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Key three: Duke men's basketball must ward off a hungry Florida State squad to win ACC tournament

<p>Antonio Vrankovic provided a much needed spark off the bench against North Carolina.</p>

Antonio Vrankovic provided a much needed spark off the bench against North Carolina.

After defeating North Carolina 74-73 Friday night, Duke will play tonight for the ACC tournament title. The Blue Devils will take on Florida State, which upset No. 1 Virginia 69-59 in its semifinal, Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. The Blue Zone breaks down three keys for tonight's contest:

Buckle down on defense

Florida State had an astounding performance in its game against Virginia, shooting 56.5 percent from the floor. That’s an extremely strong rate, as the Cavaliers usually allow their opponents only a 37.4 shooting percentage. Virginia only had two losses in its regular season, both by Duke. If the Seminoles were able to tear down a team with a pack-line defense, the Blue Devils have another thing coming for them.

The Seminoles also cleaned the glass in their latest game against the Cavaliers, finishing with nine offensive rebounds. Duke will have to use a size advantage to defend Florida State in the paint, with Zion Williamson as the go-to player for this, as he leads the team with 9.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. 

Which bench will prevail?

Duke’s starters have shown how strong they are all season, but this has caused a lack in overall bench development. On Friday night, there was a change of pace as bench players were able to see the light of day. Antonio Vrankovic and Jordan Goldwire were put on the floor and played some really good defense, and their contribution was so vital that Coach K brought them back into the second half as starters. Although this showed that the bench players can step up when needed, the Seminoles’ depth is superior to that of the Blue Devils.

Goldwire and Vrankovic only contributed one layup each in the many minutes that they were on the court, while the bench players for the Seminoles put up numbers at the same rate as their starters. David Nichols was the leading scorer for Florida State, putting up 14 points off the bench, and Mfiondu Kabengele tied for third as he contributed 10 points in his 16 minutes on the floor. This is a huge advantage for the Seminoles, as those bench players are coming in with more energy than the guys who are in for almost the entire duration of the game. In their minutes, they’re able to come in and get the job done. Florida State’s bench combined for 28 points against UVA, while Duke’s only brought in 6 last night. In the final round of the ACC tournament, both teams will be tired, and the Blue Devils must delegate.

Who’s hungry?

It was just one week ago when Duke finished off their regular season with a second devastating loss against UNC. However, a lot has changed since then. Williamson has recovered from his injury and the Blue Devils felt the sweet taste of a one-point victory against the Tar Heels last night. With their greatest rivals out of the way and the fourth-seeded Seminoles having knocked the top-seeded Cavaliers out of the tournament, the cards are stacked in Duke’s favor. Based on all of that, the Blue Devils should be home free, right? Not at all. 

Florida State hasn’t been in the running for an ACC title since 2012 and now they’re hungry for a win. They’ve beaten out the top seed in the tournament and will now be driven by confidence. Not to mention, they did lose earlier this season to Duke by just one point, so they’ll even be driven by revenge too. Perhaps FSU will want this win more, since the Blue Devils have already had a chance to beat out their greatest rivals last night. 

On the other end of things, Duke is finally bouncing back after a rough month and why stop now? There’s a lot of pride riding on the outcome of this upcoming game, and it’ll come down to which team wants the win more.


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