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Key three: Duke men's basketball needs a short memory for 2K Empire Classic

Freshman center Vernon Carey Jr. has surprisingly held his own on the defensive end this year.
Freshman center Vernon Carey Jr. has surprisingly held his own on the defensive end this year.

Newly-crowned No. 1 Duke flies to New York for the last legs of the 2K Empire Classic, starting Thursday against California, then either No. 22 Texas or Georgetown. The Blue Devils could play a team named after America’s first President, but Duke rules the American hardwood—for now. The Blue Zone examines three keys to keeping control of the throne in the Big Apple:

Let it go

New York might be a place to make memories, but Duke had better stay in the present. Barely two weeks will have passed since Duke’s scrape against Kansas at Madison Square Garden when the Blue Devils make their return to the Big Apple. The ‘W’ in the box score from that matchup is only a pleasant afterimage; Duke and the Jayhawks combined for 44 turnovers, and the Blue Devils had to overcome an nine-point deficit at one point.

Short memories will come in handy against both opponents. They’ll hope they can leave some of the Duke academic tradition back home in Durham.

Press to impress

Tre Jones is far and away the country’s best perimeter defender, but there are rivals even on his own team. Freshman guard Cassius Stanley has matched Jones' team-leading seven steals, as has Wendell Moore in about half of Jones’ minutes. Alex O’Connell’s six steals and Jordan Goldwire’s five make every member of the Blue Devil backcourt a defensive menace.

The full-court press in particular has stymied opponents, including Kansas. Duke’s depth and ferocity keep the team in the game even during periods of offensive struggle. In the 2K Empire Classic, covering offensive players from baseline to baseline will significantly disrupt the Blue Devil opponents’ offensive schemes. California relies on its 3-point shot—its 45.5 percent conversion rate is tied for fourth-best in the NCAA. If Duke can get its fingers in the California shooters’ shooting pockets, a Midas touch from deep won’t do much good for the Golden Bears.

Georgetown and Texas pound the ball in the paint to score their buckets. Duke can make sure the ball never gets there against either team. And even if it does, center Vernon Carey Jr. has proven a surprisingly adept interior defender.

Stanley to the cup

Until last Friday's game against Georgia State, Cassius Stanley had been shooting 18-for-22 on the season, a mark of 81.8 percent. His Zion Williamson-like efficiency drew lofty comparisons. Then, a 2-for-12 night against Georgia State deflated the hype.

It was inevitable that Stanley would cool down after his extraordinary start to the year, but he has shown that can finish when and where it counts. The Los Angeles native certainly possesses flair in bunches. A crowded Madison Square Garden will only elevate his gifts, and a tomahawk dunk or two could demoralize an opponent for good.


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