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Three points: Upper hand for Duke men's basketball could arise from Cardinals' coaching change

The Blue Devils are back in hostile territory Saturday for the first time since dropping its game at Florida State last week.
The Blue Devils are back in hostile territory Saturday for the first time since dropping its game at Florida State last week.

The Blue Devils head to Louisville, Ky., for a bout with the Cardinals in their first game after separating with their head coach. The Blue Zone has three keys that could ignite the flame behind Duke's third-straight ACC victory:

No Chris Mack

The Louisville Cardinals have struggled this season and have lost five of their last six games. One large reason for those struggles, many have speculated, is a distinct lack of connection between the team and now-former head coach Chris Mack. It was announced Wednesday that Mack would be leaving the program after reaching a separation agreement with the school. Mack’s exit comes after accusations of him not creating an environment that promoted compliance to NCAA rules. 

Saturday will be the Cardinals' first game without Mack. While the team may have been struggling with Mack unable to help them mesh, watching interim head coach Mike Pegues try to step up on Saturday will be something to watch. Frankly, the team could go in any direction. Saturday could reveal an entirely new Louisville team, filled with unity and energy, or, the team could be even more split than they were before Mack left. 

Keel Mode?

As of Thursday afternoon, the status of freshman star guard Trevor Keels was still unknown for Saturday’s game. Assistant coach Chris Carrawell said that Keels’s return to play is still “up in the air” and that he had not practiced in the past week. 

Keels is the third-highest scorer on the team this season. He started in all 17 of the games he played before he injured his calf against Florida State. Against Louisville, a team that has struggled to defend around the perimeter, Keels could be unstoppable, but only if his calf gets better. Fortunately for the Blue Devils, even if Keels doesn’t return to play on Saturday, head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s current starting lineup has done its best in the past two games to make up for its missing guard. 

Limiting turnovers

While Duke is still third in the nation for their assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.71, the Blue Devils are struggling with butterfingers lately. In every ACC game thus far, the team has had at least 10 turnovers, and have had a few games with more than 15. 

When facing Louisville on Saturday, Duke will need to remember to stay calm, even when playing against man-to-man defense that has had them rushing offensive sets and losing the ball. If the Blue Devils are able to control the ball and make smart choices, they should have no trouble taking care of an 11-9 Louisville team. However, if they get too cocky, they could get sloppy and hand the ball over to the Cardinals, leading to free buckets to keep the game close like that against Clemson Tuesday. 

No matter what, the game Saturday will not be one to miss as Duke looks to redeem itself after a pair of narrow losses to Louisville last season. 

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