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Preview: Guard play, rebounding will be essential for Duke men's basketball against Georgia Tech

At this point, the Blue Devils are playing for their NCAA tournament lives.
At this point, the Blue Devils are playing for their NCAA tournament lives.

After three consecutive games in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke will head to Atlanta to face off against Georgia Tech for the second time this season Tuesday at 8 p.m. The Yellow Jackets are on a four-game win streak and coming off big victories against No. 22 Virginia Tech and Syracuse, so Duke will have to be ready for a hardfought matchup.

Here are some key storylines surrounding the contest:

Guard play

The Blue Devils were unable to slow down guard Carlik Jones in both of their matchups with Louisville this season, with the Duke guards also struggling to make meaningful contributions on offense in either contest. This poses a particular area of concern against Georgia Tech, which boasts one of the most potent point guards in the ACC in Jose Alvarado. 

Alvarado had a monster performance in Cameron Indoor earlier this season, posting 26 points, five assists and three steals, and senior guard Jordan Goldwire will have his hands full again with the dynamic playmaker.

“[Alvarado is] talented, motivated, and incredibly savvy…. He's always in search of making a play offensively and defensively,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a Zoom with the media Monday. “And he's a terrific player and he's an older player—he's a veteran. He's as good a competitor as there is in our league.” 

Freshman guards DJ Steward and Jeremy Roach will also have to step up for Duke Tuesday, particularly in the scoring department. The Blue Devils shot 4-for-21 from 3-point range against Louisville Saturday, and will need a much more efficient outing in Atlanta if they hope to win.

Can Hurt repeat?

Sophomore forward Matthew Hurt played the best game of his career in Saturday’s loss to the Cardinals. The Minnesota native scored 37 points, and continually kept the Blue Devils on pace with the Louisville offense. Hurt has now exceeded 20 points in four of Duke’s last five games—however, he is in for a challenge against the Yellow Jackets. In the Blue Devils’ win against Georgia Tech Jan. 26, Hurt played well with his 17 points, but he did not have one of the breakout performances the Duke faithful have become accustomed to. 

This is in large part due to Yellow Jacket senior forward Moses Wright, who is averaging 17.5 points and 1.7 blocks per game. Wright is a nightmare for opposing forwards, and is coming off a 31-point field day against Syracuse Saturday. These two formidable forces of Hurt and Wright will collide in Atlanta, and the winner of this battle will have a huge say in the outcome of the game.

“[Wright is] arguably playing better than anyone in our conference,” Krzyzewski said. “He's been sensational.”

Second chances

Duke allowed Louisville to grab 15 offensive rebounds Saturday, a huge factor in the result of the contest. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech secured 16 offensive rebounds in its come-from-behind win against the Orange. 

The battle of the boards will be essential in who comes out on top Tuesday night. And with both Duke’s and Georgia Tech’s NCAA tournament hopes riding on a win, it will likely come down to who wants it more.

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