After a rough week for the Blue Devils, the road only gets tougher with an Elite Eight rematch against Michigan State in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The Blue Zone gives you three things to keep an eye on Tuesday night:
Battle of the star point guards
This heavyweight battle will see a plethora of intriguing matchups, but no matchup is more anticipated than Tre Jones vs. Cassius Winston. The two point guards are undisputed superstars for their teams, and each poses a difficult test for the other. Winston, who was the only unanimous selection to the AP preseason All-American team, will be the most dynamic offensive player on the floor. Jones’ lockdown defensive skills should neutralize Winston’s elite playmaking, however, the Spartans' star will be a constant challenge for Jones from tip to the final whistle.
On the offensive end of the floor, Jones hasn’t been playing at the caliber everyone expected from him this year. Over the last three games, the sophomore has committed 17 turnovers after committing only nine in the first five games. While Winston isn’t an elite defender, he is a crafty veteran who is certainly aware of Jones’ recent struggles. A solid offensive performance from Duke’s star point guard against one of the best guards in the country could go a long way going forward.
Who can replace Cassius Stanley?
On Friday night against Winthrop, freshman phenom Cassius Stanley went down with a hamstring injury. The guard had been one of Duke’s most efficient and productive players thus far, and his absence will leave a sizable hole in the roster. However, the performances of Matthew Hurt and Joey Baker against the Eagles were positive signs for the Blue Devils' potential to overcome Stanley’s absence.
Baker offers a more traditional plug-in option, as his shooting ability allows him to slide naturally into the shooting guard position. While Hurt can’t fill Stanley’s shoes positionally, his scoring ability makes him the prime candidate to shoulder the scoring burden.
Where’s the bench production?
Early in the year, it seemed like Duke’s depth was going to be one of its biggest strengths. Every player in the rotation was productive with their minutes, and everyone had a hand in each win. As of late, however, that trend has flipped on its head. Outside of Baker’s 16 points Friday, the rest of the bench combined for only 11. In the loss to Stephen F. Austin, the bench contributed a total of seven points. Especially after the loss of Stanley, the bench will have to step up and be more productive with the schedule getting tougher.
Look for Alex O’Connell as a good candidate to fill in for Stanley. O’Connell has shown flashes of his ability to be a volume scorer (see last year’s game against Syracuse), but so far this year the junior has regressed. In his last five games, O’Connell has only scored six points, going scoreless on two separate occasions.
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