Staff picks: NC State at Duke
Posted February 13, 2012
Updated February 16, 2012
Durham, N.C. — North Carolina State has made its way near the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference standings and the next three games — against teams that all share the league lead — will determine if the Wolfpack deserves to stay there.
N.C. State (18-7, 7-3) begins a challenging gauntlet of three games in six days Thursday night at No. 5 Duke (21-4, 8-2).
The WRAL sports staff weighs in on Thursday's game offering their keys to the game and tell you who they think will win.
Before I could complete the question, CJ Williams had the answer. “What is the first thing you guys….” “Defend the three,” the Wolfpack senior said. Williams and friends will take turns guarding Duke freshman Austin Rivers who already “has hit the biggest shot of his life,” according to CJ Leslie.
Duke is going to want to push the pace offensively and defensively to work on NC State’s lack of depth. The good thing for the Wolfpack is they haven’t played in a week and are as rested and fresh as you can be in the middle of February.
What will Cameron do to the Wolfpack? CJ Williams is the only Pack player who has ever played a game at Cameron. He and CJ Leslie smiled when asked about playing in that kind of atmosphere. It’s a shot of adrenaline for the opponents as well as the Blue Devils.
As we say about every NC State game, Richard Howell can’t get in foul trouble and I imagine more than a few passes with enter the post to Mason Plumlee. Can he convert? Does Miles Plumlee earn a start after his 22 rebound performance against Maryland?
Opportunity is the word of the week for NC State. With games against Duke and home games with Florida State and North Carolina a win in either of the three boosts their chances of making the NCAA tournament. I wouldn’t be surprised if that win came tonight at Duke but I’m picking the Devils at home. I don’t see the Devils losing three ACC games at home in less than a month.
I’ve said all along that State matches up well with Duke, and I still believe that’s true. But the Blue Devils have the home court advantage, and at Cameron that means a great deal. If the Plumlee brothers rebound the way they did over the weekend, Duke will be in good shape. But, Richard Howell and CJ/Calvin Leslie have the potential to give Duke fits. I’m picking the Devils by 7, but this could be an interesting game.
Perhaps the few years I lived in the “Show Me” state of Missouri had a profound effect on me because I certainly need to see something to believe it, and I have never seen NC State beat Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium with my own eyes.
Oh, it’s happened before. The last time the Pack won in Durham was in 1995. Of course, that was the season Mike Krzyzewski left early with his back problems so the Pete Gaudet-coached Duke team lost to Les Robinson’s Wolfpack in an untelevised matchup between the ACC’s two worst teams. This fails to meet my “see-it-to-believe-it” criteria because of the lack of TV coverage and the lack of Coach K.
The last time State won at Duke with Krzyzewski on the sideline was in 1988. Jim Valvano was coaching State, pre-probation. Chris Corchiani and Rodney Monroe were freshmen. Charles Shackelford and Vinny Del Negro were still on the team, for goodness sake. Because I was only in kindergarten and probably had a date in the Combs Elementary sandbox that afternoon, I somehow didn’t witness this game either.
For a more recent example of Duke’s dominance at home, the Devils held Scott Wood scoreless last year. As a team, Duke didn't need to score a single point in the second half and would have won anyway.
Mark Thomas can make the case for the Pack tonight, but I’m siding with history.
The Blue Devils are playing their best basketball of the year. That coupled with the history of NCSU playing at Cameron makes it tough to pick with Wolfpack. I think it will be a close game though. NCSU will learn from the UNC loss and come out with more confidence.
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Unlike NC State’s trip into the Smith Center, tonight’s home team doesn’t present the same match up disadvantages around the basket. Not that Mason and Miles Plumlee aren’t capable players – they are – but, Calvin Leslie, Richard Howell and Deshawn Painter were, well, let’s just say discouraged from scoring around the basket by the long arms of John Henson. Howell’s ability to carve out space and score down low will be key, as well as Calvin Leslie’s slashing and ability to grab offensive rebounds that lead to second chance points.
If NC State doesn’t win that battle however, it’s going to be a long night for the Wolfpack because there’s not enough versatility on the perimeter to really bother the Blue Devils. You can beat Duke off the dribble, but that’s not what NC State’s guards do best. Could Scott Wood catch fire and knock down 7 long-range shots? Yes. But that’s what it would take for NC State if the big boys don’t control the inside.
Before you think I’m discounting Duke, I’m not. I believe the Devils will win this game. But, because the Blue Devils don’t get consistent interior offensive production and they don’t force a lot of turnovers, Duke’s success is directly related to the playmaking of Austin Rivers, Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly. Throw in the dangerous Andre Dawkins and the Blue Devils just have a little too much firepower – and a lot more depth – for NC State.
The Wolfpack's NCAA Tournament hopes don't completely hinge on the upcoming stretch of games, but they can go a long way towards controlling their fates if they can win at least one of the next 3 contests. It would provide a serious quality win, which is hard to come by in the ACC this year.
C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell provide an advantage for NC State. Duke's interior defense is still inconsistent and those players present problems due to their agility underneath. However, the Wolfpack must commit themselves defensively or the Blue Devils will hurt them from the perimeter.
I actually liked the Wolfpack to pull off the upset tonight, but rumors of an alternate black uniform have caused me to second guess. The last time NC State put on something other than red or white? A debacle against Maryland in 2000.
This game hinges on who hits their outside shots. State has the advantage in the paint on offense, but the Plumlees have started to take care of the defensive end of the floor and are getting enough offensive rebounds to be a factor to cancel that out.
State is 4-1 on the road in the ACC, but has yet to beat a ranked team this year. The one road loss was at another ACC ranked team, North Carolina.
Duke is starting to play like the Duke we've come to expect and Austin Rivers has answered the question of who will take the big shots. The Devils defensive pressure will cause the Pack problems.
Duke wins a close one.
NC State is starting the toughest three-game stretch of their schedule with an NCAA Tournament bid within reach. It is thought that to assure a bid, the Wolfpack need to win one of their next three (at Duke, vs. Florida St. and vs. UNC). Thursday night at Cameron, however, won’t be one of them.
Duke is launching more than 20 three-pointers per game on the season and in games that NC State has had difficulties, the three has been a big part of it – see Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt who each dropped nine. Three’s are also what have lifted Duke in key wins – see UNC.
Duke holds advantages on the year in points per game and field goal percentage while State is averaging more assists per game and rebounds per game. It may not be a blowout, but I don’t see a last minute decision either.
If the game was at the RBC Center I'd lean towards the Wolfpack for the surprise win over Duke, but considering it's over in Cameron the win will go to the Blue Devils tonight.
While the win would mean more to NC State, they won't have enough in the end to grab it. Guard play will be key and the way Austin Rivers has been playing lately, the Wolfpack won't win that battle. Down low Duke's too big for the Pack, Richard Howell will probably get a few early fouls and the Plumlees will take over on the boards.
Scott Wood needs to shoot well from the outside to keep NC State in the game and let's hope Calvin shows up on the court instead of CJ. It will most definitely be a battle and I'm sure Gottfried will provide some great new avatar material, but we all know Duke should win this one. Though that's what we all said about the Tar Heels a few weeks ago...