The No.15 Blue Devils play their last conference road game Sunday when they face off against Pittsburgh. Duke enters the game following a win against Florida State, while the Panthers enter having lost the last time out against Louisville. The Blue Zone takes a look at one player from each team who could be the difference in the game:
Duke: center Marshall Plumlee
Coming off his sixth double-double of his career—and fifth of this season—Plumlee will need to be at his best once again against Pittsburgh. The Panthers own the best rebounding margin in the ACC at plus-8.4, so the big man will be tasked with cleaning up the boards for the Blue Devils. Pittsburgh also ranks fourth in the conference in offensive rebounds per game, and with Brandon Ingram likely playing most of the game at power forward, Plumlee will need to help prevent the Panthers from getting extra possessions.
On the defensive end, Plumlee will need to help slow down the Panthers leading scorer Michael Young. The junior forward is averaging 16.1 points per game at a 53 percent clip—the fifth best in the ACC. Preventing the Duquesne, Pa., native from getting easy buckets near the hoop will be crucial for the Blue Devils.
Offensively, the 7-footer will look to pick up where he left off against Florida State, and be active down low for Duke. Pittsburgh ranks in the bottom half in the conference in three-point defense, and the Blue Devils thrive from deep. But to keep the Panthers from hedging out to the three-point line, Plumlee will need to be a force down low early on and take advantage of the touches he gets in the post
If Plumlee can set the tone on both ends of the floor—and stay out of foul trouble—Duke should feel good about its chances of winning its final conference road game.
Pittsburgh: guard James Robinson
After scoring only two points on 1-for-8 shooting in last year's matchup against the Blue Devils, Robinson will look to lead Pittsburgh to its first win against Duke since 2007. If recent play is any indication, the guard will be a load for the Blue Devils to handle as he has averaged 15.5 points in the Panthers last four games.
The Mitchellville, Md, native leads the conference with 5.2 assists per game and will look to pace the home team's offense Sunday. Perimeter defense has not been one of the strong suits for Duke this season, often causing them to resort to a 2-3 zone. Expect this to be the case once again if the Blue Devils can't keep the skilled guard in front of them.
Limiting Robinson’s ability to distribute on the offensive end will help Duke set the pace of the game and slow down a Pittsburgh offense that ranks fourth in the conference in points per game. But if Robinson is at his best, the Blue Devils could have trouble preventing the guard from getting easy looks for Young and forward Jamel Artis.
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