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X-Factor: Duke men's basketball will need Mark Williams to own the paint against Illinois

Williams (center) took advantage of an increase in minutes against Bellarmine, recording five points and four blocks.
Williams (center) took advantage of an increase in minutes against Bellarmine, recording five points and four blocks.

In their second top-10 matchup of the season, the Blue Devils will be taking on No. 5 Illinois, who has come out to a hot start this season. Duke, on the other hand, showed some glaring weaknesses against Michigan State. After a few lineup changes and some better shooting, the Blue Devils looked much improved against Bellarmine. One of the biggest changes could prove to be a big factor in this upcoming ranked matchup.  

Duke: Center Mark Williams

After playing just four minutes in each of his first two games, freshman Mark Williams provided 15 big minutes against Bellarmine. Williams finished that game with five points, seven rebounds and four blocks, providing much-needed size for a team that had been dominated in the paint in its previous game. Expect the 7-footer to get similar minutes in the hope that he continues to be a huge difference-maker in the paint against Illinois. As quick perimeter defenders such as Jordan Goldwire work hard on the outside to shut down the Fighting Illini’s high-powered 3-point shooting, Williams will need to anchor the paint and block shots just as he did in Friday’s win.

Offensively, his size provided the ability to get second-chance points for the Blue Devils. Of his seven rebounds against Bellarmine, four of them came on the offensive end, allowing his teammates to get more shots up, eventually turning into more points. Scoring has looked inconsistent at times for Duke this season, so every opportunity they get to put up shots will be needed against a team like Illinois. The freshman center should prove to be a game-changer. 

Illinois: Guard Ayo Dosunmu

It is no shock that star player Ayo Dosunmu will be the X-Factor for Illinois in their matchup at Duke. Through four games this season, he is averaging just under 24 points per game. On top of that, he adds in 6.3 assists in over 32 minutes each contest. The Illinois offense runs through him and it is likely that Duke senior Jordan Goldwire, an elite defensive guard, will matchup with Dosunmu in an attempt to shut him down. In their only loss this season, he shot just 33.3 percent from the field and scored just 18 points. In their three other matchups, Dosunmu has shot 55.8 percent from the field including 42.9 percent from the 3-point line. If Illinois is looking to pull off the huge win in Cameron Indoor Stadium, it will likely have to continue to run its play through the star guard from Chicago. 

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