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Key three: Duke men's basketball vs. Louisville

<p>Jayson Tatum and Amile Jefferson will need to help Duke hold its own around the basket against a physical Louisville team Thursday.</p>

Jayson Tatum and Amile Jefferson will need to help Duke hold its own around the basket against a physical Louisville team Thursday.

Duke is set to play a rare top-15 matchup in the ACC tournament quarterfinals against No. 4 seed Louisville after Luke Kennard came up big down the stretch to lift his team past Clemson Wednesday afternoon. Here are three keys to one of the marquee matchups of Thursday's slate of college basketball for the Blue Devils.

Protect the Paint

In its last meeting against the Cardinals, Duke was unable to stop Louisville’s big men down low. Anas Mahmoud—a seven-foot junior from Egypt—scored 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the Cardinals' 78-69 win Jan. 14, significantly higher than his season averages of 5.8 and 3.9, respectively. The Blue Devils will have to find a way to limit him and the other dangerous Louisville front-court Cardinal players, Jaylen Johnson and Mangok Mathiang. This time around, though, Duke will have Amile Jefferson—who did not play in the last meeting due to a right-foot bone bruise—to help out in the interior.

Feed Frank the Ball

Frank Jackson has been on fire recently. In the last four games, he has averaged 18.3 points while shooting better than 55 percent from the field. The 6-foot-3 guard from Alpine, Utah, has become much more aggressive at attacking the rim, and has also found his shooting touch from deep—he knocked down both of his 3-point attempts Wednesday against the Tigers. The freshman has shot 64.3 percent from beyond the arc in the last four games, providing the Blue Devils with another much-needed deep threat, especially with Grayson Allen's production declining.

Get Back the Grayson of Old

“I’m ready to go... I’m as confident as I need to be,” were the words of the 6-foot-5 junior guard after the win against Clemson, a game in which he would finish with more technical fouls than points—one to zero. Regardless of how Allen feels after his first zero-point performance since freshman year, Duke needs him to attack and become a threat again if it wants to accomplish its goals in March. 

Most of the scoring responsibility has fallen on sophomore Luke Kennard and freshman Jayson Tatum’s shoulders this season. But Tatum has been unreliable late in games, and Kennard cannot carry the entire burden himself. Although Jackson has become a consistent secondary option, he does not have as much experience as Allen does in big games. If the Blue Devils are going to win Thursday, against a physical Louisville team, they are going to need Allen to be at his best.


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