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X-factor: R.J. Barrett will need to perform at a higher level to put away the Hoosiers

<p>Freshman R.J. Barrett can make an even bigger impact on the game if he looks for his teammates more.</p>

Freshman R.J. Barrett can make an even bigger impact on the game if he looks for his teammates more.

Following a tough loss to No. 3 overall Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational finals, the Blue Devils head home to face off with the Indiana Hoosiers Tuesday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Zone takes look at a player from each side that could be the difference-maker in the matchup. 

Duke: Forward R.J. Barrett 

In a heartbreaking loss to Gonzaga this past Tuesday, freshman R.J. Barrett dropped a game-high 23 points for the Blue Devils. While his basic stat line was rather impressive—adding seven rebounds and three assists—the No. 1 overall recruit will need to perform at an even higher level to ensure a bounce back win against Indiana (5-1). 

The 6-foot-7 freshman may have led the Blue Devils in points, but he also claimed the lion’s share of shots. Taking 25 of his team’s 72 attempts, Barrett only converted on nine, for a subpar 36 percent mark. If the Mississauga, Ont. product wishes to continue in his role as primary shooter, he will need to increase his conversion rate, or spread the ball around more if he cannot. 

Another aspect of his game that will need to shine Tuesday is Barrett’s ball distribution. For a “big”, three assists would normally be seen as satisfactory, but in head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s position less offense, Barrett takes on the role of the secondary ball handler after point guard Tre Jones. Duke’s leading point scorer will need to facilitate more offense than he has created thus far if the Blue Devils hope to fashion a more balanced offense that will carry them through early season challenges and into conference play. 

On a brighter note, while taking on more and more responsibility on the offensive side of the ball, Barrett only had one turnover against the best defense Duke has seen thus far— Gonzaga. Turnovers figured to be an issue for the Blue Devils’ star in earlier games, after committing five against Army and four against Auburn, but if he can protect the ball all season like he managed to against the Bulldogs, the assists will come. 

If Barrett can excel in these three aspects of his game, the Blue Devils should regain confidence with a sizeable win against the Hoosiers in front of a rowdy home crowd. 

Indiana: Guard Romeo Langford 

A sublime performance from Romeo Langford represents the Hoosiers’ best shot at taking an upset victory out from under the Blue Devils on the road. 

At 6-foot-6, the guard has both the size as well as the shooting accuracy to score against a large, lane dominant Duke defense. To this point, Langford has averaged 18.5 points per game on an impressively efficient 52 percent shooting— it is this type of scoring proficiency that the Hoosiers will need to match the explosiveness of the star-studded Duke team. 

Indiana runs a fluid, multi-threat offense that does not center around any one player, but rather works to find the open man under the basket. Collectively, the team shoots 37.8 percent from beyond the arc— while this is a respectable mark, the Hoosiers will need to step up their game on the perimeter, starting with Langford. The team’s top scorer will need to contribute a more significant margin of his scoring from beyond the arc, as Duke’s paint defense will be hard to penetrate. The first few games of the season have shown that the Blue Devils have a potential vulnerability in their transition and perimeter defense, and Langford will need to do his part to expose this if the Hoosiers are to put up a fight. 

Langford will also have to come up with a big game on the other side of the ball. Playing 34 or more minutes in each of his team’s last four contests, the 215-pound freshman has had the charge of staying in front of either his opponent’s primary ball handler or range shooter. This task will not change come 9:30 p.m. next Tuesday, as Langford will likely have the plebeian task of guarding either Tre Jones or Cam Reddish, both difficult to mark in their own ways. It may even be that the New Albany, Ind. native will need to split his focus between the multi-faceted Reddish, or the shifty Jones— an assignment that Langford will need to be on the top of his game to succeed in. 

Look for Romeo Langford to have a huge game if the Hoosiers are to keep this game close and have a shot at delivering the Duke Blue Devils their second loss in a row. 


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