Duke Basketball: 5 Things Blue Devils Must Prove in Battle with Miami

David Aldridge@davidmaldridgeFeatured ColumnistFebruary 27, 2013

Duke Basketball: 5 Things Blue Devils Must Prove in Battle with Miami

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    The Duke Blue Devils take on the Miami Hurricanes Saturday in a matchup of two Top 10 teams.

    Duke will be looking to avenge a 27-point loss it suffered at the hands of the Hurricanes on January 23, in Coral Gables, Fl. (ESPN.com)

    Although it is important for the Blue Devils to stay focused on the upcoming game on the road against a tough Virginia team, Duke fans have been thinking about the rematch with Miami since that ugly loss back in January.

    Here are five things the Blue Devils must prove in Saturday's battle with Miami.

1. Duke Can Beat a Team with Superior Athletes

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    Miami is the most athletic team Duke has faced all season.

    In the first game between the two teams, the Hurricanes used their athleticism to shred Duke's defense and make countless plays in transition.

    Miami's length and quickness also caused problems for Duke's offense, forcing the Blue Devils to shoot 29 percent from the field and 17 percent from the three-point line.

    How Seth Curry, who was scoreless in the first game against Miami, responds to the physical defense from Miami's wing players will be critical to Duke's success.

    Winning a game against a team like Miami will help prove that Duke can't be pushed around by teams that are more physical and athletic.

2. Mason Plumlee Can Be the Most Physical Player on the Floor

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    Mason Plumlee finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds in the first game against the Hurricanes, but it still wasn't one of his better performances.

    Plumlee was pushed out of position numerous times on the offensive end and, as Bleacher Report's Dantzler Smith pointed out, "his defensive effort was atrocious."

    Duke needs Plumlee to be great in order to win and he has to assert his will against a physical Miami front line.

    Reggie Johnson has struggled with conditioning at times during his career and Kenny Kadji has a style similar to Ryan Kelly, which means Plumlee must attack both of them in the paint.

3. The Blue Devils Can Prevent Dribble Penetration

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    As I mentioned in a previous slide, the Hurricanes are a team with great athletes. This is especially true at the guard position.

    Shane Larkin has been one of the best point guards in the country this season and Durand Scott is one of the most underrated players in the ACC.

    In the game on January 23, Larkin and Scott had no trouble beating Duke's guards off the dribble and finding openings in Duke's interior defense, which also opened up perimeter looks.

    The Blue Devils have now had time to adjust their defense without Ryan Kelly and this will be a good measuring stick to see how they defend explosive guards.

    If Duke can contain Miami's guards, it's a very good sign as we head toward the NCAA Tournament.

4. Quinn Cook Is as Good as Shane Larkin

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    Shane Larkin has had a terrific year for Miami.

    He is in consideration for the ACC Player of the Year Award, averaging 13 points, four rebounds, four assists and two steals per game.

    In the first game this season between Cook and Larkin, the Miami point guard forced Cook into a miserable one-for-12 shooting night.

    Quinn Cook has been brilliant at times this season for Duke, but the sophomore from Bowie, MD remains inconsistent.

    In Saturday's game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Cook will need to prove that he can play at the same level as Larkin.

5. Duke Is Peaking at the Right Time

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    When Duke lost to Maryland on February 16, people began to wonder if this exposed the Blue Devils as a team that could not have success in the NCAA Tournament.

    Yet, the reality is that Duke is a team that lost a conference road game in mid-February. There's no reason to panic.

    Instead, the Maryland game could have served as the catalyst that helped the Blue Devils get things going in the right direction as they head toward the most important part of the season.

    Saturday's contest against Miami is the time for Duke to show they are putting everything together and beginning to play their best basketball of the season. If the Blue Devils can peak as they enter March, that could mean trouble for the rest of college basketball.