As the ACC/Big Ten Challenge tips off this year, the premier matchup features two Top Five teams as the No. 2 Duke Blue Devils and No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes tip off on Wednesday.
The Blue Devils will host this game in fabled Cameron Indoor Stadium, and Mike Krzyzewski's crew will surely top Thad Matta and co.
The Blue Devils are arguably the hottest team in the country right now. After beating No. 3 Kentucky, the team won the Battle 4 Atlantis with a rout of Minnesota, a game that was never really close against VCU and a second Top Five victory against No. 2 Louisville.
After beating Louisville, Duke is now 6-0 and looks to close out one of the toughest months of November in college basketball history with a third win against a Top Five team.
A big reason the team will succeed in topping the Buckeyes is the play of sophomore point guard Quinn Cook.
Touted as a great player when the Blue Devils recruited him, Cook split time last season with Tyler Thornton, who now comes off the bench. This season Cook took over the starting role and has been spectacular.
Cook is the true point guard that the Blue Devils needed because it frees up scoring guard Seth Curry to do what he does best. Because he has not had to take over ball-handling responsibilities, he is averaging 17.0 points per game this season, thanks to Cook.
He will have his hands full with Aaron Craft, however, as Cook has to play against the best defensive point guard in the country. However, Cook has already taken on Peyton Siva and got the best of him, and it is possible that the sophomore has enough talent to be productive against Craft.
With his 10.7 points, 3.2 rebounds and 5.5 assist per game this season, Cook has led the team's offense and has the team scoring 78.2 points per game. He recorded 28 assists during the Battle 4 Atlantis, leading a field which included elite point guards like Siva and Missouri's Phil Pressey.
Speaking of members of the team who led the tournament field in statistical categories, Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly also made their presence felt on the inside, which brings us to the next key reason why Duke will defeat Ohio State: the frontcourt.
Plumlee has been an animal this season. Averaging 19.7 points and 10.0 rebounds per game, he leads the team in both categories and led the Battle 4 Atlantis in each as well.
While Plumlee has been huge for the Blue Devils, he is not alone in the frontcourt. Kelly is finally playing well inside, leading the preseason tournament in blocks with 10.
Kelly is a 6'11" forward who has the ability to play well inside. However, last season he was frequently seen along the perimeter looking for threes instead of scoring in the paint. While he is a good three-point shooter and still takes a few every game, he is learning to play better as a true big man, which allows Duke to utilize his size.
The Blue Devils are much bigger than the Buckeyes, with two starters standing at 6'11" and six players on the roster listed at 6'8" or taller. On the other hand, Ohio State has just one player who is taller than 6'8" in sophomore center Amir Williams, who comes off the bench.
Duke has a clear size advantage in this game, which is usually the team's biggest weakness. We saw against Kentucky that Duke can beat just about any team in the country so long as the Blue Devils aren't out-rebounded by their opponents, and that will hold true against OSU.
There are challenges that Duke must meet, however, as this game won't come easily. The team is facing one of the best inside-outside combos in the nation in Craft and DeShaun Thomas. The two are a formidable duo, with Craft's defense and new offensive abilities complementing Thomas' score-first mentality that has him averaging 24.0 points per game this season.
But it can be done.
Duke can rely on Cook to stay in front of Craft. The sophomore is very quick and supremely talented, and by keeping pace with Craft, he should be able to aggravate the junior point guard.
Thomas is another issue, but one that Duke can handle. While the team doesn't have a true wing who can matchup with the National Player of the Year contender, it has quick guards like Curry and Rasheed Sulaimon and bigs who can keep him out of the lane.
Craft and Thomas will likely combine for their 30 points this game without much of a problem, but by limiting the damage, Duke can use its superiority in just about every other aspect to win this game.
We've already seen Duke take down tough opponents, which is more than what we can say about the Buckeyes. OSU hasn't played anyone tougher than a depleted Washington team that is 2-3 on the season.
Because Ohio State's game against Marquette was canceled due to inclement weather, the team has yet to play a full 40 minutes against a good team—let alone a great one like Duke.
Duke also has an edge in this game that it did not have against Kentucky or Louisville—home-court advantage.
The Blue Devils played both Kentucky and Louisville on neutral courts in the Champions' Classic and Battle 4 Atlantis, respectively.
Now that the team has the Cameron Crazies cheering it on, we may see the Blue Devils win this game by a solid margin instead of winning in a nail biter.
Ohio State doesn't even have the advantage of better free throw shooting that teams had against Duke last season.
In years past, opponents could hack Mason Plumlee whenever he was going up for a shot or at the end of games. Plumlee then missed a considerable number of freebies, shooting a paltry 52.8 percent from the line last season.
However, this year Plumlee has been taking his free throws very seriously, shooting a remarkable 80.0 percent from the stripe.
Duke has worked out its kinks and will be ready for this huge game against the Buckeyes. Thanks to the team's experience, talent and fans we will see No. 2 Duke beat Ohio State and leapfrog Indiana for the No. 1 ranking in college basketball on Wednesday.
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