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5 problems for Indiana against top-ranked Duke

Duke forward Marvin Bagley III, left, Duke forward Javin DeLaurier, right and Florida forward Kevarrius Hayes, center, fight for a rebound during the second half Sunday. (Associated Press photo)
Portland State's Deonte North (3) guards Duke's Grayson Allen (3) last Thursday. (Associated Press photo)

As the Duke Blue Devils descend on Bloomington as part of the latest edition of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Wednesday night, the 4-2 Indiana Hoosiers will have their hands full. After starting 1-2, Indiana has won three straight home games before they welcome the nation’s top-ranked team into Assembly Hall. Here are five problems that Indiana will face against the Blue Devils.

1. GETTING TO THE RIM

Averaging six blocks a game as a team, Duke has made it very difficult for teams with slashing wings to get to the rim. Freshmen Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. and sophomores Javin DeLaurier and Marques Bolden have become a real problem for teams for one primary reason — their length is exponentially longer than most everyone else.

Bagley and DeLaurier have been the guys with more highlight reel dunks, but the stature of the other two is the biggest issue. At 6-foot-11, Bolden boasts a 7-foot-5 wingspan with a standing reach of 9-foot-3 and Carter is close behind with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and a standing reach of nine feet. While Carter’s 19 blocks leads the team and is 12th best in the nation, it is the depth of the four that is most troubling for Indiana. With four guys adept at blocking shots and generally creating chaos around the rim, a rotation is simple. Worse yet: three of these guys may be on the court at once, forming a pretty tough wall at the rim.

2. COUNTING DUKE OUT

Michigan State played them close. They stumbled out of the gate against Furman. Portland State looked like they had them on the ropes. Texas led them nearly the entire game. Florida was up on them by 17 points.

None of that sounds favorable for Duke enthusiasts. But in each of those cases, Duke won. Its run through the Thanksgiving weekend PK80 tournament wasn’t pretty for about the first 20 minutes of each game. The Blue Devils got behind, in part, due to freshman immaturity and lack of experience. In many cases, that leads to teams losing the game because of that same inexperience. Instead, the team that starts four freshmen and plays two others has stormed back time after time already this year.

If Indiana can manage to build a lead, no matter how big it is, it would be wise to not count the chickens before they hatch. The Duke spark is usually started by senior Grayson Allen, who picked up the Blue Devils through their Michigan State win and has kept pushing the younger guys along. So far, the freshmen starters of Bagley, Carter, Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr., have fed off Allen’s experience and energy. Most teams have made the mistake of thinking they had the young kids on the ropes. It keeps backfiring.

3. DEVELOPMENT OF BLUE DEVIL GUARDS

Starting two freshmen guards, things were going to take time to develop. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, a lot of the development in the backcourt happened last Sunday in Duke’s win over Florida. Duval and Trent harassed the Gator guards and came up with two big game-winning/clinching steals in the closing moments.

Indiana is giving up an average of six steals and 15.6 points of turnovers this year. Protecting the ball, especially from Duval, is going to be a chore. At 2.4 steals per contest, Duval’s defense has been the surprise of his freshman campaign and he will feast on Hoosier guards if they don’t take care of their passes and dribbles.

The Hoosiers should also be wise to not forget about Allen, who averages a steal per game and has really pushed the development of Duval and Trent.

4. THE THREE-POINT SHOT

Probably Indiana’s most alarming game early in the season was the 90-69 loss to Indiana State, where it gave up 17 three pointers. Like most Duke teams, this squad will shoot the ball with regularity and it may be cold — but if the Blue Devils get hot from the outside, they will be super hot. In eight games, Allen has hit four or more three pointers on four occasions, including his 7-of-11 night against Michigan State. Trent has yet to heat up significantly, but is widely considered the best pure shooter on this team and is coming off a 3-of-5 game in the victory over Florida. Freshman Alex O’Connell has the ability to knowk down big shots and even Bagley has started to float out to the perimeter on occasion.

5. MARVIN BAGLEY III

His interior presence has been strong on defense, but Bagley being an unstoppable force offensively has catapulted the Blue Devils to a string of comebacks that has kept them unbeaten and the nation’s No. 1 team. To name one person as a problem for an opponent may seem vague, but Bagley is a game changer and maybe the best in college basketball right now at being one.

Bagley leads Duke at 22.3 points and 11.3 rebounds per game, all of that while playing just 10 minutes against Michigan State after an eye-poke injury, which cut down his averages. He has racked up 15 rebounds in each of his last three games and scored 30-plus points in each of the last two.

Bagley is going to be very difficult for Indiana to defend in man-to-man, but finds gaps in getting to the basket better than most 6-11 guys, so a zone likely won’t do the Hoosiers much better against him. The only thing that seems to be able to stop him at this point in his freshman campaign is teammate DeLaurier’s finger inadvertently going into his eye.

Indiana probably shouldn’t count on that.

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