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Five things: Can Duke men's basketball make a statement against a physical Illinois squad?

Matthew Hurt will need to continue his strong start to the season Tuesday if Duke hopes to stay competitive against Illinois.
Matthew Hurt will need to continue his strong start to the season Tuesday if Duke hopes to stay competitive against Illinois.

The last time these two programs met, the iPhone had just been introduced, LeBron James was coming off his first NBA Finals appearance and MySpace was the most popular social networking site in the U.S.

For the first time since November 2007, Duke and Illinois will face off on the hardwood. The 10th-ranked Blue Devils are trying to avoid two losses to ranked Big Ten opponents in the span of a week, while the sixth-ranked Fighting Illini are looking to bounce back after an 82-69 defeat at the hands of No. 2 Baylor last Wednesday. Before the game tips off Tuesday at 9:30 pm., let’s break down five things to look for in the next installment of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Will anyone stop Ayo?

The Fighting Illini have relied on junior guard Ayo Dosunmu for a large chunk of their offensive production so far this season, with the Chicago native putting up 23.8 points and 6.3 assists per game through four contests. At 6-foot-5, Dosunmu is a matchup nightmare who can attack the rim, connect from beyond the arc and spread the love around to his teammates. 

For the Blue Devils to keep the Illinois offensive attack in check, limiting Dosunmu should be the primary goal. Senior guard Jordan Goldwire and sophomore forward Wendell Moore Jr. could both see time as Dosunmu’s primary defender, as making life uncomfortable for the first-team All-Big Ten guard would go a long way in preventing Illinois from getting into a rhythm offensively. 

Attack the glass

Illinois has cleaned up on the boards so far this season, ranking fifth nationally in rebounds per game at 49.3. Getting out in transition and converting second-chance baskets have been focuses for Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, but the Fighting Illini present the Blue Devils' toughest challenge yet in that regard.

Illinois has more experience on the interior, especially with 7-footer Kofi Cockburn owning the paint, so Duke will need Mark Williams, Henry Coleman III and Patrick Tapé to answer the bell and even things up inside. The Blue Devils will also need their perimeter defenders to crash the glass on a consistent basis, something that Baylor accomplished last week on its way to a victory against the Fighting Illini.

Keep it moving

One of the things that hampered Duke throughout the loss to Michigan State was the lack of ball movement and motion. The Blue Devils relied on iso ball and pull-up jumpers throughout the contest, something that led Krzyzewski to emphasize patience leading up to Friday’s victory against Bellarmine. During that win against the Knights, Duke exhibited a far greater habit of going through multiple options on a single possession and making the extra pass, as the Blue Devils assisted on 69 percent of their field goals Friday compared to 45 percent against the Spartans. 

Illinois has been unable to accumulate steals at a high rate during its first four games—the Fighting Illini only average 4.3 per contest—so Duke should have a chance to continue the trend it set Friday and create efficient looks off sound passing and offensive execution. 

Can Matthew Hurt continue his sophomore breakout?

Duke’s most consistent performer up to this point has been sophomore forward Matthew Hurt. The Minnesota native has scored 19 points per game on 54.1 percent shooting from the field and 56.3 percent from 3-point land, a clear indication that the added muscle and expanded role entering this season have paid dividends.  

Hurt has displayed a newfound confidence through three games, with Duke looking to the former Minnesota Mr. Basketball for major minutes and timely buckets.  Whether he can keep things going against the Fighting Illini is another question, however. Illinois plays a tough brand of basketball, so Hurt will need to showcase that added strength and use his unique skillset to challenge the ability of Fighting Illini head coach Brad Underwood to adjust.

Who will win the 50/50 situations?

Under normal circumstances, Cameron Indoor Stadium would be an electrifying environment for such a high-stakes matchup. Obviously, these are not normal circumstances, so both teams will have to bring the energy themselves Tuesday night. 

One of the reasons that Duke walked out of East Lansing, Mich., with an impressive victory against Michigan State in last year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge was the fact that the Blue Devils did all of the things that don’t show up on the stat sheet. Hustle and tenacity have a massive impact on a game like this, especially considering that fact that neither team is a finished product by any means. Forcing deflections and diving for loose balls has to be part of the plan for both sides, as neither team can be expected to shoot lights-out from distance or execute crisply offensively for all 40 minutes.

Max Rego profile
Max Rego

Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.


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