X factor: Duke basketball vs. Presbyterian

The Blue Devils kick off the 2014-15 season against Presbyterian Friday at 6 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Before every game, we’ll break down a player on each team who could be the difference-maker in the upcoming contest.

Duke: point guard Tyus Jones

Although the point guard has not received the same fanfare as fellow freshmen Justise Winslow and Jahlil Okafor, Jones will be crucial to the success of the Blue Devils. After replacing senior Quinn Cook in the starting lineup, the 6-foot-1 Apple Valley, Minn., native turned in two strong performances in Duke’s exhibition games—with 17 assists and only two turnovers combined.

Duke knows the importance of putting inferior teams away early in the game and it will rely on the freshman sensation to get the team’s offense off to a fast, mistake-free start Friday. Putting the Blue Hose in an early deficit will allow head coach Mike Krzyzewski to continue experimenting with his young team before the Blue Devils take on stiffer competition in the coming weeks.

In addition to how he runs the offense, two key factors to monitor in Friday’s game will be Jones’ ability to shoot consistently from the perimeter and his on-ball defense. Jones shot just 1-of-4 from beyond the arc and only 3-of-9 from the field overall in the Blue Devils’ dominant exhibition victories, but made an impact on defense with seven steals in the two games combined.

Presbyterian: guard Jordan Downing

The redshirt senior brings Presbyterian out of the Big South into Cameron with the goal of hanging with Duke for as long as possible. Downing was selected to the Big South Preseason All-Conference team after averaging 20.2 points per game—23rd best in the nation— a year ago.

The guard will present the perfect litmus test for the Blue Devil defense—which ranked 104th in scoring defense a year ago after giving up an average of 67.4 points per game. Downing has a history of memorable performances, including four 30-point games a year ago, and will need to deliver another one for Presbyterian to have a shot at stunning the fourth-ranked Blue Devils.

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