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X-Factor: Paolo Banchero remains crucial for Duke men's basketball heading into ACC-Big Ten Challenge

Paolo Banchero led all scorers against Gonzaga with 21 points.
Paolo Banchero led all scorers against Gonzaga with 21 points.

After taking down top-ranked Gonzaga in Friday night's high-profile matchup in Las Vegas, the Blue Devils are right back at it Tuesday at Ohio State in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. As always, the Blue Zone has you covered with a player from both sides that could swing the matchup in his team's favor:

Duke: Paolo Banchero

Paolo Banchero has been an incredible piece for the Blue Devils in more ways than expected this season, as his on-court presence not only gives Duke a steady and reliable offense but also a raised level of intensity on both ends of the court. In addition to his being able to outsize and outperform most opponents, Banchero's presence on the floor has also appeared to maximize the entire team's confidence and overall play. Just watch Duke play with and without him during its top-10 matchups against Kentucky and Gonzaga, as well as Friday night's incredible first-half performance that allowed the Blue Devils to take a comfortable lead early on. Banchero's impact from day one has been undeniable, and that is a big part of what has made the squad such a complete and energetic one.

Tuesday's matchup in Columbus will be an interesting one to watch, as it will feature a duel between Banchero and E.J. Liddell, Ohio State’s power forward and leading scorer. With Liddell’s presence in the paint, Banchero’s versatile scoring will also play a crucial role in deciding the game's outcome.

Ohio State: E.J. Liddell

Even with a deeper rotation than last year, all eyes for the Buckeyes are consistently on Liddell, the team's leading scorer who is responsible for nearly 30% of Ohio State's scoring in his 28.7 minutes per game. Coming back to Columbus after a stellar sophomore season, the returning First Team All-Big Ten power forward has fully elevated his game, as his field goal and three-point percentages are both at career highs. Liddell has also improved his protection under the rim, as he is averaging a career-high 3.8 blocks per game, making life more difficult for opponents in the paint than ever before. The junior's clutch scoring can also be a factor, as his steady scoring late in Ohio State's opening matchup against Akron helped the Buckeyes avoid a significant upset.

That being said, Liddell is both a leader and a key contributor for Ohio State, and he can be relied upon in crunch time and to put up a significant amount of points on a nightly basis. Perhaps one of his key strengths lies in his ability to play off-ball, a strength that helps bolster the Buckeyes' transition offense. Duke will have to maximize its defensive efforts to slow down the ball movement inside the paint and to limit Liddell in that regard.


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