After a statement home win over the Eastern Michigan Eagles last Wednesday, the Blue Devils fly to Maui for their first game of the Maui Invitational against the San Diego State Aztecs. The Blue Zone analyzes a key player from each side who has the potential to make or break the matchup for his respective team.

Duke: Guard Tre Jones 

The most important player across the court will be the freshman likely to be assigned to contain the explosive Watson— point guard Tre Jones. He will have the charge of limiting the production of the Aztec’s top scorer, but his more meaningful play will come on the other side of the ball. 

With numbers that are often overshadowed by Duke’s three other freshman starters, Jones’ contributions to the Blue Devils’ first three victories are often lost amidst Zion Williamson highlights. Jones has dished out 22 assists in his first three games in Duke blue, including eight in just 21 minutes against Eastern Michigan. 

This tournament is a great opportunity for Jones to nudge his offense into midseason form. If he can continue his stellar ball distribution against a less talented opponent, it could give the still relatively inexperienced Blue Devils the confidence boost needed to handle the winner of the game between Auburn and Xavier the very next night. 

That being said, the Apple Valley, Minn. product must improve his shooting touch if Duke is to work toward a five-threat offense that could put away this game as well as carry the team deep into March. Thus far, Jones is draining a dismal 27.8 percent of his shots, and while it is difficult to get in a rhythm when asked to shoot with the infrequency he has seen, the Blue Devil offense will need a more meaningful contribution in the points column when it comes up against ACC powerhouses such as Virginia, or even possibly Gonzaga later in this tournament. 

Jones having a big game Monday evening could both put away the Aztecs early in the contest as well as cement the offense that Duke will rely on for the rest of the 2018-19 campaign. 

San Diego State: Guard Devin Watson 

Senior Devin Watson has been the workhorse for this San Diego State group through the team’s first two contests. Playing 70 of the 80 minutes of game time, the 6-foot-1 guard takes on the role of primary offensive ball handler for a team who has dropped an impressive 179 points so far this season. Watson figures into a decent margin of these points, draining 34 of his own and dishing to his teammates for 11 assists so far. 

We have seen that the Duke defense can have a difficult time in transition and defending the perimeter against smaller, faster teams than the big man laden Blue Devil lineup, and Watson must do his part to expose this flaw. The Oceanside, Calif. native’s game centers around flashy dribbling and quick attacks to the rim to create shots for him or his teammates, and this will need to continue against the staunch paint defense that Duke has exhibited so far this season. The Aztecs’ patented drive kick offense will be in full effect against a team much more talented than them, and Watson will be the largest factor in the success or failure of San Diego State’s efforts against the No. 1 team in the country. 

Devin Watson must come up with the performance of a lifetime, scoring at a similar clip while dishing to his teammates even a little bit more to earn a victory in Maui Monday night.