Three points: Clean offensive possessions key for Duke men's basketball in rematch against N.C. State

Dereck Lively II tips the ball in against Virginia Tech.
Dereck Lively II tips the ball in against Virginia Tech.

Following an emphatic victory against Virginia Tech, Duke men’s basketball looks to close out its home slate against N.C. State and remain undefeated in Cameron Indoor Stadium this season. The Blue Zone has three keys for the Blue Devils to achieve victory in their penultimate regular-season contest:

Shut down Burns

On Jan. 4, the Blue Devils arrived in Raleigh hoping for a strong showing against one of their fierce Triangle rivals. However, after just more than seven minutes had elapsed, it was the Wolfpack that had made an emphatic statement, jumping out to a 15-0 lead. In these critical first minutes, forward DJ Burns Jr.’s impact was entirely evident. The graduate student scored six points and registered three blocks during N.C. State’s early run — all while coming off the bench. Overall, he tallied 18 points while making 70% of his buckets. Unfortunately for the Blue Devil faithful, Burns has been a consistent problem for ACC defenses; since becoming a regular in the starting lineup, Burns has averaged 18.0 points and 5.7 rebounds on a great 59% shooting. 

Burns’ unique size allows him to make contested shots in the paint at a high rate, which means that Duke will have to use verticality to thwart his presence. The obvious choice for the Blue Devils' paint defense is center Dereck Lively II, who has averaged 3.3 blocks per game through his last nine starts. However, Burns’ size could still present a problem for even Lively, so don’t be surprised if head coach Jon Scheyer utilizes centers Kyle Filipowski and Ryan Young to help defend against Burns. Simply put, Duke’s big men stymying a major scoring and rebounding threat in Burns may be the difference between a victory and a defeat Tuesday.

Set the pace

Compared to the rest of the ACC, Duke has played in a slower fashion, ranking near the bottom of Division I programs in team possessions per game. Meanwhile, N.C. State has thrived off of a more fast-paced brand of basketball and is in the upper third of the same stat. This quicker style of play has shown up in the box score; the Wolfpack are sixth in the nation in fast-break points per game. The Blue Devils need to limit these opportunities and play at their own pace; after all, N.C. State outscored Duke 28-7 on fast breaks in the Jan. 4 matchup. Through methodic execution on offense and strong defense, the Blue Devils can force the Wolfpack to play out of their comfort zone in pacing, which can lower scoring volume and keep Duke in the contest. 

Protect the basketball 

If there ever was a magic number for the Blue Devil faithful to remember, it would be 18. When Duke has committed less turnovers than this mark, it has been excellent, going 20-4. However, the Blue Devils have struggled when they have failed to secure the ball, going just 1-4 in games with 18 or more turnovers. In its first matchup against N.C. State, Duke turned the ball over a then-season-high 21 times. Meanwhile, the Wolfpack have not had more than 14 turnovers in any game; their ability to secure the basketball on both ends of the court makes them arguably the toughest opponent on the Blue Devils' home slate. If Duke is to finish undefeated at home for the first time since 2013-4, it must limit its turnovers to in turn limit possession opportunities for N.C. State.


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