After a first-round victory over Troy on Friday, Duke faces their first test as they take on South Carolina in the Round of 32 in a quasi-road game in Greenville, S.C. We look at some of the x-factors for the Blue Devils tonight as they hope to advance to the Sweet 16.
The junior guard proved yet again that he may be the most crucial figure in Duke’s quest for a sixth national title. Allen scored 21 points off the bench for Duke, picking up the scoring slack as Luke Kennard shot just 3-12 from the field. Once again, Allen found his range from deep as he knocked down five three-pointers on nine attempts, while also tacking on five rebounds and four assists. He’s not a traditional point guard, but Duke’s offense seems to thrive when the ball runs through Allen, as his ability to shoot and set up his teammates by attacking off the bounce add multiple weapons in coach Krzyzewski’s motion offense. South Carolina is stingy on the defensive end, particularly on the perimeter. The length of guys like PJ Dozier and Sindarius Thornwell could make it tough for Duke’s backcourt, and it will be crucial for Allen to provide a scoring touch off the bench.
2. Sindarius Thornwell
The SEC Player of the Year put in arguably the best performance of the first round after he torched Marquette for 29 points on 10-19 shooting. Thornwell’s ability to step out and shoot the three while relentlessly attacking the paint make him a dual threat that can score in a variety of fashions. Likewise, his activity on the offensive glass makes him an invaluable presence for a team that has gotten inconsistent performances form the frontcourt. Given Duke’s struggles with foul trouble on the interior, look for Thornwell to attack Duke’s bigs early and often. The Blue Devils must be aware of his presence on the floor at all times and block him out on the defensive end. We have seen how a single player can carry a team in the NCAA Tournament (i.e. Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier), and Thornwell certainly has that kind of potential.
3. Location, Location, Location…
The Gamecocks, contrary to a red-hot Duke team that has won five straight, have dropped six of their last 10 contests. However, their upset chances could be bolstered by the fact that tonight’s game will be played in Greenville, South Carolina. The Blue Devils have said that the crowd won’t be an issue, but you can’t discount the heightened pressure of the NCAA Tournament. How will the young guys like Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson, and Harry Giles respond to this kind of situation? Of course, Duke is frequently the subject of hostility and disdain wherever they play, but they will really have to be locked in tonight as the Gamecocks look to represent their home state.
This could be a pivotal game for the graduate senior. Jefferson has had arguably his best campaign in his time at Duke, and his steady leadership presence has propelled Duke in times of strife. South Carolina is going to put a lot of pressure on Duke’s guards, and they need to establish Jefferson in the post early. Additionally, Jefferson will need to stay out of foul trouble. The Gamecocks are going to go right at him and try to bait him on the defensive end. Jefferson has been one of Duke’s best two-way players all season long, and a big game tonight could provide the difference-maker for the Blue Devils.