XFactor: Duke basketball vs Florida State

Following a road split against North Carolina and Louisville, the 15th-ranked Blue Devils return home for a matchup against Florida State. Duke will look to keep pace near the top of the ACC standings, while the Seminoles will need to make a statement on the national stage to stay in the mix for an NCAA Tournament berth. The Blue Zone takes a look at one player from each team who could be the difference in the game:

Duke: guard Derryck Thornton

In the team’s loss to then-No. 18 Louisville, it was smooth sailing for the Blue Devils until Thornton was removed from the game with a right shoulder injury. The freshman guard’s unexpected absence induced chaos and disarray upon a short-handed Duke backcourt, which struggled to handle Louisville’s full-court pressure without the guard. When he was forced back into the lineup after sophomore Grayson Allen fouled out, the Chatsworth, Calif., native quickly turned things around for his team, following up a nifty layup with a clutch shot to bring his team within two points. Although Thornton’s comeback effort ended up falling short, his display of drive and composure Saturday makes him the player to watch against the Seminoles.

The 5:10 field goal-less stretch the Blue Devils endured without Thornton against the Cardinals highlighted how valuable a steady point guard can be. Freshman Brandon Ingram—who had 10 giveaways Saturday—has struggled with the team’s ball-handling responsibilities, placing a premium on Thornton’s stellar ability to take care of the ball. Thornton has notched just two turnovers and has recorded a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in Duke’s last three games combined—all against ranked opponents. Like Louisville, Florida State can make plays defensively and the Seminoles rank second in the conference in both steals and turnovers forced. 

But Florida State's weaknesses play to Thornton’s strengths as the team is ranked 11th in the conference and 251st nationally in 3-point field goal defense. Although the point guard is more of a floor general and less of a sharpshooter, Florida State’s inability to defend from beyond the arc will give the guard plenty of options to kick the ball out to as he tries to spread the floor. Duke ranks first in the conference in 3-point field-goals per game, so expect the freshman to try and set his teammates up for open looks early in the contest Thursday. 

Florida State: guard Malik Beasley

Louisville guard Damion Lee’s hot shooting down the stretch ultimately marked the downfall of the Blue Devils’ defense, and Duke’s inability to stop a streaky guard provides reason for concern against the Seminoles. Florida State possesses an eerily similar talent to Lee in freshman guard Malik Beasley, who is capable of keeping the Blue Devils in check by scoring on the perimeter and off the bounce. 

Beasley is shooting 39 percent from beyond the arc this season and shoots near 82 percent from the charity stripe. Despite the freshman’s 6-foot-5 stature, he is also the Seminoles' second-leading rebounder at 5.3 boards per game. Beasley is on a bit of a cold streak as of late with only 26 points in his last three games combined, but has averaged 14.8 points per game against ranked opponents this season.

The Blue Devils have struggled recently to keep opposing star players at bay in the wake of standout performances by Anthony 'Cat' Barber, Bryce Johnson and Lee—giving up an average of 26.3 points per game to the trio. The Alpharetta, Ga,. native is the complete-package and will leave make life difficult as the Blue Devils look to get back to their winning ways. 

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