X-Factor: Jared McCain's perimeter shooting and spacing key for No. 9 Duke men's basketball at Florida State

Jared McCain has scored double figures in four straight games.
Jared McCain has scored double figures in four straight games.

No. 9 Duke begins a tricky three-game road trip in Tallahassee, Fla., to take on the Florida State Seminoles, and the Blue Zone is here with a key player to watch on both sides:

Duke: Jared McCain

Perhaps the most daunting challenge when teams face up against the star-studded Duke roster is pinpointing the primary source of Blue Devil scoring for that night. Sophomore center Kyle Filipowski leads the team in scoring, and many times, the 7-footer is head coach Jon Scheyer’s preferred option to get buckets. In other games, guards such as Tyrese Proctor or Jeremy Roach are shooting especially consistently, and they lead the team on the offensive end. And still, the Blue Devils' opponent may have Mark Mitchell to worry about. Just last game against Wake Forest, the sophomore forward led the team with 23 points.

That being said, it's Duke's freshman phenom Jared McCain and his long-range firepower that can force Florida State to its heels Saturday. McCain leads the team this season in 3-pointers made. His 20-point contributions against respected opponents like Clemson and Baylor have greatly impacted the Blue Devils’ success. The only freshman in Duke’s starting lineup, McCain brings an energy and attitude that ensures that no team will have an easy time breaking away from the Blue Devils. 

Playing 38 minutes in his team’s home win against Wake Forest, McCain has shown his coach that he can be trusted in critical games. The Seminoles sit at 7-6 in the ACC, but it is crucial that Scheyer's team does not underestimate its opponent. Duke has had a history of allowing middle and lower echelon conference teams stay close into the second half, and as seen in games against Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech, these tight conference matchups can sometimes result in losses. To save the Blue Devils from the pitfalls they’ve seen in the past, the team will need to earn a sizable margin early on. Duke will need to start the fire early to make impactful first-half runs, and McCain can be the spark.

Florida State: Jamir Watkins

Florida State basketball runs through Jamir Watkins. The junior forward leads his team in points, rebounds, assists and steals at this point in the season, despite only averaging a little less than 27 minutes per game. This is Watkins’ first season in Tallahassee, Fla.; the Trenton, N.J., native transferred to head coach Leonard Hamilton’s team after two seasons at VCU. Watkins transferred from VCU alongside the departure of Mike Rhoades who coached the forward’s first two seasons with the Rams. 

In his first year with Florida State, Watkins is averaging 14.5 points per game on 43.9% shooting from the field, but the 6-foot-7 Seminole has proven that he can rack up significantly more points for his team when he gets hot. In Florida State’s Jan. 23 win against Syracuse, Watkins recorded a career-high 27 points on 53.3% shooting. 

That type of dominant performance is exactly what a visiting favorite like Duke fears. The Blue Devils still suffer nightmares from last month’s home-court encounter with Pittsburgh’s Blake Hinson, who did not miss a single 3-pointer on seven attempts, carrying the Panthers to a win over then-No. 7 Duke.

The Seminole faithful will likely fill up the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center on a Saturday with the top 10 Blue Devils coming to town, so Watkins should have a thundering crowd on his side. If the Sunshine State star is playing at his peak, Florida State may take Duke down to the wire.


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