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Next Up: Florida State

Time: 8:00 || Venue: Donald L. Tucker Center || Video: ACCN (Triangle Viewers - Fox 50, not WRAL)

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NCAA Basketball: Boston College at Duke
Jan 7, 2017; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils guard Luke Kennard (5) shoots against Boston College Eagles forward Garland Owens (5) during the second half of their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. 
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday Duke gets a break from the ice and snow in the Triangle for a trip to Tallahassee to take on Florida State in a game which will be like no other Duke-Florida State game.

We could be wrong, but we’re pretty sure this is the first time these teams have met when both were in the Top Ten.

Duke has been highly ranked all season while Florida State has crept up gradually and is now #9 (USA Today Coaches Poll).

And in case you were wondering, yes, there’s a lot of excitement. This game sold out - a rarity at FSU - and athletic officials are urging people to come early.

So Duke knows, or after Virginia Tech should know anyway, what’s coming. This is another rising program, filled with talented athletes, and they’re going to try to blow Duke’s doors off.

And it’s not like they’re 15-1 by accident. Florida State has already beaten Florida, Virginia and, yes, Virginia Tech. The only loss was an early one to Temple by three.

This is a deep and talented team. Florida State starts star freshman Jonathan Isaac, 6-9, 6-4 junior Xavier Rathan-Maye, 6-7 sophomore Dwayne Bacon, and fellow sophomore 6-6 Terrance Mann. The only guy who isn’t a serious offensive threat is 7-1 Michael Ojo. The senior from Nigeria is Shaquille size - 304 lbs - but his body fat is in single digits.

That’s low single digits.

Last time he played at Duke we overheard the Crazies talking about his absolutely massive size. His head is cartoonishly big compared to other players. He’s just a massive human being.

Like most of Leonard Hamilton’s big men though he’s there basically to play defense and rebound.

Ojo only gets 13.3 mpg and he averages 5.0 ppg and 4.4 rpg. He’s never going to be a consistent offensive force and that’s fine with Hamilton. He uses his big men - and they’re very big - to defend the basket. You don’t want to bounce off of this guy.

Hamilton also has 7-4 sophomore Chris Koumadje who is getting 11.4 mpg and 4.1 ppg and 2.2 rpg.

Again, driving on a guy with his length is very difficult. He’s not massive like Ojo but he is very long and getting shots off over him is not easy.

The other four starters are highly like to be drafted.

Bacon is an outstanding slasher. Rathan-Mayes has been asked to be a point guard but as a freshman, unforgettably, he scored 30 points against Miami - in the last four minutes.

The problem is there’s more on the bench.

FSU is getting 41.8 ppg from the bench and goes 12 deep. This allows them to run with anyone and to run past just about everyone.

It’s also proved to be an unselfish group.

Put simply, FSU plays good defense, shoots well, shares the ball and has outstanding chemistry.

Traditionally you could count on Leonard Hamilton’s teams to throw the ball away a lot but they’re not even doing that, averaging just 12.4 tpg.

It’s a very serious challenge and Duke is showing up without Coach K and Amile Jefferson.

Coach K, as you surely know, is recuperating after back surgery on Friday. And Jefferson left the BC game with a bone bruise and won’t play at FSU.

Both are huge losses. Coach K is arguably the best coach in the history of college basketball and is brilliant at overcoming obstacles like the loss of Jefferson.

As for Jefferson, his stats don’t begin to tell his value. He is one of the better leaders Duke has had.

A couple of years ago Coach K raved about Quinn Cook’s senior leadership. Jefferson’s is right up there and we’ll hear that at the end of the season.

He’s also the team’s best on-court communicator. It’s not a natural role for Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard or Matt Jones, all of whom are fairly quiet personalities.

He has the full respect of his teammates and has been very valuable to the younger big men who will have to fill in for him now.

If there is a silver lining, it’s that Duke has three big guys to toss at Hamilton’s collection of bigs - Chase Jeter, Marques Bolden and Harry Giles - four if Javin DeLaurier is ready to go after, yes, his injury.

Jeter started early in the season but his minutes have fallen as the other guys returned to action. When he did start, he played pretty well. He was a solid defender and rebounder and unlike his freshman year, rarely hurt his team. He’s as improved as anyone on the roster other than Kennard.

Like just about everyone else, Bolden was slowed by an injury but he’s big and strong and could really help in the post.

Unless something changes though, Giles will start.

Also recovering from an injury and a clean-up surgery, Giles hasn’t played much yet - just five games - but has shown more and more each time out, including 25 rebounds in his last fifty minutes.

His shooting percentage is also increasing game by game:

Harry Giles' Offense Improving Game By Game
Tennessee State 0-1
Elon 0-2
Virginia Tech 2-6
Georgia Tech 5-12
Boston College 5-8

It’s unquestionably true that Giles cannot give Duke what Jefferson does. It’s also true though that Jefferson is not nearly as talented as is Giles. We’ve barely seen glimpses of it, mostly through his...we’re not even sure how to put it, but when the guy grabs rebounds he does it with real authority.

So did Jahlil Okafor of course. And nobody bothered Brian Zoubek when he grabbed one. And no one at Duke has ever come close to what Gene Banks did: when Banks grabbed a rebound, his elbows moved as fast as Sugar Ray Leonard’s hands. It was a stunning thing to see: he’d come down and on the way down he’d make four or five complete rotations with his elbows. It was incredibly effective.

Watch Giles though. Sometimes he gets his hands on the ball and pulls it in and all you can think is...damn.

He’s a powerful rebounder.

Jefferson himself said that you won't recognize Giles in the next three games. His improvement has been quick and it’s picking up speed. Sooner or later - hopefully sooner - he’s going to break out.

All the big guys - Jeter hasn’t been playing after his own injury but he’s dressed and presumably could play - need to stay out of foul trouble.

As for the rest of the rotation - Jones, Allen, Kennard, Jayson Tatum and Frank Jackson - will play a team that’s as big and probably more athletic and certainly deeper.

If Duke learned a lesson at Virginia Tech, it’s that, as always, the Blue Devils get a team’s best shot and you have to be ready for that.

Florida State wants to make a statement in this game. Duke will need to match FSU’s intensity and aggressiveness.

It’s not going to be easy Tuesday night.

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