Key Three: Duke basketball vs Pittsburgh

Looking to keep pace near the top of the ACC, the Blue Devils hit the road to take on Pittsburgh. No. 15 Duke enters the game as winners of six of its last seven games, while the Panthers will look for just their third win in their last seven games after a 6-2 start to conference play. Here are three keys to the game: 

Play a clean game

The Blue Devils have had great difficulty keeping their abbreviated roster out of foul trouble recently—a trend that must come to an end against Pittsburgh. With both Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard fouling out during the team’s Feb. 20 loss to Louisville and Derryck Thornton earning five fouls in the team’s most recent matchup against Florida Sate, Duke had players foul out in back-to-back matchups for the second time this season. 

Although shorter lineups are something the Blue Devils have gotten used to this season, their motivations for playing clean defense are twofold against the Panthers. Duke will pay an extra price for fouling excessively against Pittsburgh, as Jamie Dixon’s squad boasts the nation’s 13th best free-throw percentage at nearly 76 percent from the line, which also leads the ACC. The Panthers have eight players on the roster shooting 75 percent or better from the charity stripe, making Duke's ability to defend without fouling a big key Sunday. 

Crash the boards

Rebounding has been the difference-maker in several of Duke’s losses this season, as the team has been outrebounded 186-165 in their five conference defeats—losing the overall battle on the boards in all but one of those contests. Another lopsided rebounding total in favor of the opposition is possible against Pittsburgh, which outrebounds its opponents by an average of 8.4 boards per game—significantly higher than the plus 2.0 rebounding margin the Blue Devils hold.

Despite the challenge on the glass that lies ahead for Duke, the matchup comes at a time when the team’s rebounders are in top form. Graduate student Marshall Plumlee will enter the Peterson Events Center with at least 10 rebounds in five of his last seven games, while Chase Jeter notched a career-best five rebounds in the team's last game against Florida State. If the Blue Devils expect to take down the Panthers on the road, they will need to see active and aggressive efforts on the glass across the entire roster.

Push the ball in transition

Pittsburgh is one of the worst teams in the conference in turnovers forced, total steals and total blocks, which means that Duke can afford to take risks in the open court in addition to running its staple offense. The Blue Devils' array of slashers—namely sophomore Grayson Allen and freshman Brandon Ingram—have had trouble at times holding onto the ball when attacking the basket, but preventing such turnovers should be no issue against a relatively weak Panther defense.

Pittsburgh is also in the bottom half of the ACC in terms of 3-point defense, which means that attacking the basket during fast breaks could open up the floor for easy open looks from beyond the arc. Although pushing the ball downcourt consistently is going to be a tall task for a Duke rotation of seven players, the numbers suggest that it’s a risk worth taking as the team looks for its 11th conference win this season.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Chronicle.