Previewing NC State

Previewing the Blue Devils and Wolfpack who tip off today at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The game will be broadcast nationally by ESPN beginning at 6:00 PM EST. Mike Patrick and Len Elmore will be on the call.

North Carolina State (12-10) vs. Duke (20-2)
Durham, N.C. -- Cameron Indoor Stadium
TV: ESPN 6:00 PM EST (Mike Patrick & Len Elmore)

Head Coach: Sidney Lowe (5th Year)
Record at NC State: 83-72
Career v. Duke: 2-5

Projected Starters:
12 Ryan Harrow (6-1, 160 Fr.) – 11.0 ppg, 3.5 apg
2 Lorenzo Brown (6-5, 185, Fr.) – 9.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg
15 Scott Wood (6-7, 175, So.) - 10.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg
5 C.J. Leslie (6-8, 205, So.) – 10.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg
23 Tracy Smith (6-8, 255, Sr.) – 14.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg

Top Reserves:
0 DeShawn Painter (6-9, 230, So.) – 4.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg
10 Javier Gonzalez (6-0, 175, Sr.) – 4.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg
1 Richard Howell (6-8, 260, So.) – 7.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg
21 C.J. Williams (6-5, 220, Jr.) - 4.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg
14 Jordan Vandenberg (7-1, 250, So.) - 1.4 ppg, 1.7 rpg

Series History: This will be the 224th meeting between the two programs with the Blue Devils holding a commanding 136-97 advantage in the previous match-ups. Duke has won 29 of the last 34 meetings and 12 straight in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The Blue Devils enter the game ranked in the top five. Under Lowe, NC State has won just nine of 31 games, and just two of 15 contests against top five opponents on the road.

Earlier this season the Blue Devils jumped out to an early lead and never looked back, leading from start to finish while building a 14 point lead at halftime at the RBC Center. Despite an 11-2 spurt that closed the lead to just five with 13:16 remaining in the game, the Pack couldn't catch Duke as Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler sparked a 16-5 run that put the game out of reach. State finished the game with five players in double figures including a team high 19 points from Tracy Smith inside.

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"Mike isn't going to have you if you don't play hard. His best players are his hardest players. That's what you need. When your best player is your toughest player, or aggressive player, then you've got it. That's one thing when you look at Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, those guys set the tone." - Sidney Lowe

"You can't play scared. You are going to make mistakes, that is going to happen. Mistakes you can't make are the hustle plays -- mental mistakes, not blocking out. Those are the ones you can't have. When I say be more consistent I'm talking about consistent with getting stops when we need it, consistent with taking good shots." - Lowe

Season To Date: The Wolfpack enter Saturday's game with Duke having lost six of their last seven contests. The skid has riled up NC State faithful with some calling for a coaching change at the end of the season. Add in some perceived chemistry and effort problems with some of the team's star players and things are, simply, a mess in Raleigh. After falling to the Blue Devils at home by 14, the Pack rebounded with a two point victory over Miami four days later. Since then, however, things haven't gone as plan with three straight setbacks to Clemson (by 10), North Carolina (by 20), and to Virginia Tech (by 8).

Smith Is Back: Duke knows all about Tracy Smith. The senior power forward scored 23 points while hitting 10-of-12 shots from the field in last year's win over Duke. But for a while it seemed as though the talented senior's status was in doubt after early season knee surgery forced him to sit out 10 games from mid-November through January 1. In the first meeting Smith, who was still playing himself into shape, scored a team high 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Since then, however, his production has sagged scoring 16, 13, 12, and 11 points over the next four games and averaging just 5.3 boards.

Much like Maryland's Jordan Williams, Duke will have to game plan to try and limit Smith's impact on the game. It's a tall order for a team that has struggled to find a defensive identity in the paint all season.

The Other Trio: Duke fans know all about their freshman trio of Kyrie Irving, Tyler Thornton, and Josh Hairston. However, State's three new comers are actually playing a much bigger role for the Wolfpack in 2011. Especially with Kyrie Irving out indefinitely, though Thornton did make his first career start at Maryland.

With Irving not around to collect weekly ACC Rookie of the Week awards, the Pack's C.J. Leslie has been able to capitalize by winning the award once a month for a total of three times on the season. Most recently, Leslie won the award on January 10, after he averaged 19.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, and shot 65 percent from the floor (13-of-20) as the Wolfpack downed Elon and Wake Forest.

Recently the lanky combo forward has recovered from an illness induced slump. After starting the the first four ACC games, and averaged 14.3 points and 8.0 rebounds. Then Leslie got sick, and came off the bench in two straight games and averaged just 1.5 points and 2.0 rebounds in those contests. Over the last two games, however, he's gotten healthy and increased his production with 16.0 points and 6.5 rebounds in that span.

Joining Leslie are point guard Ryan Harrow and scoring guard Lorenzo Brown. Harrow has moved into the starting lineup along with Brown and Leslie to complete their transformation to big time college hoops.

Brown, like Leslie, struggled after the turn of the year, averaging just five points per night over a five game stretch, but has rebounded in the last four contests to post 11.8 points and 3.8 assists including a career best 20 points against North Carolina.

Meanwhile, Harrow has been the team's primary point guard, averaging more than 30 minutes per game. Howevr he's suffering from illness which forced him to miss the last game at Virginia Tech. After the loss, Lowe said he was hopeful his freshman would make it back for today's game, but was taking a wait and see approach. Before he was sidelined, Harrow took over the Pack's point guard duties. He averaged 31.0 minutes in the three games before he got sick, and currently ranks second on the team in scoring at 11.0 points per game.

'Pack It In?: With Smith and Leslie and others controlling the paint and commanding the ball inside the arc, some teams have found it makes sense to sit in a zone and force Lowe's team to beat you with jump shots and long distance shooting. So far that's not a terrible strategy as NC State hasn't been able to find the range from the outside thus far. Through 22 games the team is shooting just 34.0 percent from the perimeter while averaging 14 attempts from behind the arc per contest. The entire perimeter attack hasn't been futile as Scott Wood has hit 44 percent of his attempts (57-of-130), but aside from Wood the rest of the team hits just 44-of-167 or 26.3 percent.

Taking Care Of The Rock: The Wolfpack have struggled for extended periods this season. Much of it has to do with three newcomers playing big roles and the team has dealt with a lot of injury and illness. But another reason for the slow results has been the inability to protect the basketball. NC State has not won the turnover battle in 12 of the last 14 games, committing more turnovers than 10 of its last 14 opponents (tying the other two) The Pack had gone nine straight games without winning the turnover battle, until the home game against Duke. Last time out, the Pack had just six against Vir- ginia Tech, but the Hokies also had six.

Duke Noteables: The Blue Devils will be looking to move to 17-1 (4-1ACC) on the season against North Carolina State, but there are some additional notes worth following:

  • The Blue Devils' current 31-game win streak at Cameron Indoor Stadium is the longest active home win streak in the NCAA.
  • Duke has only lost two home games in the past four seasons, posting a record of 60-2 in Cameron Indoor Stadium during that span.
  • Duke has won 53 straight home games against unranked opponents. The Blue Devils' last loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium to an unranked opponent was to Florida State on Feb. 4, 2007.
  • Duke has won 25 consecutive games in the state of North Carolina. The Blue Devils' last loss in the state was at N.C. State on Jan. 20. 2010.
  • The Blue Devils have had at least one player score 20 or more points in 17 straight games. Duke has had two players top the 20-point mark eight times this season, including each of the last four games.
  • Nolan Smith is attempting to become the first player in ACC history to lead the league in scoring and assists. Smith is currently averaging 21.0 points and 5.5 assists per game. He is one of three players in the NCAA leading his conference in points and assists.
  • Mason Plumlee has raised his rebound average an ACC-best 5.6 rebounds per game from a year ago. He ranks fourth in the ACC in rebounding at 8.7 rpg. and has grabbed 10 or more rebounds 11 times this season.

This game has "Trap" written all over it. The Blue Devils bounced back from their worst performance of the season on Wednesday by beating Maryland soundly in College Park. Confidence is high and, of course, there's that rivalry game next week against a surprising North Carolina squad that will likely go a long way to determining the ACC Regular Season. On the flip side you have a desperate NC State team battling to resurrect their hopes of playing in the post season while likely fighting for their coach's job security. Certainly a win over Duke would go a long way towards accomplishing both, and it isn't like NC State doesn't have a number of tools that can give Duke trouble. The Blue Devils don't have a player on the roster who can match the all-around raw talent of Leslie, and Smith has given Duke fits in the paint in each of the last three meetings. The key will be how Duke defends the perimeter and limits the Pack to one chance on the offensive end. For State it'll be crucial to limit turnovers and thus easy transition baskets that could ignite the Cameron atmosphere and spark a couple of big Duke runs. In the end look for the Wolfpack to be scrappy throughout the first half, but for Duke to pull away shortly after halftime.

Duke - 84
NC State - 70

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