X-Factor: Jared McCain's recent offensive prowess will help No. 14 Duke men's basketball defeat Notre Dame

Jared McCain scored 18 points in Duke's win against Syracuse.
Jared McCain scored 18 points in Duke's win against Syracuse.

As No. 14 Duke men's basketball looks to keep its winning streak going, the Blue Zone identifies a key player to watch for both the Blue Devils and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish:

Duke: Jared McCain

College basketball fans and analysts alike would struggle to identify a more in-form player than Jared McCain. The freshman phenom has been scoring at will during the past five games — averaging nearly 20 points per game at a lethal 55.8% clip from beyond the arc. On the season, the young guard is shooting at a scorching 46.9% from three, cementing himself as the primary deep threat for No. 14 Duke.

Against a surprisingly stout Notre Dame defense, the Blue Devils will undoubtedly be depending on McCain for easy buckets. And this expectation is not unfounded, as McCain’s offensive arsenal is extensive, and he has shown an ability to score from anywhere on the floor with seeming ease. 

In addition to his role as an offensive catalyst, McCain is an intelligent defender. He is a proven pest on that end of the court, averaging 1.1 steals per game as well as 3.9 rebounds per game, a respectable figure given his 6-foot-3 frame. McCain’s defensive positioning allows him to both poke the ball from unsuspecting dribblers and chase down errant passes, even against much taller opposition. He exhibits a certain composure on defense befitting a veteran player, which when coupled with his scoring ability, makes him a problem on both ends of the court. 

In a Duke system that thrives in transition, McCain is yet again a key piece. Coming off a steal or rebound, the freshman can set himself quickly for a three, find a quick outlet pass or drag a defender away from a slashing teammate. Against the Fighting Irish Saturday, each of these facets of McCain’s game will be pivotal in securing a victory for the Blue Devils. If McCain can maintain his current level of production, Duke should have little trouble putting away a struggling Notre Dame team.  

Notre Dame: Markus Burton

Not to be outdone by the Blue Devils, the Fighting Irish’s roster also boasts a very talented freshman: 5-foot-11 guard Markus Burton. Despite his short stature, the Mishawaka, Ind., native can really score the basketball. Averaging 16.1 points per game on the season on 41.6% shooting from the field, Burton’s game relies largely on slashing and mid-range attacks. He is not afraid of throwing himself into the trees and is known to finish through contact. His efficient, albeit gritty playstyle is a mainstay of Notre Dame’s offense, as evidenced by the lion’s share of minutes that Burton plays every game. 

Like McCain, Burton averages 1.4 steals per game, capable of defending the guard position well. On the flip side, however, he is prone to turnovers. The young guard averages a concerning 4.1 per game, a number that he surely wants to improve. The Duke defenders would do well to exploit this fact, but if Burton can limit these turnovers, he is without a doubt the biggest threat that this Fighting Irish squad possesses. 

As such, Notre Dame’s performance on Saturday largely boils down to the play of this freshman guard, who has the potential to give the Blue Devils some serious trouble. 


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