Duke men's basketball to battle No. 13 Florida State in ACC litmus test

<p>Tre Jones has been steady as the Blue Devils' floor general, but it's his constant ball pressure on defense that has given life to the Duke offense.</p>

Tre Jones has been steady as the Blue Devils' floor general, but it's his constant ball pressure on defense that has given life to the Duke offense.

On most occasions, Duke quite literally towers over its opponents. The Blue Devils have played just one team whose average height gets within a half inch of their own—and that Gonzaga squad was without 6-foot-10 standout Killian Tillie.

But that won't be the case Saturday afternoon when No. 1 Duke travels to Tallahassee, Fla. 13th-ranked Florida State has size, and plenty of it, headlined by 7-foot-4 senior Christ Koumadje and 6-foot-10 sophomore Mfiondu Kabengele, as the Seminoles have leaned on an experienced nine-man rotation to carry them into conference play with just one loss.

All that height will pose a challenge for the Blue Devils when they tip off against head coach Leonard Hamilton's group at 2 p.m. at what is expected to be a raucous, sold-out Donald L. Tucker Civic Center for an ACC litmus test.

"We haven't played a team like that yet," junior Marques Bolden said when asked about Florida State's size. "We've just got to be ready to go in there and fight for all 40 minutes."

The Seminoles (13-2, 1-1 in the ACC) are by no stretch an offensive juggernaut, ranking 41st in adjusted efficiency on that end of the floor, yet they are 20th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and fourth in the conference in offensive rebounds per game.

Pair that with an underrated defense that has done enough to lift Florida State to double-digit victories thus far—albeit against a relatively unimpressive nonconference slate—and the Seminoles have stuck inside the AP top 20 since the preseason poll was released in late October.

Against No. 4 Virginia, however, Florida State's weaknesses were right in the spotlight. The Seminoles converted just 15 field goals all game, the same number of turnovers forced by the Cavaliers, and they didn't reach the 30-point mark until nearly midway through the second half.

That game was in Charlottesville, Va., though, and when Florida State takes to the floor against a top-five opponent for the second time in as many weeks, it will do so on its own turf.

"It was good for us to play another ACC opponent in their own venue, but at the same time, we told our guys that's not really what the ACC is all about," junior Javin DeLaurier said, referring to Duke's 87-65 win at Wake Forest Tuesday. "When we go down Saturday, it's probably going to be a lot more hostile...and it's going to be a bit of a different animal. But at the same time, that's exciting—it's the best conference in the country."

Although the Blue Devils lost their last matchup in Tallahassee two seasons ago and have fallen victim to the Seminoles twice in their last four road trips, Duke (13-1, 2-0) has dominated the recent series with wins in the teams' other six contests, dating back to the 2012-13 campaign.

Last season, it was an offensive slugfest in Durham as Duke hit the century mark in a 100-93 victory. This time around, don't expect the same. The Blue Devils will bring the nation's second-ranked defense to the Florida panhandle, and Florida State isn't too shabby on that end of the floor either—it's currently 17th in adjusted defensive efficiency and the Seminoles have surrendered 80 or more points only once all year. 

Duke, despite pulling away in both of its ACC games thus far, has struggled in the early minutes of each. The Blue Devils trailed Clemson 16-15 after 10 minutes last Saturday and were only up a pair at the same point against the Demon Deacons.

Instead of being concerned about its offense, Duke is focused on getting things going on the defensive end.

"Something that's hurt us is our defense at the beginning of games," DeLaurier said. "We haven't talked a lot and we've let that affect our offense, in a way.... If we come out talking and full of energy, our defense will help our offense and we'll have a better start."

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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