Key three: Duke men's basketball vs. South Carolina
With one game in the books, No. 2 seed Duke will continue its quest for a sixth national title Sunday night when it takes on seventh-seeded South Carolina in the Round of 32 in Greenville, S.C. There are plenty of storylines to watch for, but here are our three keys to the Blue Devils' matchup with the Gamecocks.
A "thorn" in the side
During Saturday's media availability, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski called South Carolina's Sindarius Thornwell "the best unheralded great player in the United States." The 6-foot-5 guard is a dangerous all-around weapon and earned SEC Player of the Year honors this season—he averages 21.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.
Against Marquette in the Gamecocks' opening-round contest, Thornwell went off for 29 points, shooting 10-of-19 from the field. The senior also tallied 11 boards, two blocks and three steals in a game played less than 120 miles from his hometown of Lancaster, S.C. Although the Blue Devils have faced their share of top-tier individual talent this season, Thornwell is a unique threat that will pose a challenge to whomever latches onto him Sunday—most likely senior Matt Jones.
Make it rain
The Golden Eagles got off to a fast start and an early lead with strong 3-point shooting against South Carolina, hitting seven of their first 12 long-range attempts to go up by as many as nine midway through the first half. Duke found similar success, as it knocked down 7-of-10 triples to start the game and will likely need to lean on its 3-point shooting to open up driving lanes against an aggressive Gamecock defense.
The Blue Devils' 13 made treys against the Trojans were tied for their third-most in any game this season, and they are averaging 93.4 points per game when they hit at least a baker's dozen from downtown. If Luke Kennard can return to the form that he showed during Duke's ACC tournament run and threaten South Carolina from 3-point land along with Grayson Allen, Matt Jones, Frank Jackson and Jayson Tatum, even South Carolina's talented defense will likely have trouble slowing down the Blue Devils' potent attack.
As the Gamecocks put Marquette away late with a 16-0 push during a four-minute span, the garnet and black inside the Bon Secours Wellness Arena came to life. South Carolina fans had an easy trip from Columbia, S.C., to Greenville Friday—a total of just 104 miles—and will certainly make their presence felt again when their team takes on Duke. There will also be plenty of North Carolina fans in the building rooting against the Blue Devils after the Tar Heels play just prior to Duke.
Although the Blue Devils have played in plenty of hostile road environments this season, it is rare for a top-four seed to face a home-court disadvantage during the first weekend. But the NCAA tournament's selection committee is only obligated to protect the 16 best teams during the Round of 64, and on average, those teams are playing 344.4 miles from home this weekend. Duke will look to assert itself from the start and keep the crowd—one that could potentially give the Gamecocks an extra boost—at bay.