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X-Factor: Duke men's basketball needs excellence from Dariq Whitehead to overcome Pittsburgh

Dariq Whitehead drives through traffic against N.C. State.
Dariq Whitehead drives through traffic against N.C. State.

After surviving Boston College, Duke men's basketball heads home to take on Pittsburgh. The Blue Zone brings you a player on each squad to watch for in the matchup:

Duke: Dariq Whitehead

To put it lightly, Duke has been in a bit of a rut. While they have the necessary defensive prowess and offensive weapons inside the paint, the Blue Devils have lacked a true sharpshooter. Big losses at Wake Forest and N.C. State made it even clearer that Duke needs someone who can pull up on midrange jumpers and consistently make 3-pointers. The Blue Devils may find themselves a solution in one of their highly-touted freshmen, Dariq Whitehead.

After missing the early stages of the season due to injury, the forward struggled to find his place on the team while attempting to develop chemistry with his fellow players. As of late, Whitehead has begun to show what made him the third overall player in the 2022 class. In his most recent outing against Boston College Saturday, the Newark, N.J., native led the team in scoring with his season-high 18 points, 12 of which came from beyond the arc. On the season, the Montverde Academy product is averaging 8.8 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game.

If his high school career is any indication, as Whitehead starts to find his groove, he is capable of becoming a Duke great. The Naismith High School Player of the Year, MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Game and Gatorade Player of the Year in Florida, the 6-foot-7 freshman has already achieved stardom through his stacked trophy case. Averaging 16.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a senior, Whitehead led his team to back-to-back GEICO High School National Championships. If he has led a team to victory before, he can do it again.

He still has a long way to go, but in time, Whitehead could fix the Blue Devils’ shooting woes. The freshman is still on the mend and not yet at his peak form. With so much of the season left to play and the ACC up for grabs, Whitehead has the opportunity to hone his skills while helping Duke take down bigger opponents. The Pittsburgh game is immediately on the horizon, and the Blue Devils will need Whitehead to show up and show out to earn the victory and keep themselves in the conversation.

Pittsburgh: Blake Hinson

Despite finishing 13th in the ACC last season, the Panthers are off to a strong start in their current campaign. Ranking third in the conference, Pittsburgh has earned big wins over quality opponents like North Carolina, Syracuse and Virginia. The major turnaround for the Panthers has been spurred by junior transfer Blake Hinson. 

After two years away from college basketball, Hinson is making the most of his return to the court. Leading the program with 16.8 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, the forward from Deltona, Fla., has the ability to shoot from anywhere on the court. Capable of domination in the paint while also making multiple 3-pointers per game, his consistency in knocking down buckets makes him a threat offensively.

Hinson did not play in his two seasons at Iowa State, but his early collegiate career with the Rebels foreshadowed his Pittsburgh greatness. In his sophomore campaign with Ole Miss, the 6-foot-7 foward’s 10.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game made him a key weapon in the starting lineup. 

With his veteran experience and elite skills, it is only a matter of time before Hinson permanently enters the national conversation as one of the top players in the ACC and country. If the Blue Devils allow him to walk all over them with his stellar shooting, he will dash their chance for a big victory at home. For Duke to get past the Panthers and reestablish itself as a premier opponent in the conference, shutting down Hinson needs to be a top priority.

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