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Three points: Perimeter defense, team cohesion crucial for Duke men's basketball in upcoming matchup with USC Upstate

Mark Mitchell dominated inside the paint in Duke men's basketball's season opener against Jacksonville.
Mark Mitchell dominated inside the paint in Duke men's basketball's season opener against Jacksonville.

Duke men's basketball returns to Cameron Indoor Stadium Friday night to take on USC Upstate. The Blue Zone brings you three keys for the Blue Devils to move to 2-0:

Team chemistry

Monday’s battle against Jacksonville exposed some of the Blue Devils' early-season flaws. It is the age-old Duke dilemma: Though this roster bursts with talent, its star-studded cast is young. Forward Mark Mitchell led the Blue Devils with 18 points against the Dolphins, guard Tyrese Proctor had a few memorable assists and center Kyle Filipowski racked up an incredible 12 total rebounds—by the numbers, the freshmen came through. But the real heroes of the game were junior captain Jeremy Roach and graduate students Ryan Young and Jacob Grandison, who executed their plays with empirical knowledge, keeping the heads of their younger teammates in the game. Basketball requires talent, yes, but it also demands coordination and cooperation—something that only improves with experience. In order for Duke to deal its anticipated sweeping blow to USC Upstate, the Blue Devils must carefully plot their actions in order to get the ball moving about the court with a purpose.

Drive to the basket

Duke was able to rack up 30 points from outside the arc on Monday night, banking 10 three-pointers out of its attempted 29. However, treys will not be the optimal offensive strategy for Friday night’s matchup against the Spartans. Instead, the Blue Devils should hone in on close-up shots, where USC Upstate’s defense is weaker. Eight of Mitchell’s 18 points on Monday were scored in the paint; the best of these baskets were the ones he sank when driving aggressively to the net. If the Spartans plan to run a 2-3 zone defense like they did last season, Duke will have less opportunities for open threes. This also means that the paint will be largely open. Especially with the Blue Devils' ability to drive to the basket for a layup—or even a slam dunk—garnering points from right at the net will be the way to go.

Defend the arc

USC Upstate made an impressive 52.9% of its three-pointers in its opener Monday night against Brevard College. In contrast, Duke only made 34.5% of its attempts the same night against Jacksonville. In order to protect limit the Spartans deep-ball attack, the Blue Devils need to move their defense a little bit up-court, taking care to guard shooters outside the arc. Three-point defense was strong against the Dolphins as Duke held Jacksonville to 13% shooting; it might be a different story, however, with USC Upstate. Still, with Duke’s towering height and intense energy, guarding these shots should not be an issue, and the Cameron Crazies should look forward to another strong showing from the Blue Devils. 

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