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X-Factor: Duke men's basketball needs a big game from Mark Mitchell to break Clemson's ACC win streak

Mark Mitchell works the paint against N.C. State
Mark Mitchell works the paint against N.C. State

Duke men's basketball is hitting the road again, this time heading to Clemson, S.C., to take on the Tigers. The Blue Zone has a potential-difference maker from each squad ahead of the tough matchup: 

Duke: Mark Mitchell

Freshman Mark Mitchell has been anything but consistent in his debut season. He kicked off his collegiate career strong as the first player to score in October’s Countdown to Craziness scrimmage and followed that up with a team-leading 18 points in the first regular season game against Jacksonville. Quickly, though, the forward lost his opening charm, still starting every game but watching his scoring average diminish with almost every court appearance.

Now, with ACC play in full swing, Mitchell is under pressure to cement his position on the team. He’s back on an upward trajectory, and that improvement might make the difference for the Blue Devils; against Boston College last Saturday, he made four field goals as well as 6-of-7 of his free throws to protect Duke’s road victory in Eagle territory. The fierce forward is certainly not out of commission. He simply has slower games as well as great ones. 

Luckily for the Blue Devils, Mitchell does not share what is arguably their greatest weakness: faltering on the road. His performances may be variable, but the Sunrise Christian Academy product is not dependent on Cameron Indoor Stadium for his best performances. Indeed, Mitchell recorded some of his highest point totals in away games, scoring 16, 17 and 14 points on the road against Xavier, Iowa and Wake Forest, respectively. If the freshman can maintain his clear-headed approach down in South Carolina, the Blue Devils will have a better chance of victory in Littlejohn Coliseum. With Duke teetering on the edge of the top 25 teams in the NCAA, the points that Mitchell has proven he can bring to the game—however inconsistently—are as crucial as ever.

Clemson: Hunter Tyson

Duke saw maybe the worst day of its season in PNC Arena last week when the Wolfpack beat down its Triangle rival 84-60, a heartbreaking loss for the Blue Devils and their fans. Clemson, though, had a vastly different experience playing N.C. State—the Tigers dominated the Wolfpack, sending N.C. State back to Raleigh carrying a 14-point loss. More than a third of the Tigers' points came directly from graduate forward Hunter Tyson who filled the stat sheet, landing 80% of his three-pointers and boasting 15 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season, a total that now stands at nine. When the final buzzer sounded against the Wolfpack, the Monroe, N.C., native had 31 points to his name.

Tyson’s fifth year with the Tigers is proving quite the culmination of four seasons’ hard work. He leads his team in points, rebounds and steals, carrying it to a 14-3 record overall, a 6-0 mark in the ACC and an undefeated home slate. Clemson will certainly not be looking to break its perfect home streak with an invasion of Blue Devils, and Tyson will likely be the man leading the efforts to defend the home court.

To ensure that they ruin that perfect resume, the Blue Devils need to hold off on fouling this forceful forward, who also claims an impressive 84% success rate from the charity stripe. Duke additionally must be prepared to guard the perimeter, where Tyson proves strong; at 6-foot-8, this is a tall task, but certainly not an impossible one for the likes of the towering Blue Devil team.

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