The road to the Final Four begins Friday afternoon for the No. 3 seed Blue Devils, who will face off against No. 14 seed Mercer at 12:15 p.m. in Raleigh. Duke will be looking to get back to its winning ways coming off of a loss to Virginia in the ACC tournament championship game last Sunday. The Atlantic Sun champion Bears are riding a four-game win-streak into PNC Arena Friday.
Here are today's keys to the game:
Crash the glass
Let's just say Duke isn't the best rebounding team in the nation. In fact, its not one of the 192 best teams in the nation, averaging a mere 34.5 boards per game. The Bears rank 38th in the NCAA with 38.0 rebounds per game, despite not having an individual performer average more than 6.6 boards. Jabari Parker has been very effective on the glass, and Amile Jefferson has shown at times that he can be a dominant force. But as a whole, the Blue Devils have frequently failed to adequately box out, resulting in easy rebounding attempts for the opposition. To avoid another Lehigh fiasco, Duke needs to make a concerted effort on the boards.
Don't look ahead
This has been a problem for the Blue Devils in the past. With its sights set on North Carolina, Duke collapsed late against the Demon Deacons in the penultimate regular-season game. The Blue Devils are a young squad, meaning they need the veterans to step up and provide leadership to keep the team focused on the task at hand. Andre Dawkins can speak to staying focused, having cut down the nets in 2010. Tyler Thornton is a senior captain, but he also is in constant foul woes, making it very difficult to be a leader on the court. The onus of keeping Duke focused could fall on the shoulders of redshirt sophomore and captain Rodney Hood, though he has never played in an NCAA tournament game.
Slow down Langston Hall
Mercer has talent, but no one on the roster can match guard Langston Hall. The Altanta product is the Bears' only double-digit scorer at 14.7 per game, and also leads the team in assists with 5.6 dimes per contest. Thornton, Rasheed Sulaimon and Quinn Cook will all see time on Hall defensively. Perhaps just as important as stopping Hall is staying out of foul trouble while doing so, as the Blue Devils can ill-afford to be bogged down in foul woes in win-or-go-home scenarios.
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