X Factor: Duke men's basketball vs. Wake Forest
Three weeks after Duke started its six-game winning streak with a dramatic comeback at Wake Forest, the Blue Devils will host the Demon Deacons Saturday afternoon at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Zone takes a look at a player from each team who could be the difference-maker in the game:
Duke: Forward Jayson Tatum
It was Luke Kennard that stole the show during Duke’s trip to Winston-Salem Jan. 28 with 30 second-half points, but Tatum has a great opportunity to dominate against a Wake Forest defense that is the second-worst in the ACC at defending against the freshman’s most recent scoring option of choice—the 3-pointer.
Tatum emerged with a breakout game by posting 28 points on just 12 shots against Virginia, highlighted by several closely-guarded makes from beyond the arc, two of which came in the final minutes and helped Duke seal its third true road victory of the season.
The Demon Deacons struggled mightily to defend on the perimeter in their last matchup against Duke—allowing the Blue Devils to shoot 14-of-31 from deep—which should bode well for a streaking Tatum who missed just one 3-pointer in seven attempts Wednesday. Additionally, the St. Louis native’s ability to attract attention while attacking the basket should give guards Grayson Allen and Kennard plenty of open opportunities to get hot from long range again, as the duo was 11-of-17 from during last month’s tight 85-83 Duke victory in Winston-Salem. Tatum’s length—which has netted him 1.4 blocks per game—will also be a great asset as the Blue Devils defend against the Demon Deacons' post players, namely John Collins.
Wake Forest: Forward John Collins
Duke was plagued by poor interior defense early on in conference play, and although the team has improved at defending opposing forwards—allowing just 10 points to Virginia’s big men Wednesday—attacking the paint is still Wake Forest’s best bet for success come Saturday.
Collins is the most efficient scorer in the ACC with a 61.4 percent clip from the field and has scored at least 20 points in each of his last nine contests. That stretch included a solid outing against the Blue Devils Jan. 28, when the sophomore went 7-of-10 from the floor in a 20-point performance. When he was not scoring, the sophomore’s presence was big enough to stretch Duke’s defense and allow teammate Bryant Crawford to score a career-high 26 points.
Combine Collins’ recent success against Duke with the fact that he will arrive in Durham riding the momentum of a career high of his own, and it points to the West Palm Beach, Fla., native having a big afternoon against the Blue Devils. On Tuesday against Clemson, Collins posted yet another highly efficient performance, going 12-of-14 from the floor to notch 29 points. With forwards Amile Jefferson and Harry Giles having trouble avoiding fouls as of late, Saturday will be another chance for Collins to continue his aggressive play and extend his hot streak as the Demon Deacons look to avenge last month’s loss.