7:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Duke -8.5, Over/Under: 148.5
ACC heavyweights meet in a crucial contest as the No. 7 Duke Blue Devils play host to the No. 8 Florida State Seminoles, from Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina. Coming into this meeting, both teams stand at 10-2 within the Atlantic Coast Conference, just 1.5 Games behind Louisville for First Place, which is certainly something that Florida State (20-3, 10-2 in ACC) would do to achieve. After all, this is a school that despite being universally recognized as College Football Royalty, hasn’t done bad at all on the hardwood in recent years. Indeed, Leonard Hamilton has done a solid job since arriving in Tallahassee back in 2002, owning a .632 Win Percentage in his near two decades with the program, and with their twentieth win of the campaign this past weekend, a 99-81 rout of instate rival, Miami, reached that threshold for the fifth consecutive season, a record for the Seminoles. During that span, Hamilton’s charges are a stellar 118-46 (.719), with three NCAA Tournament Appearances to their credit, including trips to the Elite Eight and Sweet Sixteen in the last two years. However, in the twenty-nine years that they’ve been a member, they’ve never claimed the ACC, which remains a reachable goal in 2019-20. After being fortunate to escape a number of narrow contests, Florida State eventually fell on the road to unranked Virginia (56-61) in a dogged defensive matchup that tested both sides. In hindsight, that may have been the proverbial wake-up call that the Seminoles needed, for since then they have responded as a true contender would, disposing of their last three opponents with relative ease. Against the likes of Virginia Tech (74-63), North Carolina (65-59), and the aforementioned Miami, their play on the defensive end was dominant, relegating the opposition to a dismal 37.9% shooting from the field, while outrebounding them by a sizable margin (Plus-12.4), and forcing more Turnovers (10.7) than Assists allowed (10.0). Anyone who has watched this team this season will credit their success to their Defense; the ‘Noles rank inside the Top-3 in the ACC in a slew of defensive categories, including Points Allowed (65.3), Defensive Field Goal Percentage (40.1%), Assists Allowed (10.8), Steals (7.7), and Blocks (6.3). With that said, the question that has continued to linger about this group is that when they need a bucket, can they really create their own Offense? Though they struggled against the Tar Heels, they were in excellent form against the Hokies and Hurricanes, particularly the latter in which they shot 53.0% from the floor, including prolific 13-of-26 from beyond the arc (50.0%), and 16-of-17 from the Free-Throw Line (94.1%), while dishing out Eighteen Assists, their most in six outings. Granted, they’ve developed a penchant for turning the basketball over, matching a season-high with Nineteen Turnovers, but when they’re finding the bottom of the net like they did Saturday, that flaw is easier to overlook. Five different players scored in double-figures for the hosts, led by Junior guard, M.J. Walker (10.8 PTS, 36.3% FG, 36.0% 3FG, 1.8 REB, 1.4 AST, 12.2 PER), and Freshman Forward, Patrick Williams (8.6 PTS, 47.1% FG, 33.3% 3FG, 3.6 REB, 1.2 AST, 1.1 BLK, 19.0 PER), who scored Fourteen Points apiece, knocking down 4-of-7 Attempts from beyond the arc (57.1%), while Guards, Trent Forrest (11.3 PTS, 44.4% FG, 28.2% 3FG, 4.3 REB, 4.3 AST, 1.8 STL, 18.5 PER) and Devin Vassell (13.5 PTS, 50.4% FG, 41.9% 3FG, 5.3 REB, 1.8 AST, 1.1 BLK, 26.3 PER), combined for Twenty-Three Points on 8-of-15 shooting (53.3%), Eleven Rebounds, Nine Assists, Two Steals, and a Block. The affair was rather close in the First Half, with the home side leading 50-47 at Halftime, only to explode in the Second Half outscoring the ‘Canes 49-34 over the final twenty minutes of play. In the end, the biggest takeaway of the game was no doubt how Hamilton’s troops bullied their rivals on the glass, outrebounding them 46-24, which was by far and away their largest rebounding margin of the term. You want to know how Florida State overcame Nineteen Turnovers? How about all the second-chance looks they got from Sixteen Offensive Rebounds, which negated their wastefulness in possession. They’ll need to clean that aspect of their play up in time for tonight’s trip to Durham, for their only meeting with the Blue Devils of the Regular Season. Over the past five years the Seminoles are just 1-5 against the Devils, carrying a four-game losing streak into this meeting. They lost each of their two encounters last season, a narrow 78-80 defeat in Tallahassee followed by a 63-73 loss in the ACC Tournament, in which they were made to pay for the carelessness, committing Twenty-Nine Turnovers in comparison to Twenty-Four Assists.
Meanwhile, looking to pull ahead of the Seminoles in the Standings is Duke (20-3, 10-2 in ACC), who believe it or not are in search of their first ACC Regular Season Championship since 2009-10, and even in that case they shared that distinction with former rival and now Big-10 inhabitant, Maryland. It’s been fifteen years since the Blue Devils were undisputed league champions, which is really rather remarkable when you consider how successful they’ve been in that period of time, winning Six ACC Tournament Championships and a pair of National Championships. After a brief midseason swoon in which they dropped back-to-back games against conference rivals, Clemson (72-79) and Louisville (73-79), Mike Krzyzewski’s charges have since strung together five consecutive victories, with their most recent no doubt being perhaps their most emotional of the campaign. That would be due to their opponent and storied foe, North Carolina, and the manner in which they won; trailing nearly the entire contest, Duke escaped Chapel Hill with a 98-96 victory that required Overtime to decide a victor in the 100th meeting between the two schools. This one will likely live on in the collective consciousness of fans on both sides. Trailing 35-44 at Halftime, the visitors stormed back in the Second Half, outscoring the hosts 49-40, as Sophomore Guard, Tre Jones (15.8 PTS, 44.2% FG, 32.9% 3FG, 4.0 REB, 6.6 AST, 2.0 STL, 21.7 PER), raced down his own rebound following an intentionally missed Free-Throw, nailing the game-tying jumper as time expired to force the extra period. Later, down five points with 20.9 Seconds left to play, Jones would tie the affair with his first Free-Throw, but would miss the second only for the basketball to be tapped out towards the arc where it was recovered by Junior Guard, Jordan Goldwire (4.0 PTS, 46.2% FG, 33.3% 3FG, 2.3 REB, 2.4 AST, 1.6 STL, 13.6 PER), who kicked it back to Jones who hurled up an unbalanced jumper that missed the rim entirely. However, Freshman Forward, Wendell Moore Jr. (7.8 PTS, 45.5% FG, 40.0% 3FG, 4.1 REB, 2.0 AST, 1.0 STL, 13.2 PER), raced towards the rim, secured the ball and laid it in as time expired. In the end, Duke only actually led for a grand total of 1:47 of game time, but managed to make the plays that counted in the most clutch of moments, serving as a reminder that they should always be branded as one of the favorites to win the Atlantic Coast Conference. On the night, the Blue Devils shot 42.5 from the field, including a poor 4-of-18 from beyond the arc (22.2%), yet still managed to outscore the Tar Heels in that regard (Plus-3), while also besting them from the Charity Strip (Plus-5), where they knocked down 26-of-34 Attempts (76.5%). Conversely, the hosts were rather wasteful in that regard, netting just 21-of-38 Attempts (55.3%), while also turning the ball over a whopping eighteen times, which allowed the visitors to creep back into the game, enabling a 9-0 run to end Regulation. The aforementioned Jones, who was relegated to the background of last year’s star-studded Freshman Class, put forth arguably his finest performance in a Duke uniform, scoring a game-high Twenty-Eight Points on 11-of-25 shooting from the floor (44.0%), along with Five Rebounds, Six Assists, and Three Steals. He scored his side’s final Fifteen Points of Regulation and their first six of Overtime, as it became crystal clear that there was nothing that the Heels could do to stop him. Moore came up huge as well, totaling Seventeen Points on 5-of-8 shooting (62.5%), Ten Rebounds, Two Assists, a Steal and a Block as Coach K lost both stud Freshman Center, Vernon Carey Jr. (17.8 PTS, 58.2% FG, 38.5% 3FG, 8.8 REB, 1.1 AST, 1.5 BLK, 33.5 PER), who fouled out after posting totals of Eighteen Points and Six Rebounds, alongside fellow Frosh, Cassius Stanley (12.5 PTS, 49.0% FG, 33.9% 3FG, 4.6 REB, 1.1 AST, 20.1 PER), who added another Twenty-Two Points and Six Rebounds before fouling out. Krzyzewski found a lot of success with a smaller Lineup against North Carolina’s traditionally larger unit, which could mean positive things for tonight’s meeting with Florida State, who are similar in stature and length. Of course, we’re by no means suggesting that the Devils are better off without the services of Carey, who was utterly dominant in the First Half, in which he scored all of his Eighteen Points, and has been nothing short of impressive in his first (and likely last) season in Durham, collecting Eleven Double-Doubles, and averaging 21.8 Points and 11.5 Rebounds over the last four outings. Following their three-game road trip, Duke will be returning home for the first time since January 28th, enjoying their first 3-0 road trip since the 1978-79 term, which was before the Krzyzewski Administration began. The Blue Devils are 40-10 all-time against the Seminoles, including each of last year’s two victories, highlighted by their narrow 80-78 triumph in Tallahassee on the strength of former Guard, Cam Reddish’s, game-winner at the buzzer.