Many people around college basketball casually refer to Madison Square Garden as a second home for Duke, but heading into the third week of the season, the Blue Devils may need to actually find a permanent locker room in "The World's Most Famous Arena."
Just two weeks after opening its season in New York for a Champions Classic clash with Kansas, Duke will head back to play its second and third games of the season at Madison Square Garden, this time as part the 2K Empire Classic. The Blue Devils will face off against California Thursday night, then play the winner of No. 22 Texas and Georgetown Friday, assuming Duke beats the Golden Bears (if the Blue Devils lose Thursday, they will play the loser of the Longhorns-Hoyas matchup). Duke's last appearance in the event came in 2015, when it knocked off VCU and Georgetown to win the event.
The tournament will be this year's Blue Devils' first appearances as the No. 1 team in the country, as Duke rose from No. 4 in the preseason over the first two weeks of the season. Here are five things to watch for when the Blue Devils return to Madison Square Garden later this week.
Tre on lockdown duty
Last season, Blue Devil point guard Tre Jones feasted on some of the best guards in college basketball, completely shutting down star guards like Shamorie Ponds, Coby White and Chris Lykes. The sophomore will face more great competition this week and could use the opportunity to kick off his Defensive Player of the Year campaign. Starting with the Golden Bears, sophomore guard Matt Bradley has exploded in his second season, similar to Duke's Grayson Allen in 2015. Bradley is currently averaging 21.3 points per contest, up from 10.8 last season, and is knocking down three 3-pointers per game on 52.9 percent shooting from deep.
Regardless of Duke's opponent in the second game, Jones will again have his hands full. Longhorn guard Matt Coleman III is a heady guard who can score from all three levels. The Norfolk, Va., native leads Texas in scoring and assists and could have an answer for Jones thanks to his experience. If it's Georgetown for the Friday game, Jones could matchup with Mac McClung, who may not have the same statistics as the other guards, but would be one of the most athletic guards Jones has faced in college.
A familiar face
Duke fans may recognize Hoya big man Omer Yurtseven during the Empire Classic as the Turkish center that started his career at North Carolina State before transferring to Georgetown. Yurtseven sat out the 2018-19 season due to transfer rules.
The 7-foot, 264-pounder averages a double-double with 17.0 points and 12.5 rebounds per game, but Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski should have an answer if the two teams square off. Kansas center Udoka Azubuike lived a nightmare in the season opener against the Blue Devils, facing double-teams every time he caught the ball in the post, scoring just eight points in 30 minutes. Yurtseven posted an impressive 16 points and nine rebounds in his last game against Duke, so a similar double-teaming gameplan may be in order.
Shaka-ing it up
Texas head coach Shaka Smart has a talented group that is back in the AP Top 25 after winning the NIT championship last season. Smart's teams are known for forcing a lot of turnovers with a havoc-based defense, something they haven't accomplished this year. The Longhorns are forcing less than 17 turnovers per game, good for just 87th in the country. They have the athletic guards to do it in Coleman and Andrew Jones, yet in Texas' biggest win of the year against Purdue, the Longhorns lost the turnover battle.
There is no better option for the Blue Devils than to put the ball in Jones' hands and let him operate, but if Texas truly creates chaos like in previous years, then Jones and other perimeter options will have more leeway to score instead of force-feeding center Vernon Carey Jr.
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Bearing towards the 3-point arc
If there's any reason to see an upset Thursday, it will be because of the Golden Bears' ability to launch it from deep. California ranks No. 3 nationally in 3-point shooting efficiency at 47.1 percent as a team. Five of the Golden Bears' eight rotation players are shooting above a 50 percent clip
3-point defense hasn't been an issue for Duke yet this year, but, in a recent close win over Georgia State, the Panthers shot a respectable 5-for-12 from deep.
Back in the holiday spirit?
Last season's holiday tournament didn't end so well for the Blue Devils, as R.J. Barrett's failed heroics in the championship game of the Maui Invitational led to a loss against Gonzaga for then-No. 1 Duke. That loss was the Blue Devils' first holiday tournament loss since 2014, when Aaron Gordon and No. 4 Arizona took care of Jabari Parker and No. 6 Duke.
The Blue Devils have lost just four holiday tournaments since 2000.