X factor: Duke basketball vs. Louisville



In a showdown of head coaching legends and potential Final Four contenders, No.4 Duke will take on No. 6 Louisville Saturday at noon at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky. After a string of 14 consecutive double-digit wins, the Blue Devils have suffered back-to-back double-digit losses—including the end of the nation’s longest home winning streak—but have chance to bounce back in the first conference matchup between the two storied programs. Before each game this season, the Blue Zone will select a player on both teams that could make the difference for their respective squads:

Duke: guard Quinn Cook

The senior’s veteran leadership and perimeter shooting will be crucial to halting Duke’s two-game losing streak Saturday. Cook comes into the game averaging 14.8 points per game on 47 percent shooting—including 40.6 percent from long range—and has spent much time playing off the ball with freshman Tyus Jones manning the point.

One of the biggest red flags from Tuesday’s loss against Miami was the Blue Devils’ poor body language as the Hurricanes started to pull away. Against Louisville, Duke will need Cook to help contain the emotions of younger players—especially considering the Cardinals' tenacious full-court press and raucous crowd—and keep spacing the floor with his shooting touch.

The Washington, D.C., native will also be tasked with slowing down Louisville's dynamic backcourt of Terry Rozier and Chris Jones. The Cardinal duo averages 30.2 points per game and is especially dangerous in pick-and-roll situations like the ones that have plagued Cook and his teammates lately. Although containing Jones and Rozier has been tough for all of Louisville’s opponents, forcing them to settle for outside jumpers with its and limiting transition buckets will be essential for the Blue Devils to bounce back.

Louisville: forward Wayne Blackshear

The 6-foot-5 senior small forward is coming off of a productive outing against Virginia Tech in which he had 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting and three 3-pointers, along with six rebounds. The Chicago native has increased his scoring output each year he has played at Louisville and enters the showdown with the Blue Devils averaging 12.5 points per game on 39 percent shooting.

Although Blackshear most often plays off the ball, he is an integral part of head coach Rick Pitino's squad because of his versatility on both ends. The senior's ability to make strong cuts to the basket, stretch the court and cover ground in the team's full-court press will make him a valuable asset against Duke, which boasts a versatile swingman of its own in Justise Winslow.

Blackshear’s biggest threat to Duke Sunday will likely be his ability to knock down the three-point shot. After shooting 39 percent from deep a year ago, the forward has regressed a bit in his senior season and is currently shooting just 31 percent from beyond the arc, but is the only Cardinal who has made more than 30 triples on the season. If Louisville's guards are able to find Blackshear sitting open on the perimeter after breaking down the Blue Devil defense, Duke could in for a long afternoon against one of the best defensive teams in the nation.


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