What Duke Must Do to Avoid An Upset at No. 25 Miami

Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

The Duke Blue Devils take their newly reannointed No. 1 ranking to Coral Gables to take on the No. 25 Miami Hurricanes, who are ranked for the first time this season.

Miami, at 4-0, is the last unbeaten in Atlantic Coast Conference play, thanks to a 60-59 win at Boston College exactly one week ago. Duke followed up their only loss of the season with a strong second half in a 73-57 win over Georgia Tech.

The Hurricanes are tough this season, as is evident by their 13-3 overall record and 4-0 ACC mark. Things didn’t look so promising early on as they lost the second game of the year to Florida Gulf Coast–by 12. They seemed to have turned the corner since then.

So how can the Blue Devils avoid losing as No. 1 for the second time this season and a court-storming in Miami?

It starts with the three-pointer for the ‘Canes. More than a third of Miami’s points in ACC games come from deep, so for Duke it’s imperative to defend the perimeter. Miami makes more than 34% from three but Duke is one of the best in the country at defending the three-pointer, holding opponents to under 30% on the season. Miami is going to hoist them up–that’s what they do. Duke needs to make sure every one is contested. Cue Tyler Thornton.

Feed the post. Mason Plumlee is the only legit threat inside with Ryan Kelly sidelined, but Duke has to feed the big fella. For Miami, that means a pair of seniors, Kenny Kadji and Julian Gamble, are going to have to lock down on the National Player of the Year candidate while Miami’s second-leading scorer and best big man Reggie Johnson‘s broken thumb heals. Both have a tendency to get into foul trouble, so head coach Jim Larranaga has to be careful. It’ll be a tall order but for Miami to pull an upset, they have to limit Plumlee. Kadji is a good finisher at the rim as well, so Plumlee is going to have to stay out of foul trouble himself. Cue Amile Jefferson.

Get to the line. It’s so cliche, but free throws win and lose games. It can be argued that Duke gets a lot of foul calls that go their way. Others will argue it’s because they’ll a well-coached group that knows how to defend. Regardless of who’s right, whichever team can get to the line more–and make them–should win. Duke shoots 71.4% from the line and Miami shoots only 66.6% from the stripe. Advantage Duke.

Duke scores 78.7 points per game while Miami only allows 58.4–it’s like an moving force meeting an impenetrable object–something has to give.

Miami has never proven itself to be a giant killer despite winning their only meeting with Duke last season–at Cameron Indoor Stadium–78-74 in overtime. They’re going to need a stellar defensive effort to contain this Duke offense led by Plumlee and Seth Curry. Duke is looking to show it’s still the best in the league–and the country–even without Ryan Kelly. Miami is looking to justify a top-25 ranking and it’s legitimacy as a threat in the ACC.

The crowd at the BankUnited Center is going to be crazy, but Duke is just a little crazier. Blue Devils in a tight one.

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