At the time of the first meeting between the Duke Blue Devils and Miami Hurricanes on January 23, Duke was arguably considered the best team in the country. With a No. 1 ranking and a 16-1 overall record, the Blue Devils were sitting firmly at the top of the mountain in college basketball.
And then their early-season success came to an unexpected and overwhelming halt.
Behind a stifling all-around performance, including an astonishing 25-1 run midway through the first half, Miami blitzed Duke by 27 points, 90-63.
The demoralizing loss was the third-worst defeat for a No. 1 team in history and tied for the worst defeat by a Duke team since the infamous 1990 national championship game against UNLV where the Blue Devils fell victim to a 30-point drubbing.
Nevertheless, the Blue Devils quickly returned to playing traditional Duke basketball, winning eight of its last 10 games by an average margin of 14.5 points leading up to the rematch against Miami this Saturday.
The second meeting in Cameron Indoor Stadium should prove to be an instant classic, as the atmosphere will be as electric as it has been all season.
Here are the five most essential keys in order for Duke to avenge its most humiliating loss of the season against Miami in a battle of two top-five teams.
The biggest takeaway from the first meeting between Duke and Miami was the horrendous play by Seth Curry.
Behind an imposing defensive outing from the Hurricanes, the senior guard was completely shut down for the 22 minutes that he was on the floor, going scoreless after an 0-for-10 shooting performance.
It was without a doubt his worst game of his collegiate career.
So, how does he respond in the rematch?
That all comes down to how he handles the physicality and athleticism from the Miami wing players.
Curry will need to do a better job of using screens to free himself from the perimeter as well as running the floor in transition—which could lead to open three-point shots.
Duke cannot afford its second-leading scorer and one of the best shooters in the nation to have a repeat showing on Saturday.
With that being said, for Duke to post its 25th victory for the sixth straight season, it all begins with the play of Seth Curry.
As valuable as Duke's three-point shooting is to its success, it was non-existent in the first game against Miami.
And the results were dreadful.
Duke—the No. 1 team in three-point field goal percentage in the ACC—ended the night shooting an atrocious 17 percent (4-of-23) from three-point land. It was their lowest of the season, as the length and athleticism of the Miami defense proved to be problematic for the Blue Devils.
Furthermore, starters Seth Curry, Rasheed Sulaimon and Quinn Cook, who rank second, third and fourth respectively for Duke, combined to shoot 19 percent (3-of-16) from long distance.
It has often been reiterated that if Duke struggles to shoot from the perimeter, it is an inferior basketball team. That statement was never more apparent than against the Hurricanes.
However, it should be a completely different performance from the outside, as Duke is shooting close to 46 percent from three at home.
If they can hit that mark on Saturday, the Blue Devils should be in great shape to pull off a pivotal win with NCAA tournament seeding implications.
Miami guard Shane Larkin turned in arguably his best all-around performance this season against Duke on January 23.
The 5'11" Larkin pulled down a career-high 10 rebounds while scoring 18 points and dishing out five assists, while forcing Quinn Cook to shoot an abysmal 1-of-12 from the field.
It was yet another sensational game from Larkin, who was the driving force in leading the Hurricanes to protect its home court.
Now, it's Cook's turn, and it starts at the defensive end.
Cook will need to keep Larkin in front of him while applying intense on-ball pressure. Although that is a tall task for anyone, Cook has the ability to force Larkin into a number of mental mistakes with terrific foot speed and extremely active hands.
Offensively, he needs to remain consistent for the Blue Devils, something that was extremely difficult in the first matchup.
A brilliant facilitator, his primary focus should be to set up his teammates for high-percentage scoring opportunities.
It will be the key matchup for Saturday.
Will Larkin pull the season sweep? Or can Cook even the score?
One of the ways for Duke to prevent Miami from clinching a season sweep is converting at the charity stripe.
The Blue Devils will enter as the best team in the ACC in free-throw shooting, generating nearly 73 percent from the foul line.
On the other hand, the Hurricanes are among the worst free-throw shooting teams, not only in the ACC but in the country, hitting only 66 percent.
While this aspect of the game was irrelevant in the first game—thanks in large part to Duke's horrific field-goal shooting—it should be a critical statistic to watch during the course of the second meeting.
Miami established its superiority over Duke in the first contest, taking control with a 25-1 run midway through the first half.
As senior Kenny Kadji capped off the run scoring six straight points, a one-point deficit transformed into a 23-point lead, 38-15, ultimately placing the game on ice from there on out.
Clearly, Duke cannot allow that on Saturday.
To prevent a repeat performance by Miami, the Blue Devils must impose their will upon the Hurricanes from the get-go.
They are too good of a basketball team to fall into a dismal shooting drought and suffer defensive lapses by watching the opposition continue to pile up points on the scoreboard.
In any case, it can be fully expected that head coach Mike Krzyzewski will have his team completely focused and determined to erase the painful memory that it experienced 11 games ago.
A win on Saturday against one of the best teams in all of college basketball could be the late-season turning point for Duke on its road to the Final Four and a potential national title.