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X-factor: Duke men's basketball's Mark Williams needs to dominate with his rebounding against Michigan State

Mark Williams comes to Durham as the No. 32 recruit in the country.
Mark Williams comes to Durham as the No. 32 recruit in the country.

After its season-opening victory over Coppin State on Saturday, Duke now looks ahead to its midweek showdown with Michigan State. With the two prestigious programs set to face off for a fifth straight season, the Blue Zone brings you one key player from each team who could turn the tide:

Mark Williams, C, Duke

Duke’s abundance of young talent was on full display in Saturday’s victory: newcomers Jalen Johnson, DJ Steward and Jeremy Roach all proved their worth in what was each of their debuts. Yet the final five star-recruit in this year’s highly touted class—the 7-foot, 243-pound Mark Williams—barely saw the court, with coach Mike Krzyzewski citing the opposition’s guard-heavy lineup as the reason for Williams’ absence. Even without the presence of a true center, Duke dominated on the boards, and Matthew Hurt was commendable in anchoring the team’s first attempt at a small-ball lineup.

Michigan State, however, is in a tier far above that of Coppin State. While the Spartans also use a lineup lacking a true center, they have demonstrated an impressive level of grit on the boards thus far, thoroughly outrebounding the opposition in both of last week’s victories. Facing its first real test of the year, Duke will need every offensive opportunity it can afford against a far more experienced Michigan State squad, and Williams’ potential to make an impact on the glass cannot be overlooked.

It is worth noting that Michigan State’s offense is somewhat of a mystery: the Spartans lost their two top scorers from a year ago in Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman, leaving them without an established top option on offense. Williams is a worthy candidate to help slow down the game on defense, protecting the paint and forcing the Spartans to truly operate in the half-court—something that may be difficult for a team still searching for its offensive identity.

Joey Hauser, F, Michigan State

After sitting out the entirety of last season due to his transfer from Marquette, Joey Hauser returned to the court this past week with vengeance, collecting a mind-boggling 25 rebounds in just two contests. He grabbed 16 rebounds in Saturday’s contest alone, even with veteran rim protector Juwan Durham guarding the paint for Notre Dame. Just one week into his playing career in East Lansing, the 6-foot-9 Hauser has already established himself as a force in one of the most important aspects of the game.

Of course, this development has the potential to cause issues for a Duke team that appears to be geared toward small-ball. It’s entirely possible that Krzyzewski still opts for scoring over rebounding within his rotation, leaving the door open for Hauser to do what he does best. Regardless, his presence inside figures to be an issue for the Blue Devils all night long, and could go a long way towards deciding the outcome of this high-powered affair.

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