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X-Factor: Key matchups for Duke men's basketball in the ACC tournament

Duke's guards, including junior Jordan Goldwire, will be essential throughout the ACC tournament.
Duke's guards, including junior Jordan Goldwire, will be essential throughout the ACC tournament.

Start your engines—it’s time for some tournament action. The Blue Devils head into the week in Greensboro, N.C., as the ACC's No. 4 seed after a 15-5 conference record and will need to be firing on all cylinders if they hope to secure their third ACC tournament title in the last four years. With three victories in three days needed to earn the crown, the Blue Zone breaks down some key matchups to look for between Duke and its potential competition:

Duke’s transition offense vs. North Carolina State’s transition defense

The Blue Devils start their ACC tournament campaign with a matchup against a Wolfpack team looking to stay off the NCAA bubble. During the first meeting between these two, Duke was unable to get anything going in transition, and N.C. State controlled the pace throughout. A 22-point Blue Devil loss ensued, but the script was flipped the second time around in Cameron Indoor Stadium. After another poor start, Duke came alive offensively in the second half thanks in part to a pair of earth-shattering slams by freshman guard Cassius Stanley. The Wolfpack struggled to defend the proper lanes on the fast break during the Blue Devils' 88-69 victory, so look for guards Tre Jones and Jordan Goldwire to force the issue repeatedly Thursday afternoon.

Duke’s 3-point shooting vs. Florida State’s 3-point defense

The Seminoles enter the week as the conference's top seed following their first ACC regular season title in school history. With an array of length and athleticism at seemingly every position, Florida State’s half-court defense has exceled all season long. The Seminoles have held their opponents to just 31.7 percent from beyond the arc to this point, though the Blue Devils shot a solid 7-for-17 from distance when the two teams met in February. Attacking the interior will be key to setting up good looks from the outside, so dribble penetration by Duke's guards against the length of the Seminoles will be crucial. Anticipate the Blue Devils utilizing multiple high ball screens to collapse the wing defenders, which will create passing lanes to spot up shooters. 

Duke's Vernon Carey Jr. vs. Virginia's Jay Huff

Huff was a force to be reckoned with during the first contest between these teams. The junior forward posted 15 points, nine rebounds and 10 blocks, including a rejection of Carey with under five seconds to go and the Cavaliers clinging to a one-point lead. While Carey had 17 points and 10 rebounds himself, Huff altered his shots constantly, and will need to be dealt with throughout a potential meeting in the semifinals. Carey will need to avoid foul trouble, as Huff creates problems on both ends of the floor when the opposition does not have the proper matchup on the floor. With contests featuring Virginia often devolving into slow motion basketball, Carey’s ability to produce inside and get Huff in foul trouble will be essential if the Blue Devils wish to claim another conference tournament title.

Duke's Tre Jones vs. Louisville's Lamarr Kimble

While it may seem like including Jones in this article is taking the easy way out, let me explain. The Duke offense struggled mightily early on in its loss against the Cardinals back in January, specifically with the simple objective of entering into an initial offensive set. Kimble was phenomenal defensively throughout the 79-73 Louisville victory, harassing Jones and forcing turnovers that jumpstarted transition opportunities for the Cardinals. The ability of Jones to control the pace and flow of a game has been key to the Blue Devils’ success since the ball was tipped against Kansas in November, and a matchup with a talented Louisville squad looking to improve its NCAA tournament seeding will be no different. If the sophomore point guard from Minnesota can make his imprint on the game early with Kimble likely to be on his hip, Duke will be able to run through all offensive sets and find the best shot each time down the floor.

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