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X-Factor: Duke will need DJ Steward to provide high-volume scoring to defeat Notre Dame

Steward is Duke's second-leading scorer with 11.8 points per contest.
Steward is Duke's second-leading scorer with 11.8 points per contest.

Coming off a double-digit loss to Illinois and over a week off from competition, the Blue Devils travel to South Bend, Ind. for their ACC opener against Notre Dame. The Blue Zone gets you ready for the matchup with a player to look out for on both sides Wednesday night:

Duke: Guard DJ Steward

The absence of freshman forward Jalen Johnson is a major setback for Duke, especially on the offensive end. Now, the Blue Devils will need someone to step up and provide that second scoring option alongside forward Matthew Hurt, who leads the team in points and is second in 3-point percentage. Well, look no further than DJ Steward, another member of the heralded freshman class for the Blue Devils. Steward is putting up respectable numbers through four games, with 11.8 points, four rebounds and three assists per contest.

The Chicago native can score at all three levels of the floor and his smooth jumper can give a defense problems. However, Steward has struggled with his rhythm against more experienced perimeter defenders. Against then-No. 8 Michigan State, for instance, Steward did not hit a single field goal on seven attempts, which contributed to Duke shooting only 32.3% from the field against the gritty Spartans. Clearly, the freshman is a key cog in the Duke offense as a ball-handler and scorer. If Steward can attack with the ball in his hands and connect on jumpers against Notre Dame, the Blue Devils will have that perimeter option they so desperately need to complement Hurt. 

Notre Dame: Forward Juwan Durham

One contributing factor to Duke's 83-68 defeat at the hands of then-No. 6 Illinois was an inability to stymie Fighting Illini center Kofi Cockburn on the interior. This time around, the Blue Devils will have to contend with Notre Dame big man Juwan Durham, who can impact the game in multiple ways. Durham averages 6.8 points per game, a modest total at first glance, but the Fighting Irish have consistently been a guard-oriented team under head coach Mike Brey. 

Durham's most effective performance of the season up to this point occurred Dec. 6 against Detroit. In that game, the Florida native filled up the stat sheet with 12 points, nine rebounds, four blocks and three assists. This shows how the senior forward imposes his will at times offensively, meaning Duke will have to watch Durham as a screener and in the post. On the other end of the floor—where he rejects 2.3 shots per outing—Durham can affect how Hurt and Mark Williams can play in the paint as well as how Duke's guards can drive to the rack. 

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