The Duke basketball team begins the ACC Tournament on Wednesday afternoon with its opening game against N.C. State.
The Blue Devils are looking for their third win of the season over the Wolfpack, which is never an easy accomplishment, even against a team that finished near the bottom of the league standings.
Tipoff is scheduled for 2:00pm EST, but it could be later depending on the Syracuse-Pittsburgh game, which opens the action for the day at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
This preview isn’t really about Duke’s matchup with N.C. State, but more about keys that are important for overall success in the ACC Tournament for the Blue Devils. Having lost two of its past three games, these points can also hopefully get the team back on track for the NCAA Tournament.
- Get Brandon Ingram Out of His Slump
Following the win at North Carolina, Brandon Ingram hasn’t been nearly as efficient. He’s shooting 33% from the field in the past 5 games and was just 3-of-12 in Saturday night’s loss to North Carolina. Ingram is arguably the most gifted player participating in the ACC Tournament this week, but Duke needs him to get back to the form that helped the Blue Devils to three consecutive wins over ranked opponents earlier in the season.
2. Trust Luke Kennard to Create on Offense
Luke Kennard is coming off one of his best games of the season with a 20-point effort against UNC on Saturday. Though his defense is still something of a weakness, Kennard’s playmaking ability on offense has become one of the most valuable weapons for the Blue Devils. He has the reputation of being a shooter, but Kennard also has a knack for getting to the rim that makes him an extremely difficult matchup. He also doesn’t try to create contact nearly as much as Grayson Allen, which helps him stay under control. If he can become more of a priority in Duke’s offense, it’d give the team a huge lift.
3. Avoid North Carolina
This out of Duke’s control, but let’s hope that either Syracuse or Pittsburgh can pull off the upset tomorrow and knock No. 1 seed North Carolina out of the tournament. If Duke is fortunate enough to advance past N.C. State and Notre Dame to reach the semifinals, facing UNC for the third game in three days would be a brutal draw for the Blue Devils. With the way the Tar Heels can control the paint, it would require a massive effort for Duke to avoid losing to North Carolina for the 2nd time in a week.
4. Fight Through Fatigue
Relying on a 6-man rotation to win four games in four days sounds impossible, but that’s what Mike Krzyzewski and his team are hoping to accomplish this week. Duke could go a long way in helping its cause by winning big against N.C. State this afternoon and allowing some of its key players to rest, but that seems unlikely as this team isn’t the dominating type.
If Duke can get consistency from Luke Kennard off the bench and steal a few minutes with Chase Jeter, it gives the Blue Devils a fighting chance. Coach K has said multiple times this season that he’s seen his guys trying to fight through being exhausted. This week will be their toughest fight.
5. Derryck Thornton is the X-Factor
He’s been overshadowed by Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram, but freshman point guard Derryck Thornton has grown tremendously over the course of the regular season. He’s still prone to freshman struggles, which we saw on Saturday when he only played 15 minutes against UNC, but Thornton has also provided the poise and control Duke needs from the point guard position. If he can rebound from his poor regular season finale and step up on the big stage of the ACC Tournament, he’s an x-factor most teams will not account for.
How do you think the Blue Devils will fare in the ACC Tournament? Let me know on Twitter at @davidmaldridge.