Another critical conference battle awaits the Duke basketball team

Duke basketball (Scott Utterback-USA TODAY Sports)
Duke basketball (Scott Utterback-USA TODAY Sports) /

Another crucial ACC matchup awaits the Duke basketball team. 

Given its struggles this season and doubt surrounding qualifying for the NCAA Tournament, the Duke basketball team will play a big game every time it takes the floor for the remainder of the season.

Saturday afternoon is different, however, as the Blue Devils (6-5, 4-3 ACC) welcome a former Top-25 team into Durham, the Clemson Tigers (10-4, 4-4 ACC), who snapped a three-game losing streak with an ugly, grind-it-out victory over Louisville, 54-50, on Wednesday. (Yes, that was the final score after 40 minutes.)

The good news?

Clemson doesn’t have Trevor Lawrence.

The bad news?

Clemson has Amir Simms, who will surely cause headaches for Duke.

Simms, a 6-foot-8, 245-pound senior, is the only player on the Tigers averaging double-digits at 12.0 points per game, but the Palmyra, Virginia native is posting 14.0 points per game on the road this season.

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In last season’s victory over the Blue Devils in Death Valley, Simms posted 25 points, ten rebounds, and five assists against a team that had Vernon Carey Jr.

Imagine what he could do to Duke without Carey Jr. and very little paint protection.

Matthew Hurt, despite his added muscle, does not have the athletic ability or strength to match up with Amir Simms, and Jalen Johnson lacks the experience and 20 pounds to try and keep up with the senior forward.

Mark Williams, who played well in his minutes against Georgia Tech, could be an intriguing player to match up against Simms as the freshman would match his weight and have a four-inch height advantage over his potential counterpart.

Duke basketball has to efficiently score against Clemson

Clemson doesn’t score a lot of points, averaging 65.2 points per game as a team, but in its three-game losing streak, the Tigers saw its opponents post 85, 83, and 80 points, all at least 18-point losses for Brad Brownell’s squad.

Prior to its losing streak, Clemson was ranked as high as No. 12 in the AP-Top 25 Poll.

The last time Clemson visited Cameron Indoor Stadium, Zion Williamson did this:

Anyone care to try and top that?

Freshman DJ Steward has put together very nice halves in the last few games for the Blue Devils but has yet to see a complete 40-minute performance recently.

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Hurt and Johnson need to be the stars they have been for the Blue Devils to see more success this season, and Duke will be looking for positive performances from Jeremy Roach, Jordan Goldwire, and Wendell Moore.

The magic number to win on Saturday afternoon might be 70, as Clemson is 2-3 when it allows 70 points, and its two victories allowing exactly 70 points were an 81-70 win over Purdue and 74-70 overtime win against North Carolina State.

Tipoff is scheduled for 12:00pm EST (ESPN2).

PREDICTION: Duke 73, Clemson 66

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