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Five things: Can Duke men's basketball make a statement at Florida State?

Freshman point guard Jeremy Roach has stepped up for the Blue Devils over the team's last two games.
Freshman point guard Jeremy Roach has stepped up for the Blue Devils over the team's last two games.

After a holiday hiatus, Duke is back in action against Florida State Saturday at 8 p.m. for the Blue Devils’ second ACC matchup of the season. Get up to speed with five things to watch out for in Duke’s first high-profile conference game of the year:

Mountain high or valley low?

Regardless of who wins or loses this contest, it is going to have significant implications for both teams. If the Blue Devils come out on top, they will have their first quality win under their belt and all of a sudden will be back in the conversation to take home the ACC regular-season crown. On the contrary, a Seminoles win would quiet down any chatter that Florida State’s unexpected loss to Clemson was anything more than a fluke and keep head coach Leonard Hamilton’s squad as the conference favorite.

Barnes bangs the rim

A 6-foot-9 point forward who’s a menace in transition. This may sound familiar, but sorry Duke fans—I’m not talking about Jalen Johnson. Rather, this is a warning to know exactly where Florida State freshman Scottie Barnes is whenever he’s on the court.

Barnes has already gone viral on social media with some highlight-reel transition dunks, and also presents a matchup problem in the half court. His lengthy frame makes him too big for a traditional guard to defend but his athleticism makes it tough for opposing centers and forwards. For Duke, having Johnson back from injury would go a long way in thwarting Barnes’ offensive attack. But with the Milwaukee native unlikely to return—Wendell Moore Jr. said Thursday that Johnson has yet to practice with the team since being sidelined—fellow freshman Jaemyn Brakefield will likely be the first to take on the Barnes assignment.

What head coach Mike Krzyzewski will do if Brakefield struggles, however, is a tougher question. The obvious answer to defend Barnes appears to be Moore, who plays bigger than his 6-foot-5 frame and has the athleticism to match Barnes. But Moore has struggled mightily on the offensive end this season—if he can’t improve on that end of the floor, it’ll be difficult for Krzyzewski to grant him extended minutes.

One hit wonder?

The freshman trio of Brakefield, DJ Steward and Jeremy Roach was one of the biggest takeaways from Duke’s ACC opener against Notre Dame. While each of those three impressed at different points during nonconference play, the Blue Devils’ win against the Fighting Irish was the first time they’ve all played well in unison.

The biggest obstacle standing in the way of a repeat performance Saturday is Florida State’s size. In their most recent starting lineup against Clemson, the Seminoles’ shortest player was 6-foot-5 guard M.J. Walker. Meanwhile, Steward and Roach stand at 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-1, respectively, and weigh at least 30 pounds lighter than every member of Florida State’s aforementioned starting five. The Seminoles’ physicality will not be easy for Duke’s young guards, who will have to rely on their perimeter shooting to make up for the lack in size.

Does the post play continue?

The storyline of Duke’s win against Notre Dame was certainly not the Blue Devils’ big men dominating in the paint, nor should it have been. But there was one intriguing part about Duke’s big man play—Patrick Tapé and Mark Williams combined for 17 minutes, their second-highest total of the season, and nearly all of those minutes came in the first half.

Tapé and Williams finished the evening with a combined six points and five rebounds. While those numbers obviously don’t jump off the page, the usage of a more traditional lineup to start the game allowed the Blue Devils to get comfortable on the offensive end, leading to a more fast-paced, new-age offense the rest of the contest. It remains to be seen whether Krzyzewski will continue to experiment the way he did against Notre Dame, but there's something to be said about this team starting the game off playing through the post.

Where is Joey?

With the team's rocky start, the injury to Johnson and the impressive play of Matthew Hurt, not much has been said about junior Joey Baker. The harsh reality is that while he’s getting enough minutes to make an impact, his 1-for-9 mark from 3-point range is making it hard for him to do so.

Steward and Hurt have emerged as the team’s best perimeter shooters, but if they both are in the starting lineup all year, someone is going to need to be able to come off the bench and be a legitimate 3-point threat. The clock is ticking for Baker to put it together, and knocking down a couple threes against Florida State will go a long way in making teams fear him from beyond the arc. 

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