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Key three: Duke men's basketball looks to avoid historic upset in NCAA opener

<p>Duke is still struggling to hit from beyond the arc, continuing a trend from the regular season.</p>

Duke is still struggling to hit from beyond the arc, continuing a trend from the regular season.

After North Dakota State beat N.C. Central 78-74 in the First Four, the 16th-seeded Bison are set to take on the top-seeded Blue Devils Friday at 7:10 p.m. in the Round of 64. The Blue Zone looks at three aspects of the game that could be crucial for the Blue Devils in securing a victory: 

Please, please, please don't lose

While it feels silly for me to even write this—after all, No. 1 seeds are 135-1 against No. 16 seeds all-time—my guard is up following UMBC's shocker against top-seeded Virginia last season. 

Losing to North Dakota State would be an absolute disaster for everybody even remotely associated with Duke basketball. After seeing the never-ending UMBC jokes directed at the Cavaliers, I absolutely dread any potential "LOL North Dakota State" retorts from my non-Duke friends. It's not fun being the butt of the joke.

Having said all that, I don't anticipate the Bison making any sort of run for a historic upset. This year's Blue Devil squad is special, and I see no indication of Duke coming out flat on Friday. But please Blue Devils, for everyone's sake, take care of business.

Get the 3-point shot fixed

North Dakota State ranks outside the top 300 nationally in terms of 3-point defense, and Duke ranks outside the top 300 in terms of 3-point offense. When a moveable object meets a stoppable force, which will prevail?

In the Blue Devils' ACC tournament title run, they made less than 25 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc. Sure, Duke can win without the three, but it would be much easier to do so as a competent outside shooting team.

With his team as 27.5-point favorites, Coach K has more flexibility both in game plan and rotations. The Blue Devils should get the recently struggling Alex O'Connell and lightly used Joey Baker extended minutes Friday evening, as they will benefit greatly from having consistent 3-point shooters off the bench in later NCAA tournament action.

With my obligatory comparison to Duke's 2015 national championship team, the Blue Devils will need a Grayson Allen-esque spark—Allen hit six clutch threes in the Final Four after averaging 4.1 points prior to the NCAA tournament—from outside in order to bring home their sixth title.

Is Tre Jones a scorer now?

After deferring to fellow freshmen Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish offensively for most of the regular season, Tre Jones took on a new role as a scorer in the ACC tournament. The 6-foot-2 point guard, who is seen as more of a defender, averaged 14.7 points in the tournament, including a career-high 18 in the final against Florida State.

Since I already opened up the 2015 can of worms, the parallel between Jones and his older brother Tyus Jones are ever apparent. Tyus Jones famously took on more of a scoring role in Duke's title stretch, and scored a game-high 23 points in the national championship game.

Although the Blue Devils have no shortage of scoring, a more aggressive Tre Jones will make their offense even more potent. Inevitably there will be a game where Barrett or Williamson gets into foul trouble, and Jones needs to be comfortable shouldering a greater offensive load.


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