ACC Basketball

ACC Tourney | NC State vs. Duke

Duke Blue Devils

In the grand scheme of things, the Duke Blue Devils have had just one bad 48-hour period this season. Yes, they lost to Notre Dame a little later, but that was on the road and the Irish needed a fortunate bounce to pull that one out.

The 48 hours I’m speaking of was when the Blue Devils lost back-to-back games at NC State and home versus Miami (Fl). I mean, they didn’t just lose, they were beaten pretty badly. In that first meeting with the Wolfpack, Duke led 29-23, but they just couldn’t stop NC State’s penetration, which opened up the outside for a ton of threes. The Wolfpack hit 10-for-16 from deep, as Trevor Lacey scored 21 and Ralston Turner chipped in 16.

Jahlil Okafor actually had a productive game, hitting 8-for-11 from the floor, 7-for-11 from the FT line, finishing with 28 points and 12 boards, but because of the defense, Duke found themselves down 17 in the second half and started to just launch and miss a lot of threes (7-for-27 from deep). Two days later, the Hurricanes would run them off the court using the NC State win as a model.

Now I don’t want to take anything away from either NC State or Miami. They both played fantastic basketball in those wins, exposing Duke’s defensive weaknesses that they’re been trying to solve ever since. Yet, at the time I couldn’t help wonder how much of an impact the chase for Coach K’s 1,000 win coinciding with the beginning of ACC play, had to do with their struggles? This was made even worse by the fact that they wouldn’t get a re-match against either team…until now.

Duke and NC State are arguable the hottest teams entering the ACC Tournament. The Blue Devils have won 11 in a row and four of those victories have come against teams headed to the Big Dance. The Wolfpack have won six of seven, including an impressive 81-70 victory over Pittsburgh Wednesday night. In that contest, Anthony Barber owned the Panthers with 34 points (Hitting four threes, going 12-for-12 from the FT line), while Trevor Lacey added a tough 21.

The pair will be key yet again against the Blue Devils. Coach K’s squad has gotten better against penetration since their last meeting with NC State, relying on Quinn Cook to lock up the opponent’s best guard. However, not all has gone perfect. Virginia Tech had a field day against Duke less than two weeks ago and Marcus Paige was able to find some openings in the season finale.

My gut says the Blue Devils will simply switch on defensively. Anyone playing positions one-through-four will guard anyone playing one-through-four. This will help eliminate open jumpers, especially off screens. However, it will create mismatches. Don’t be surprised to see Amile Jefferson on Barber or Quinn Cook down low guarding Abdul-Malik Abu. Of course, taking advantage of those mismatches seems easy, but the Blue Devils have had success using this defense.

On the flip side, NC State has played a lot better on the defensive side of the ball during their most recent winning ways. Inside the paint, they can throw a lot of big bodies at you and no one is better at the off-ball block than BeeJay Anya. The question for Mark Gottfried is, does he double Jahlil Okafor? They made the decision to double him last time and they didn’t pay, as Duke couldn’t buy a bucket. However, if Tyus Jones finds some holes, Okafor will be left open underneath and the Wolfpack better not leave Quinn open in Cook’s Corner.

In the end, I think NC State hits some open looks, but rebounding will be the key. One would think NC State with four big men who rotate in and out will dominate the glass, but it’s been the Blue Devils who have won the battle of the boards. Against the conference’s best rebounding team (UNC) Duke went into Chapel Hill and took care of business against the Tar Heels on the glass on both ends of the floor.

WORTHLESS PREDICTION: Duke, 77-73

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