Sports

Tigers in decent shape, but banged up

There are a lot worse places to be than 3-3 in the ACC.

Clemson's about to head into one of them.

The Tigers are 15-5 and 3-3 in the league, good positioning for their goal of making the NCAA tournament. But although there are plenty of games to play and they're in the top half of the conference standings, they're beginning the next stretch with their two best post players on the mend.

The walking bandage known as James Mays is still sporting a cast on his fractured left, non-shooting hand and center Trevor Booker sprained his ankle in a loss at Miami two days ago. Mays will probably wear the cast while playing for the duration of the season but Booker's status for this week is questionable.

"We'll probably X-ray him today to make sure," Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said Monday. "He's off the court at least for a couple of days, if not more."

The good news is the Tigers are on their midweek bye, off until Saturday's game hosting Boston College (12-6, 3-2). It's completely plausible Booker will be able to play at least some of that game.

But if not, it robs the Tigers of their best rebounder and interior defender. Without him against the Hurricanes, Clemson lost the glass total 53-37 and blew a six-point lead with under four minutes to play.

Purnell said he expects more production from backup Raymond Sykes, who has been solid off the bench throughout his career and filled in for Mays when Mays missed six games earlier this year. The Tigers have a two-game road trip after BC, playing at ACC cellar-dweller Virginia before a treacherous trip to North Carolina (19-1, 4-1).

The Tigers' coach looked at the situation positively. The injuries could have been a lot worse.

"We got a chance to maybe get Trevor back by Boston College," Purnell said. "James is playing with a fractured hand, but at least he's out there."

• ROLLIN', ROLLIN': Duke continued its impressive run to open conference play over the weekend, rallying from a nine-point deficit at Maryland to keep its perfect start intact.

The Blue Devils (17-1, 5-0) came through two road games with two wins and headed home for two games this week. Duke hosts N.C. State (13-6, 2-3) on Thursday and Miami (15-4, 2-3) on Saturday.

It's not surprising the Devils are winning much more than they're losing, but what is is their lack of a big man. Duke's only player above 6-foot-8 is 7-1 Brian Zoubek, but he's been inactive the past two weeks with a broken foot.

Instead, Duke wins with defense and great outside shooting. Forwards Kyle Singler (6-8) and Taylor King (6-6) play on the wings as much as they do in the paint and captain DeMarcus Nelson (27 points against the Terrapins) continues to impress.

The Devils have been hammered inside by the ACC's big men, which should be a trend they'll see in the next five games. On the upcoming slate are N.C. State's Brandon Costner (6-8) and J.J. Hickson (6-9), Miami's Anthony King (6-9), UNC's Tyler Hansbrough (6-9), Boston College's Tyrelle Blair (6-11) and a rematch with Maryland's Bambale Osby (6-8, 20 points against Duke two days ago) and James Gist (6-9, 26 points).

• TROUBLE: As good as the Tar Heels are, coach Roy Williams could be a lot happier.

There's no question if UNC can score. The team's speedy offense is bringing a new dimension to the program.

The problem is the scoring allowed. The Heels head into this week ranked ninth in the ACC in field goal percentage defense and 11th in scoring defense.

The popular pick for ACC and national champion, UNC will have a tough road to travel to get to the Final Four if that trend keeps up.

"A team that's great offensively and can't play a lick defensively, I've never seen one of those teams there," Williams said.

• VIRGINIA'S NOT FOR WINNING (THESE DAYS): After Sean Singletary dropped in a circus shot to tie the game against Georgia Tech two days ago, the Virginia faithful in John Paul Jones Arena could see it. This would be the win that would get the Cavaliers back on track.

After Tech's Matt Causey cemented himself as a folk hero in Atlanta with clutch overtime shooting, the Cavs trudged back to the locker room.

"For the second time in three weeks, we've got ourself in the middle of a difficult schedule," coach Dave Leitao said. "It's a test to get everybody, coaches and players, back and tuned in."

UVa (11-7, 1-4) is looking up at the rest of the ACC and is on the road for two games this week, at Maryland (12-8, 2-3) and rival Virginia Tech (12-8, 3-3). A team that returned three starters from last season's co-regular-season champ is struggling to find answers.

Another ACC loss equals the output for all of last year.

  Comments