Duke basketball: The one constant statistic in all of Houston's losses

There is one constant theme in all four Cougar losses this season
Mar 24, 2024; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Mark Mitchell (25) dunks the ball against
Mar 24, 2024; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Mark Mitchell (25) dunks the ball against / Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The Duke basketball team arguably has its toughest challenge of the season waiting on Friday night in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament against No. 1 seed Houston.

The Cougars have been a consensus Top-5 team throughout the year, spending a handful of weeks in the No. 1 spot.

However, the Blue Devils -- a team many expected to be in the Final Four during the preseason -- saved its best basketball for the most important part of the season, defeating Vermont and James Madison in the first weekend of the tournament.

Jon Scheyer's game plan has to be executed perfectly if Duke wants to defeat the Cougars and advance to the Elite Eight, and there should be one aspect of the game that must be at the top of the scouting report, the free throw line.

In Houston's four losses this season, the charity stripe has played a major role in each game.

In its first loss on January 9 against Iowa State, the Cyclones were 18-of-22 from the free throw line and the Cougars were 8-of-12. Houston would lose its next game to TCU, making just 9-of-13 shots from the line while the Horned Frogs were 16-of-29.

Its only other loss during the regular season was on the road against Kansas and the Jayhawks were 10-of-15 from the line while the Cougars were 6-of-10.

Iowa State was 10-of-17 from the free throw line in its Big 12 Championship victory over Houston as the Cougs were 7-of-8.

Houston lost the free throw line battle in each loss in attempted and made shots. It has to be a focal point of Duke's strategy on Friday evening.

Even in the Cougars' Round of 32 victory over Texas A&M in overtime, the Aggies attempted 45 free throws, making just 29 (64.4-percentage). If that number was just marginally better, Duke is getting ready to face the SEC program instead of the new Big 12 powerhouse.

The Blue Devils must be aggressive and get to the free throw line early in its matchup against Houston. If not, it could be a long night for Duke's half-court offense against the Cougars tenacious defense.