At 7 p.m. Friday, No. 4-seed Duke meets No. 1-seed Miami in Greensboro, N.C., with a ticket to Saturday’s ACC tournament final on the line. Before tipoff arrives, the Blue Zone is here with three keys to a Blue Devil win:
Do it again
Thursday’s win was a testament to what Duke is capable of in tournament play. As an extra piece of ammunition for their semifinal matchup against Miami, the Blue Devils have momentum to ride — not just from their blowout victory against Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals, but also with a win streak that has now reached seven games.
This 96-69 defeat of Pittsburgh came from the Blue Devils simply playing great basketball. They shot 62.1% from the field and boasted a knockout assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.4. Duke shared the wealth, too; 11 different players put points on the board, four of them making it to double digits. While Duke’s defense did everything it needed to, this win was really about the way the team handled the ball, taking advantage of every opportunity to get the ball through the hoop.
If Duke plays like it did Thursday afternoon — like a dream team — there will not be much the Hurricanes can do to stop it.
Three players, however, stand in the way of Duke’s ticket to the conference championship game. Senior Jordan Miller and junior Isaiah Wong take care of Miami in the backcourt while sophomore forward Norchad Omier does the work at the rim. This trio is talented — all three were announced as All-ACC selections Monday.
When Duke lost at Miami Feb. 6, Omier led the way to a Hurricane victory, posting a double-double and making shots from all over the court. The Bluefields, Nicaragua native did not do it alone, however — Miller was at his side, putting up 16 points of his own and providing stalwart defense.
In general, Wong takes charge for the Hurricanes, who finished the regular season atop the conference thanks to the ACC Player of the Year. The Piscataway, N.J., native is averaging 16 points per game and making 44.9% of his field goals. He shoots 38% from downtown and, like a true team player, averages 3.5 assists. Stopping Wong, along with Omier and Miller, will be a tall task for the Blue Devils — and a vital one.
Back in January, the Hurricanes paid a visit to Durham and were sent home with a 68-66 loss. Some two weeks later, the Blue Devils returned the visit — but Miami was just as inhospitable, crushing Duke 81-59. Now, the two teams gear up for their third matchup of the season, both sides hungry to break their 1-1 record against the other.
The difference this time is that the game is on neutral ground. Each team has beaten the other at home — now, though, there is no leg up. The advantage that comes from playing at home is gone, so Friday’s matchup will be simply up to which team is better.
Miami and Duke are in the same boat, here. The Blue Devils protected Cameron Indoor Stadium all season, polishing off a perfect home record by beating N.C. State last week. The Hurricanes, similarly, have only suffered one home loss, while they stand at a combined 9-5 for away and neutral-site games.
There is no denying that Miami blew Duke out of the water in February. The key difference, though, is how Duke has changed in the last month: As Thursday proved, Jon Scheyer’s squad has improved a lot in just a handful of weeks. A road win Saturday against North Carolina was a testament to that, when the Blue Devils stepped into the arena of their biggest rivals and ended their regular season with a road victory.
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