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5 things to know before Duke men's basketball's New Year's Eve matinee against Florida State

Freshman forward Dariq Whitehead is introduced before Duke's Dec. 10 win against Maryland Eastern Shore.
Freshman forward Dariq Whitehead is introduced before Duke's Dec. 10 win against Maryland Eastern Shore.

After a week off for the holidays, No. 17 Duke is back in action. Following the Blue Devils’ 81-70 loss to Wake Forest, they will look to bounce back in another ACC contest against Florida State. Here are five things to know as the Blue Devils take on the Seminoles Saturday afternoon in Cameron Indoor Stadium. 

Atypical start for Florida State

At first glance, a look at this team is puzzling. Head coach Leonard Hamilton’s Florida State teams are consistently toward the top of the ACC and are known to make deep runs in the NCAA tournament. However, this team’s current record is 4-10, and their 0-4 start was the program’s worst in 63 years. Nevertheless, a closer inspection into this season reveals that this is a much better team than its record illustrates. 

For one, much like Duke, Florida State has had to work through injuries and develop team chemistry due to a largely new roster. They only returned five players from a season ago, but they have a lot of young talent. The Seminoles have won three of their past four contests, including two ACC wins over Louisville and Notre Dame. Prior to this streak, they lost two close games against top-five teams in then-No. 3 Virginia and No. 1 Purdue, demonstrating their ability to compete with anybody in the country. Although Florida State’s record is not impressive by any stretch, Duke would be remiss to overlook this talented, well-coached team. 

Back to full health

After two key Duke freshmen, Dereck Lively II and Dariq Whitehead, were both out against Wake Forest due to a non-COVID illness, Duke should be back to full health against the Seminoles. Junior guard Jeremy Roach has been battling a toe injury suffered in Duke’s loss against Purdue Nov. 27, but has been steadily recovering and appears to be fully healthy for this contest. The Blue Devils are 7-1 when all members of their team are available and will look to continue this positive record against Florida State. 

Battle on the boards

Throughout the season, a key strength for Duke has been its ability to rebound the ball, particularly on the offensive end. This is a great matchup for the Blue Devils, as they face one of the worst rebounding teams in the ACC. Florida State is at the bottom of the league in both rebounding margin and defensive rebounding, averaging only 23.2 defensive rebounds per game. On the flip side, Duke leads the ACC in offensive rebounds, averaging 13.7 per game.

“Its toughness and its effort, there’s not much else that goes into rebounding,” graduate center Ryan Young said after Duke’s loss to Wake Forest. “We take pride in that being a strength of ours.”

It is important to note that key rebounders will be out for Florida State. Junior forward Cam’Ron Fletcher, the team leader in rebounds, is out for the season after suffering a knee injury against Virginia Dec. 3. In addition, 7-foot-4 sophomore Naheem Mcleod is questionable for the contest. If Mcleod is out as well, the Blue Devils will have an opportunity to take a large advantage in the rebounding battle. 

Defensive intensity

After coming off of its worst defensive performance of the season, Duke will look to rebound Saturday. Throughout the season, the length and athleticism of the Blue Devil lineup has created nightmares for opposing offenses. However, the Demon Deacons were able to spread Duke out and attack the basket, creating many free throw opportunities. 

“We can't be that fragile, we need to be tough-minded and defend, which is who we've been most of the year,” head coach Jon Scheyer said after Duke’s defeat to Wake Forest. 

Offensively, Florida State has a trio of elite playmakers that Duke should be aware of. Matthew Cleveland, a 6-foot-7 sophomore guard, is arguably the Seminoles most gifted scorer. He has improved his shooting, leading to seven straight double-digit scoring performances. Caleb Mills, a point guard who transferred from Houston two seasons ago, is an elite facilitator who has the ability to make tough shots and is coming off of an 18-point performance in Florida State’s 73-72 victory against Notre Dame Dec. 21. Finally, junior guard and UCF transfer Darin Green Jr. is the best shooter of the group, shooting 44.9% behind the arc this season. 

Building from the past

There were not very many positives following the Wake Forest game, but there were a couple of things that Duke should build off of. Firstly, the defensive effort of Ryan Young and Jaylen Blakes was commendable, and Blakes provided a spark off of the bench, scoring a team-high 17 points. 

“I thought [Ryan] really battled … he almost had a double-double. Blakes really guarded and gave us great energy,” said Scheyer. “We have to play like those two guys did tonight and I thought they set a great example.”

In addition, freshman forward Mark Mitchell has had an up-and-down season, but was efficient and aggressive against Wake Forest. Continuing to attack downhill like he did will spread out the defense and open up shooters, which could lead to more baskets behind the arc for the Blue Devils.

Ranjan Jindal profile
Ranjan Jindal | Assistant Blue Zone editor

Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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