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The key three: Duke basketball vs. N.C. State

Duke will hope to avenge its Jan. 11 87-75 loss to N.C State from earlier this year when it takes on the Wolfpack in the ACC tournament quarterfinals Thursday at the Greensboro Coliseum. Duke vs. N.C. State is the most frequent matchup in ACC Tournament history, as the Blue Devils hope to move to 16-9 in the series after beating the Wolfpack 75-67 in the 2014 semifinals. Three keys to Duke preventing N.C. State from advancing to the semifinals for the fourth consecutive year:

Find a way to cool down N.C. State’s backcourt

Wolfpack guards Ralston Turner, Trevor Lacey and Anthony "Cat" Barber were pivotal in the team’s win against Duke in January and have played with flare ever since. In that game, Turner and Lacey beat the Blue Devils with 9-of-14 long-range shooting and put together 37 combined points, allowing N.C. State to thrive, even with an off game from Barber. Wednesday night in the quarterfinals against Pittsburgh, Barber led the way with a career-high 34 points, and the sophomore has averaged 17.6 points on 19-of-36 three pointers in his past ten games.

The strength of this trio lies in its consistency. When one player is off, the other two are likely to step up. Considering the Wolfpack’s ability to also finish down low with a rotation of big men, Duke will need to slow down the N.C. State backcourt using a variety of defenses to control the tempo of the game. If the Wolfpack get out in transition and get their guards going early, it could be another long day for the Blue Devils.

Knock down open looks

Duke also features a formidable backcourt, which has improved significantly since the Blue Devils' first loss of the season. With Jahlil Okafor likely to be at least double-teamed, Duke will need to capitalize on open jumpers and long-range shots. In N.C. State’s victory earlier this year, the Wolfpack held the Blue Devils to a season-low 36.9 field goal percentage, including a 5-of-27 combined shooting performance by Tyus Jones, Matt Jones and Justise Winslow.

As is the case with most teams, Duke has shot much better in its wins than its losses and head coach Mike Krzyzewski has pointed out time and time again how his team's ability to make shots affects its defense. If the Blue Devils are able to set their defense after connecting on the offensive end, their odds of slowing down N.C. State also go way up.

Get production out of Amile Jefferson

In the January showdown, undefeated Duke opted for its first lineup change of the season, swapping Amile Jefferson for the smaller Matt Jones. Matt Jones wound up playing his worst game of the season, getting pushed around for 1-of-8 shooting with as many turnovers as rebounds.

Jefferson put together a decent outing with eight rebounds in 22 minutes, but he will likely need to play a much bigger role than he has in recent weeks to catapult Duke to a victory. Playing against such a lengthy team inside, with forwards BeeJay Anya and Kyle Washginton each recording four blocks in the first matchup, Okafor will need all the help he can get. Along with Winslow, Jefferson is the most likely option because of his ability to rebound and finish easy opportunities down low.


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