After opening ACC play by cruising to a 74-53 home win over Clemson Jan. 3, the Blue Devils will face their first conference road test in Atlanta against No. 20 Georgia Tech. After finishing last in the ACC with only two conference wins during the 2008-2009 season, the Yellow Jackets had high expectations for this season after adding freshman phenom Derrick Favors, who was ranked by most recruiting services above even Kentucky’s John Wall coming out of high school. Favors and Georgia Tech have hit a bump in the road lately, dropping their ACC opener against Florida State in overtime Dec. 20 and losing a rivalry matchup with Georgia in their most recent game, meaning the Blue Devils should expect a tough test against a Yellow Jackets team fresh off a loss. The game will be televised at 2 p.m. EST on ESPN with Brad Nessler and Jay Bilas commentating.
Here’s what you need to know about the game:
1. Georgia Tech can match Duke in the paint
Despite all of the post talent on Duke’s roster, Georgia Tech may have the strongest starting frontcourt duo in the ACC. Sophomore center Gani Lawal is a skilled big man who is averaging 15.3 points and 9.4 rebounds this season, while freshman forward Favors is just a hair shy of a double-double average with per-game marks of 12.1 points and 8.8 rebounds. The tandem will have to shoulder the rebounding burden for the Yellow Jackets against a Duke team that is particularly strong on the boards. With Georgia Tech struggling of late shooting the ball from the floor, turning offensive rebounds into second chance points will also be imperative for Lawal and Favors. One additional factor to keep an eye on Saturday is the foul situation for Favors, who has at times struggled to stay on the court due to excessive cautions. Favors racked up four fouls against Georgia and was limited to just eight points in the contest.
2. Georgia Tech can’t match Duke in the backcourt
In Wednesday’s loss to Georgia, the Yellow Jackets shot an unimpressive 38.3 percent from the floor and conceded 20 turnovers to the Bulldogs. Such lackluster guard play against Duke would almost certainly prove disastrous for Georgia Tech, who must contend with the two-headed backcourt monster of Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith. With Scheyer fresh off a 31-point performance Wednesday in his Chicago homecoming game against Iowa State and Smith averaging 21.6 points and shooting at a torrid pace of 15-for-21 from 3-point range over his last five games, containing Duke’s backcourt is a tall task for any team right now, let alone the Yellow Jackets.
3. The Blue Devils must earn their (true) road stripes
Duke may boast a 4-1 record away from Cameron Indoor Stadium this season, but all four wins have come at neutral sites in front of large contingents of friendly fans. The sole mark in the loss column, a 73-69 defeat at Wisconsin, is the only true road test the Blue Devils have had so far. Duke hasn’t had trouble recently playing in Atlanta—the team hasn’t lost at Georgia Tech since 2007 and won the 2009 ACC Tournament at the Georgia Dome—but the question of whether the '09-'10 Blue Devils can thrive in a hostile road environment remains open.
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