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X-Factor: Duke men's basketball's Joey Baker looks to put pressure on stingy N.C. State defense

Baker is second on the team in both 3-point percentage and 3-pointers made
Baker is second on the team in both 3-point percentage and 3-pointers made

Don’t look now, but the Blue Devils are starting to peak at just the right time before March overtakes the college basketball universe. However, despite North Carolina State being viewed as the tiny third wheel in the intense hatred between Duke and North Carolina, the Blue Devils should not overlook an improving Wolfpack team. The Blue Zone is here to give you a couple key names to look out for in Wednesday night’s battle:

Duke: Forward Joey Baker

When Baker gets hot, it is a sight to behold. The sophomore played a crucial role in Duke’s 24-8 run to shut the door on Notre Dame this past Saturday, hitting two second-half triples that sent the Cameron Crazies into a frenzy. Despite Baker’s electric performance against the Fighting Irish, North Carolina State poses a challenge for players with his skill set. The Wolfpack hold their opponents to just 32.3 percent shooting from deep on the season, meaning they contest nearly every shot from beyond the arc and have a knack for running elite shooters off the 3-point line. With Baker being the second most proficient Blue Devil from deep, Duke may look to him for a spark against an aggressive N.C. State defense.

Duke will likely rely on Tre Jones to initiate the offensive action with his dribble drive attacks, and Baker will put the Wolfpack defenders in a bind if he can connect from the outside. Baker has also shown an increased comfort in utilizing ball screens for mid-range jumpers. If the Fayetteville, N.C., native can be lethal off screens, this will throw off the N.C. State defenders in terms of how they guard him and how they help off those picks. If he can be Joey Baker the 3-point maker, then Duke will create issues for the Wolfpack on drive and kicks.

N.C. State: Guard Braxton Beverly

Jones and Jordan Goldwire have done a remarkable job of limiting opposing perimeter scorers all season long. While Beverly averages an unassuming 7.1 points per game and has struggled with his efficiency so far this year, he has shown the ability to find his shot and make teams pay in a hurry. With a quick release and a crafty handle, the junior can provide an additional scoring punch if N.C. State's other guards are held in check by Duke’s elite backcourt defensive duo.

Beverly especially displayed his knack for lighting up the scoreboard quickly against North Carolina a season ago, with 21 points and an early run on his own that helped the Wolfpack claw back into the game. Beverly has impressive range from distance, which may force the Blue Devils to extend their perimeter pressure in the event he finds his stroke. N.C. State will throw anything its has in the bag in order to put a scare into Duke, and Beverly could end up being a meaningful component of the Wolfpack’s potential upset bid. 

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