Last year, Duke opened conference play in disappointing fashion after getting rocked by unranked Virginia Tech and surrendering 89 points. The Blue Devils responded to a flurry of defensive questions by playing what may have been their most complete game of the season, dismantling Georgia Tech 110-57. 

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils are in desperate need of a similar bounce-back performance Sunday night at 6 when they travel to Atlanta to take on the slumping Yellow Jackets at McCamish Pavilion for the first time since that blowout.

After mounting a four-game winning streak just a month ago, highlighted by a double-digit upset against then-No. 15 Miami, the Yellow Jackets' season has taken a turn for the worst, both on and off the court. Georgia Tech has dropped six of its last seven contests, four of them coming by more than 10 points. To make matters worse, rather than addressing the Yellow Jackets' offensive woes, with Georgia Tech averaging only 65.6 points per game this season, head coach Josh Pastner has been forced to confront allegations of paying players and sexual assault, both of which he has unequivocally denied.

While not quite as severe as the Yellow Jackets’ mid-season lull, Duke enters the contest losing three of its last four, including perhaps two of its most uninspiring performances of the season. After blowing a double-digit lead to a St. John's team that entered the upset on an 11-game losing streak, Duke looked out of sorts again in an abysmal second half in Chapel Hill in which the Blue Devils scored a mere 29 points against North Carolina.

“We have to stay disciplined," sophomore center Marques Bolden said. "We had a four-point lead coming after the half. We can’t just play 20 minutes, we have to play the whole 40." 

Marvin Bagley III, who will miss Sunday's contest with a right knee sprain suffered against the Tar Heels, also chimed in on his first taste of the rivalry after the game. 

“We’re going to run into adversity throughout this year, but we can’t split up right now," the freshman big man said. "This is a tough time where we really have to come together.”

Although Georgia Tech (11-13, 4-7 in the ACC) does not have several future first-round draft picks—maybe not even one, for that matter—nothing has been guaranteed in college basketball this year. The Yellow Jackets play a hard-nosed defensive brand of basketball, anchored by senior center Ben Lammers, whose 2.6 blocks per game is good for 17th in the nation. The trio of Duke bigs will have their work cut out for them going up against a veteran shot-blocker in the paint and a defense that has already held eight teams to 60 points or fewer, including Syracuse, Notre Dame and Miami.

It’s a different story on the offensive end for Pastner and the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech ranks 330th nationally in points per game and has struggled to find a go-to facilitator. The Yellow Jackets average only 12.6 assists per game and have created only 21 assists in their last 80 minutes of basketball. Although the ball movement has been absent recently for the Yellow Jackets, sophomore guard Josh Okogie has been nothing short of sensational, scoring 20 or more points in three of the last four games, including a 25-point, 10-rebound performance Thursday against Louisville. 

The Blue Devils (19-5, 7-4) have shown various times this season that they are vulnerable to 3-point shooting, and with Okogie shooting better than 40 percent from deep and freshman guard Jose Alvarado almost as efficient, Duke must find a way to defend the perimeter. Additionally, expect the Blue Devil frontcourt, led by Wendell Carter Jr. and Marvin Bagley III, to dominate the boards against a poor rebounding Georgia Tech team. 

Perhaps more important than any X’s or O’s will be for this young group of prospects to find their inner fight and win the 50-50 balls, something they struggled with on the boards against North Carolina. 

“We’ve got to keep practicing hard. That has to be an identity for us,” senior Grayson Allen said following the loss. “In 2015, we lost those two right in a row, and we turned it around right away. We’ve got to turn it around now.” 

Ben Leonard contributed reporting.

Note: This story was updated at 11:45 a.m. Sunday to include Bagley's knee sprain. See here for more details.