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XFactor: Duke basketball vs Wake Forest

After a lethargic effort in a 76-62 loss to Pittsburgh, No. 17 Duke hits the hardwood Tuesday to face Wake Forest hoping to regain its edge on both ends of the floor. The Blue Devils currently sit in a logjam of teams competing for a top-four seed in the ACC Tournament. The Blue Zone takes a look at one player from each team who could be the difference in the game:

Duke: center Marshall Plumlee

Due to the extended absence of senior forward Amile Jefferson, the Blue Devils have relied heavily on the 7-foot big man to control the paint. Averaging 8.0 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game, the center has done all that Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski could've hoped for after Plumlee played sparingly during his first few years on the team. 

But Plumlee posted his worst performance of the season Sunday, laying an egg against the surging Panthers with no points and zero field-goal attempts, along with just four rebounds. Without him, the Blue Devils were dominated on the glass—losing the rebound battle 39-20—and allowed their opponents to score 24 points in the paint and 19 second-chance points. Although Duke's rebounding responsibilities should not fall entirely on the shoulders of the Warsaw, Ind., native, Plumlee is the team's leading rebounder and they need him to make an impact on the boards.

Against a deep and strong Wake Forest front line, the Blue Devils will need their big man to bounce back and put up numbers like he had for much of February. Entering Sunday, Plumlee had recorded at least seven rebounds in every game of the month and last Thursday against Florida State, he notched his fifth double-double of the season. If Duke's center can focus on his strengths—rebounding and finishing near the hoop—he should be able to shake off a rough outing and get back to being a critical player for the team. 

Wake Forest: forward Devin Thomas

Coming off a two-game suspension for violations of athletics department policy, the senior forward returned to action Sunday night, tallying 13 points and six rebounds in just 23 minutes of play. At 6-foot-9, Thomas is the Demon Deacons' leading scorer and rebounder—averaging a double-double at 15.7 points and 10 rebounds per game.

Although a hot temper and resulting foul trouble kept him on the bench for significant minutes against the Blue Devils in the teams' first matchup, don't expect the same Tuesday night. Thomas is a bruiser that can push most of Duke's forwards around, but also has the soft touch that makes him a dangerous scoring threat from 15 feet and in. The Harrisburg, Pa., native averages 1.6 blocks per contest and will be unafraid to challenge Duke's attacking backcourt when they attack the rim.

The Blue Devils certainly are aware of both the good Devin Thomas and the bad Devin Thomas. Last season, the senior scored 24 points against Duke at home, but failed to get on the scoreboard in the subsequent matchup in Durham. His 21 points and 12 rebounds earlier this season against Duke were team highs for the game—but the question remains as to which version of Thomas will appear in Cameron Indoor Stadium Tuesday.

Mitchell Gladstone | Sports Managing Editor

Twitter: @mpgladstone13

A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak." 


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