase with the limited depth, and has responded by turning into a capable perimeter threat as well as an improved rebounder.
Despite the absence of their other post presence in Shavlik Randolph, Duke enters the game against Clemson with a confident outlook. With the 6'10 Raleigh native sidelined, the Blue Devils are transformed into the small ball look of a few years ago when the junior class were freshmen. The difference is two years of experience and a Final Four berth under their belts, though the question mark at the power forward spot is still there with Love being foul prone. Still, this group will likely turn back into a high intensity pressing team that will give Clemson fits. The home court advantage of Cameron should also be a tangible lift for Duke, as the Blue Devils finally get a chance to compete against someone else after the long layoff. Provided there is no significant rust, Duke should open the ACC schedule with a win.