On Saturday night, Duke will begin ACC play against Clemson. The Blue Zone breaks down three aspects of the game that could tilt the contest in the Blue Devils’ last game before conference play:

Get the outside shot, and Alex O’Connell, going

It’s no secret—this year’s Blue Devils simply can not get their outside shots to fall consistently. Duke’s 32.4 percent clip from beyond the arc ranks as the 256th best mark in the nation, and is nearly 5 percentage points below last season’s 3-point percentage. 

While most efforts to solve the Blue Devils’ 3-point woes seem to focus on Cam Reddish, the team’s highest volume outside shooter, improving, the solution may come elsewhere, particularly from reserve guard Alex O’Connell. With a 48.9 percent conversion rate, O’Connell led Duke in 3-point percentage last year. Although the Roswell, Ga., native is down to a more pedestrian 37.5 percent clip from outside this year, O’Connell could be key as an offensive spark for the Blue Devils against the Tigers and as conference play progresses.

Control the paint

With Zion Williamson, Javin DeLaurier, Marques Bolden and Jack White, Duke has perhaps the best interior defense in all of college basketball, leading the country in blocks by a wide margin. However, this Clemson team has some of the strongest finishers in the ACC, and boasts the No. 10 offense nationally in terms of 2-point field goal percentage.

Although Marcquise Reed averages more than 20 points per game, it is the inside scorers that truly power the Tigers’ offense. Elijah Thomas and David Skara both rank in the top 30 in the country in terms of effective field goal percentage, posing perhaps the biggest challenge inside for this vaunted Blue Devil defense so far. If Duke can continue its stellar defensive play in the paint, it should coast to victory in its first action of 2019.

Shake off the cobwebs

With a 16-day break since its last contest, Duke will need to avoid looking rusty in its conference opener against Clemson Saturday night. In fact, the top-ranked Blue Devils have played in just two contests since Dec. 8, with victories over Princeton and No. 11 Texas Tech on Dec. 20 and Dec. 22, respectively. Despite Duke opening ACC play as a 15-point favorite, it needs to avoid an early conference loss, like its 96-85 defeat to unranked N.C. State 364 days ago, in order to be in pole position for the regular season ACC title.