Miami at Duke

Miami (13-7, 4-3) at Duke (19-3, 6-1), 3:00 PM, ESPNU

Austin Rivers had one of his best games of the year in Blacksburg on Thursday night.

While Virginia at Florida State was Saturday’s most meaningful game, this matchup has potential to be the most exciting of the weekend. Miami seems to be hitting its stride after a double-overtime win over Maryland, and the Hurricanes desperately need a marquee win. Duke, however, seems to be dialed in after letting St. John’s nearly come back on them last weekend. And with North Carolina and Florida State tied atop the ACC standings, all Duke has to do is win to keep pace. Florida State will almost surely win its next game (at Boston College), and that will set up a Wednesday night showdown between Carolina and Duke that will leave one time in great position and the other needing to play catchup. But Duke has to win this one first.

Stat to watch: The three-point line. Miami is going to continue to shoot three’s (they tried 28 against Maryland, making only eight), and eventually, they’re going to go in. In the Hurricanes’ four-game winning streak prior to ACC play, they shot 36-of-75 (48%) from three. When the Hurricanes shoot as low as 30% or better from three in ACC play, they are 3-0 and 11-3 overall. In losses, they have shot 28.6% from three and in ACC losses only, that drops to 19%. With Kenny Kadji back and point guard Durand Scott starting to feel it, it could get interesting if Miami starts draining three’s. And Duke’s defense hasn’t been as good as past Duke teams, but they are starting to lock down on the perimeter. Duke’s ACC opponents have shot 30% from three and in Duke’s ACC wins, opponents have shot 26.4 percent. But Duke hasn’t seen a team that will attempt as many three’s as Miami will perhaps since they played Michigan in Maui.

Miami has defended the three-point line pretty well in ACC play, particularly in its wins when it has allowed 23-of-82 (28%) in four ACC wins compared to 12-of-39 (30.8%) in losses. The biggest difference, though is that in wins, Miami’s opponents attempt 20.5 three’s and just 13.0 in losses. Miami wants to make opponents shoot three’s rather than get into the paint, and Duke is certainly prone to do that from time to time. But the Blue Devils are playing smarter basketball and have cut down on their attempts recently, averaging 17 attempts in their last two ACC games compared to 22.2 in their first five. Their 44.4% at Virginia Tech (8-of-18) was their second-best percentage in league play. Three-pointers are so important for Duke’s momentum in that building, and if Miami can limit Duke’s three’s (thus limiting some of those patented Duke runs) and hit a few of their own, they’ll have a chance. And if Duke gets rolling from three, the Blue Devils will win easily.

Most important players: Kenny Kadji, Miami and Austin Rivers, Duke. Kenny Kadji missed Miami’s double-overtime win over Maryland on Wednesday with a concussion, and his absence was notable as eventually, Miami had to play essentially a five-guard lineup. He’s a very tricky matchup as he can shoot three’s and score down low against physical defenders. With Reggie Johnson being a virtual non-factor right now, Kadji has responded by averaging 16.5 points in league play on 56% shooting and adding 6.5 rebounds and two blocks. In his last three games of action, Kadji averaged 18.3 points on 54% shooting and hit 3-of-9 three’s and 10-of-13 free throws. He also averaged 8.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists and three blocks in that span. He’s been in foul trouble just once (he fouled out of the Clemson game) and he’ll need to stay out of foul trouble and play as well as he has been playing for Miami to have a chance this afternoon.

Austin Rivers had arguably his best game in a Duke uniform on Thursday at Virginia Tech with 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting, marking his best shooting percentage of the year (63.6%). His four three-pointers (in six tries) set a new career high for three-pointers made and tied his best percentage of the year. And his five assists were his second-most this year. But what really made his game great was his defense. Duke Hoop Blog has been charting Duke’s defensive statistics, and they had Austin Rivers with a 90% stop percentage. He’ll likely be on Durand Scott and/or Malcolm Grant for most of the Miami game and if he can shut them down, Miami won’t be nearly as lethal on offense. Rivers might also spend some time guarding the speedy Shane Larkin, who – according to the Category 6 Miami blog – was a former high school rival of his in Orlando. Rivers has all the physical tools to be an elite defender, and he has often talked about how important defense is to him. If continues to be as dialed in as he has been, Duke should win this one easily.

Random stat: Miami and Boston College are the only remaining ACC teams that have never beaten Duke in Durham. The Hurricanes have only beaten Duke twice – once in 1962 at home and are 1-11 against Duke since joining the ACC. Their only win came in Miami in 2008. But since then, Miami has lost five games by an average of just 6.8 points. The closest Miami has come to beating Duke in Cameron was in 2009 when they lost by three in overtime. They have lost their other four games in Cameron by 11 points or more and two by 20 or more.

Prediction: Duke 79, Miami 72

 

Last week: 12-0

Season: 100-32 (36-13 ACC)

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