NC STATE WOLFPACK11-5 Overall; 2-1 ACC; 11-2 Home
G- 12 Anthony Barber (11.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.6 apg)
G- 01 Trevor Lacey (16.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.3 apg)
G- 22 Ralston Turner (13.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg)
F- 00 Abdul-Malik Abu (4.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg)
F- 32 Kyle Washington (6.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg.)
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Combo guard Trevor Lacey - a former Alabama guard - is a matchup problem for most teams he faces. At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, the fourth year junior guard is currently ranked fifth in scoring in the league at 16.7 points per game, while shooting 44 percent from the perimeter - good enough to be ranked fourth in the ACC. Lacey will play nearly the entire 40 minutes against Duke barring foul trouble, and presents a challenge for either Tyus Jones or Quinn Cook in that Lacey is bigger and quicker than both players. Depending on the flow of the game, the Blue Devils will most likely look to switch Cook off in favor of either Rasheed Sulaimon or Justise Winslow.
As a whole the Wolfpack’s strength is in the starting backcourt and wing positions. Joining Lacey on the wing is Ralston Turner, a true wing guard (6’5, 205) who can fill it up from the outside. Turner, like Lacey, is shooting over 40 percent from the perimeter and ranks third in the league in three-pointers made. Between the two, Lacey and Turner combine for 71 made 3-pointers and a .420 3-point percentage, giving the Pack the only duo in the league with 30 made 3-point field goals this season.
The third backcourt member is a former marginal Blue Devil recruit, Anthony Barber. Duke looked at Barber in high school and briefly expressed interest though like many other players, Barber was told that Krzyzewski favored and was prioritizing Tyus Jones. So, Barber went to NC State as a McDonald’s All-American and has performed well in spurts. He’s a lightning quick lead guard who loves to attack off the dribble. The deficits in his game have to do with jump shooting, where he’s hitting just 28 percent of his perimeter shots, and is just a 69 percent free throw shooter. Still, given Duke’s trouble defending quicker guards, Barber could pose a major challenge for either Jones or Cook.
The young Blue Devils got a taste of life on the road in the ACC on Wednesday night against Wake Forest as Duke was pushed for 37 minutes against the Deacons. Jahlil Okafor was held in check (and, frankly, held, pushed, and hit in the post) for most of the night as Devin Thomas took it to the freshman. Meanwhile, the majority of the Blue Devils couldn’t find the range on offense, with the team shooting just 41 percent in the first half (44 for the game). All told, it required a gritty performance from Coach K’s crew.
“We have a lot of young guys playing at this level of intensity in a conference game on the road is something that they had not experienced,” said Krzyzewski after the win. “We won a huge game at Wisconsin, and that’s not the same. I’m not saying Wisconsin is a bad team, they’re pretty good. There’s a sense of urgency with every ACC game that you can’t manufacture, you have to experience it. That was really good for our team. I thought our team was really ready, but we didn’t play that way”
Duke now returns to action in yet another hostile environment against an NC State team that’s better than Wake Forest (State beat the Deacons by 13 in early December in Raleigh) at an arena where the Wolfpack are currently 11-2 on the season with losses coming to Cincinnati and a head scratcher against Wofford.
In defense of his team, Krzyzewski warned that while talented, his team is still very new to the experience of playing on the road in this league. Beginning with his prized center.
“I thought [Wake Forest] did a great on Jahlil, and Jahlil had to guard an unconventional guy tonight. That’s good experience for him. This is just his second ACC game.”
FRUSTRATING THE BIG GUY
The Deacons did a very good job of limiting Okafor on Wednesday. The Duke center was held to just six field goal attempts as the Deacons continually pushed him off the blocks and forced him away from the basket. When he did receive the ball, Okafor was immediately double teamed and forced to release the ball.
“We just wanted him when he caught the basketball to feel a crowded house and not allow him room to operate and put the ball on the floor,” said Wake Forest coach Danny Manning.
That strategy worked as the Duke offense was without its pressure relief valve. Leading into the game against the Deacons, Duke was always able to throw the ball into the paint for an easy bucket. But Wake took that away. It’s something that player and coach took notice of.
“He wasn’t posting as low as we had hoped,” said Krzyzewski of Okafor. “They did an interesting thing in guarding him behind with a four and then Thomas attacked from the five. They did it just the opposite. It was a good game plan, obviously. The last two games now, we’ve seen different defenses and we’re going to continue to see it. That’s how we’re going to get better.”
State has the personnel to do the same thing with Okafor, and they have the hefty presence of B.J. Anya inside to lean and push and make things genuinely tough on the reigning ACC Rookie and Player of the Week. Anya will come off the bench to provide a change of pace, and State will start a pair of power forwards in the front court who have more quickness to their game in the form of Abdul-Malik Abu and Kyle Washington. Washington in particular will force Okafor to roam, while Abu has more power to his game and can push the big man away from the blocks. Neither is as talented as Thomas, though both can take a page out of the Deacons’ book in hopes of limiting the damage done.
STATE’S DEFENSE IMPROVED
The Wolfpack are 11-5 on the season and have won all 11 games at home. In conference games only NC State’s defense has set the tone. Against Wake Forest the Pack held the Deacons to just 39 percent shooting from the floor. The second game of the conference schedule saw State hold Pittsburgh to just 50 points on .327 shooting. In the most recent outing the team fell to Virginia in Charlottesville by 10, but NC State held the hosts to 41 percent shooting in a game that was a defensive battle played in the 50’s.
Notebook:- The Blue Devils are one of three remaining undefeated teams in the NCAA (joined by Kentucky and Virginia).
- The Blue Devils have trailed for just 11:19 through the first 14 games of the season. Duke’s largest deficit this season has been six points.
- Duke is seeking its first 15-game win streak since the start of the 2012-13 season. Duke opened that season with 15 consecutive victories before falling to NC State, 84-76, at PNC Arena.
- Quinn Cook is averaging a career-high 14.4 points per game while also posting career bests in field goal percentage (.469), three-point field goals (2.5 3pg.) and free throw percentage (.968). He has scored in double figures 13 times this season.
- Jahlil Okafor has the highest field goal percentage (.681) in the NCAA among players attempting seven or more shots per game. Okafor has shot over 70.0 percent from the field in eight of Duke’s 14 games.
- Tyus Jones is averaging 11.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.8 steals per game over the past eight contests. He is 23-of-50 (.460) from the field and 39-of-46 (.848) from the foul line in that stretch. Jones has four double figure scoring games, including a pair of 20-point efforts, in that span.
They Said It:"We had some offensive fouls called, we had couple where we didn't block out and they had a couple putbacks, two or three in a row. ... There's a lot of good things that we did. We just didn't do enough and didn't finish the game." - Mark Gottfried on his team down the stretch against Virginia
The PredictionMuch like Winston Salem, Raleigh has proven to be a place where Duke has struggled in the past. The Wolfpack have enough talent and the environment is conducive to the Pack pulling the upset. The key to the game will come down to the wing play. If Duke can neutralize Turner and Lacey, the Blue Devils should win comfortably. However, if either begins to heat up from the perimeter it could be a somewhat stressful afternoon. We look for Duke to establish Okafor early on with some tweaks to the offense, and we believe that Rasheed Sulaimon will continue his run of strong play. Duke will have a small lead at the half before creating some separation by the under eight minute media timeout. From there it’ll be academic. State is going to push Duke, but we see the freshmen building off their first ACC performance and getting another result, leaving the pick as…
Duke - 74
NC State - 62