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X-Factor: Vernon Carey Jr. needs to find his old self against Pittsburgh

<p>Vernon Carey Jr. shot just 3-for-9 in Duke's last game against Miami.</p>

Vernon Carey Jr. shot just 3-for-9 in Duke's last game against Miami.

Last week, Duke throttled Miami at home to break a two-game losing streak. After a full week of rest and adjustment, the Blue Devils will be back on the court to host Pittsburgh Tuesday. The Blue Zone breaks down a key player from each team:

Duke: Center Vernon Carey Jr.

Vernon Carey Jr. shouldn’t be a wild card or an X-factor. After all, the freshman phenom is leading the team in total points, total rebounds and total blocks this season. Nevertheless, Carey’s performances in the past two games were subpar. Against Louisville, Carey was marred by foul trouble and turnovers, failing to be the post threat that Duke needed to overcome the Cardinals. Three days later against Miami, Carey shot a season-worst 33.3 percent from the floor. It seems that the big man has reached a bottleneck, and this upcoming Pittsburgh game might be a good opportunity for him to reassert his dominance.

The Panthers only have two men who can match Carey’s 6-foot-10, 270-pound body: the 6-foot-9  Eric Hamilton and the 6-foot-10 Terrell Brown. Both of these players are limited on the offensive end, averaging fewer than six points per game. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh as a team can easily get into foul trouble, and both Hamilton and Brown registered one send-off this season. Carey should be able to operate with ease in his comfort zone with solid footwork and soft touch around the rim.

Pittsburgh: Forward Justin Champagne

The Panthers almost pulled off a 16-point comeback at Syracuse last Saturday despite leading scorer Trey McGowens only tallying seven points on two field goals. It was freshman forward Justin Champagne who kept the game alive for Pittsburgh. Champagne put up 12 points and six rebounds in the second half, missing just one shot the entire game.

Standing at 6-foot-6, the Brooklyn, N.Y. native is an athletic slasher who makes a living being tough on both ends of the floor. The freshman had his best game so far against the Tar Heels with 22 points, draining four shots from deep. He also had eight rebounds, two steals and two blocks in that game. However, Champagne can be inconsistent at times. Last year against Rutgers and Louisville, Champagne missed all 13 of his field-goal attempts and only converted a free throw for a total of 61 minutes on the floor.

Champagne will likely match up with Matthew Hurt. Hurt will need to utilize his larger size to make up for the lack of athleticism. The Blue Devils will need to make sure the Champagne that showed up in Chapel Hill last month doesn’t pay a visit to Cameron next Tuesday.

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