X-Factor: Proctor's playmaking, Mark's health will be key in No. 7 Duke men's basketball game against Arkansas

Sophomore guard Tyrese Proctor backs down a defender in Duke's win against Southern Indiana Nov. 24.
Sophomore guard Tyrese Proctor backs down a defender in Duke's win against Southern Indiana Nov. 24.

No. 7 Duke men’s basketball will travel to Fayetteville, Ark., tomorrow to take on Arkansas before its first ACC game of the season Saturday against Georgia Tech. Ahead of the matchup with the Razorbacks, the Blue Zone brings you a key player from each side: 

Duke: Tyrese Proctor 

Duke nearly suffered a major upset Friday during its surprisingly close 80-62 home victory against Southern Indiana. Trailing by as many as 10 points, and down four at halftime, the Blue Devils didn’t take control of the game until well into the second half, at which point sophomore superstars Kyle Filipowski and Tyrese Proctor finally showed why they’ve been touted as potential lottery picks in next year’s NBA draft. Proctor’s performances will be particularly important for No. 7 Duke moving forward, especially as the Blue Devils face Arkansas in their first true road matchup of the season.

Proctor followed up a career best 22-point performance against La Salle with just 11 points against the Screaming Eagles. Yet, the Sydney, Australia native brings so much more to the table than just scoring prowess. At this point in the season, it’s safe to say Proctor is one of the best facilitators in college basketball, evidenced by his remarkable 4.86 assist-to-turnover ratio. The second-year guard is particularly deadly in the pick and roll, where he capitalizes on his rapid quickness and crafty dribbling to glide past defenders and drive to the basket or dish the ball out to an open teammate. When Duke’s offense is at its most effective, it’s almost always because Proctor is excelling — and elevating his teammates along with him. 

Although the Razorbacks have underperformed preseason expectations, they will still pose a much greater challenge than any team the Blue Devils faced during their recent three-game home stretch. While Duke has managed to overcome rough offensive spells against weaker opponents, such as during the first half against Southern Indiana, the team cannot afford a similar showing when it travels to Fayetteville, Ark., Wednesday. For the Blue Devils to emerge victorious in their first game in a hostile environment, Proctor will need to continue to prove himself as one of the best guards in the country. 

Arkansas: Tramon Mark 

Arkansas entered the season with high expectations, as it was ranked No. 14 in the Preseason AP poll. It’s safe to say that the SEC powerhouse has not lived up to the hype so far this season. The Razorbacks, now unranked, have lost three of their last four games, including a home defeat to unranked UNC Greensboro and back-to-back losses to Memphis and North Carolina at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. However, while Arkansas has severely struggled, one particular Razorback has been shining. 

After transferring from Houston in the summer, junior guard Tramon Mark has averaged 18.4 points per game through his first seven contests. The Dickinson, Tex., native has been remarkably efficient as well, shooting 55.4% from the field and 40% from three. Mark scored a remarkable 34 points against the Tar Heels Friday, despite suffering a hard fall which ruled him out for the final minutes.

The injury has created a shadow of doubt as to whether Mark will be available Wednesday, with the program listing him as doubtful. If the guard is not good to go, head coach Eric Mussleman will be without his leading scorer and one of his best athletes.

Duke has struggled to contain elite guards so far this season, allowing Arizona’s Kylan Boswell and Michigan State’s Tyson Walker to put up double-digit figures at efficient clips. If that trend continues and the Blue Devils fail to slow Mark down, Arkansas may get its season back on track with a big home win. However,  if Mark is unavailable, it could further plummet the Razorbacks’ stock and exacerbate their early season woes.


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