After beating Minnesota 89-71 in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis, the No. 5 Blue Devils got to relax and await the winner of No. 19 Memphis-Virginia Commonwealth to determine their second round opponent. The Rams upset the Tigers, so Duke will get a look at Shaka Smart's squad in the tournament's semifinals.
Here are the three keys to tonight's action:
Does Duke have a bench?
Mike Krzyzewski's tendency to use short rotations is no secret. And in Duke's win against Minnesota, that was no problem as each member of the starting five scored double-digit points. The downside? Four bench players—Tyler Thornton, Josh Hairston, Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy—combined to play just 44 minutes and score only two points. Jefferson, who played nine minutes, was the only reserve to score while Thornton logged the most significant minutes at 22. With Duke playing without a day of rest in between games, this team's depth will be tested in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Whether or not they actually play more minutes, the bench players will be depended on for more production in games two and three of this tournament as the starters inevitably tire.
Can Curry keep it consistent?
The player who might benefit most from some rest is Seth Curry, who led the team with 25 points Thursday. Dealing with a nagging leg injury, Curry has missed much of practice this season and isn't in the best shape of his career. In four games this season, Curry has put up two top-notch performances and two forgettable ones, with the good and bad coming in alternating games. He played 33 minutes against Minnesota, so the question is if he'll be able to play that much again just over 24 hours later. If he plays a little bit less, a few players could benefit from the opportunity: Thornton, Murphy and Jefferson. Thornton is more of a traditional guard and could be a critical asset against VCU's pressure defense, while Murphy and Jefferson would give the team a true small forward and a size advantage over Smart's squad that tends to run with small lineups.
Will Mason's fantastic foul shooting continue?
The Blue Devils undoubtedly have more length than the Rams, who often only play one big man, 6-foot-9 forward Juvonte Reddic. In the past, teams reacted to Mason Plumlee's presence in the paint by playing physically and accepting that he would spend a lot of time at the line. That worked because Plumlee shot 52.8% from the charity stripe last year and 44.1% the year before. This year? He's knocking down 78.1% of his free throw attempts. Against Minnesota he hit 8-of-10 free throws, making him 18-for-21 in his last two games. The Golden Gophers tried everything against Plumlee, throwing different bodies against him all night, but it hardly worked as he finished with 20 points and 17 rebounds. Maybe the Rams will just have to keep on sending him to the line and hope for a different result.
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