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Preview: Duke men's basketball set for tough test against well-rested, physical Florida State squad

Matthew Hurt scored 20 points in Wednesday's win against Louisville.
Matthew Hurt scored 20 points in Wednesday's win against Louisville.

In desperate times, the Blue Devils have found a way to keep on winning. And when it comes to postseason play, that only means one thing: the next one is tougher than the last.

Playing in its third game in three days, No. 10 seed Duke will take on No. 2 seed Florida State playing in its first game in five days Thursday in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament. Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m. in the Greensboro Coliseum.

Thursday’s matchup stands out as one of the few in ACC history in which two teams will face off in the conference tournament after not meeting in the regular season. The Blue Devils and Seminoles were slated to play Jan. 2 in Tallahassee, Fla., but the game was postponed—and was eventually cancelled—the day before the game due to a positive COVID-19 test in the Florida State program.

“Really I haven't watched Florida State, so it's tough for me to comment on them, but that cancelled game—at that time, it was a postponed game—that's pretty much water under the bridge,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

Duke (13-11) is joined in the quarterfinal round by No. 13 seed Miami, both teams winning their first two games in the tournament to advance to the quarterfinals. Since the league moved to a 15-team, double-bye format in 2014, the Blue Devils and Hurricanes are just the third and fourth teams to accomplish that along with Boston College and Notre Dame in 2018. Neither the Eagles nor the Fighting Irish were able to successfully advance to the semifinals facing a fully-rested top seed.

Duke will look to become the first double-digit seed to advance to the ACC tournament semifinals overall since 2010. Here are a few keys to the game if the Blue Devils hope to do so:

Take the freebies

The Seminoles (15-5) lost only four conference games in the regular season, and the common denominator in all of them was putting their opponents on the line.

In losses to Clemson, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Notre Dame, Florida State’s opponents averaged 24.5 made free throws per game, connecting on 80.3% of their trips to the line. Seminole head coach Leonard Hamilton’s squad leads the ACC in personal fouls per game as a result of its physical play. 

On the other side, the Blue Devils sit third-to-last in the conference in made free throws per contest. Duke has loved the jump shot this season, but that may play into Florida State's strengths.

Blue Devil freshman Mark Williams figures to get a lot of the touches inside and will need to convert on his chances from the charity stripe. The 7-foot-1 center shot just 55.6% from the line in the win against Louisville Wednesday, but knocked down five of his six free throw attempts in the second half.

“Yeah, I was in a slump early, but Coach just gave me confidence to knock down the next one,” Williams said. “At the free throw line, you've got to clear your head from the last shot and just focus on the one in front of you.”

Sizable disadvantage

Williams feasted against the Cardinals with 19 rebounds. However, Florida State presents a much bigger challenge with its size.

Every Seminole rotation piece stands taller than 6-foot-4, with 7-foot-1 center Balsa Koprivica headlining a roster that ranks No. 1 nationally in average height. Their lead backcourt is as strong as they come, and that doesn’t even include wing Scottie Barnes, the ACC’s freshman of the year and former five-star recruit, who can do anything on the court and plays like a guard at 6-foot-9.

“You know, I think all of us have to get our rest first,” Matthew Hurt said after Wednesday’s win. “But just having the same mindset we've had the last two days and just trying to play tough on defense, trying to execute on offense, get a good night's rest of sleep, and just try to keep being better. Because the season is not over yet, and we're just trying to take it one game at a time.”

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