Preview: Duke (11-0) vs. NCSU (10-4)

After fending off a very pesky Temple squad in their last game, the Blue Devils resume ACC play with their first road test of the season – a trip to Raleigh to face the NC State Wolfpack. To avoid a third straight loss in the RBC Center, Duke will need to neutralize the conference's reigning Player of the Year. <i>TDD</i> previews match up.

The Wolfpack (10-4, 0-1), who were ranked in the top 10 earlier this season, have since fallen out of the Top 25 and are mired in their longest losing streak since 2000-01 after losing their third straight game over the weekend. That loss, to Miami, sent shockwaves through the ACC as the Hurricanes were expected to be little more than bottom feeders in their inaugural hoops season.

Despite their losses to St. John's, West Virginia, and Miami, State remains a dangerous team – capable of beating anyone in the conference on any given night. When you factor in the confines of the RBC Center, it makes this a land mine of a challenge for the undefeated Blue Devils.

Meet the Wolfpack

C- Jordan Collins (6-10, 240lbs, SR) – At times in his career Collins has been the odd man out of Herb Sendek's offensive and defensive schemes. While everyone else on the roster was a capable perimeter threat, Collins was left to battle in the paint for rebounds and put back points. Possessing long arms and a big frame, Sendek was hoping for a big year from Collins.

So far this season he's once again assumed the role of a utility big man. With a severely limited offensive arsenal, he doesn't have any set plays called for him inside, which accounts for his limited production of just 7.6 points and 3.0 rebounds in 21 minutes per game. Still, those numbers are double his career averages – though he's yet to record more than five rebounds in a single game over the course of his career. One area of improvement is his ability to stay in the game without foul trouble.

F- Andrew Brackman (6'10, 208lbs, FR) – A terrific two-sport athlete (he's also a highly rated pitcher), Brackman entered State as a top 75 overall prospect on the court and a major league prospect on the diamond. A finesse big man, who isn't afraid to crash the boards and rebound, Brackman's major drawback has been his lack of strength in the post. However, he's smart enough on the offensive to find ways around or under his opponents, and is a very good free throw shooter (88%). And then there is his accuracy from the perimeter, where he's hit 10-of-25 attempts this year (40%).

His freshman season has shown steady and constant improvement, including a career afternoon against West Virginia that yielded 19 points, and 8 rebounds in 28 minutes. He followed that up with a 16 point, five rebound performance against Miami that saw him connect on 6-of-8 from the field including 4-of-6 from the three point arc.

F- Ilian Etimov (6'7, 230lbs, JR) – Did terrific things as an ACC freshman before tearing his ACL and missing all of the 2002-2003 season. Last year's season averages of 9.8 points and 4.5 rebounds weren't as high as many expected for two reasons. First, Sendek asked the Frenchman to play out of position at the center spot, and two, he was still trying to recover from the ACL injury.

Still, he managed to post a career afternoon in State's NCAA Tournament game against Vanderbilt, albeit in a loss, which gave the Pack hope heading into this year. That optimism almost died when he was injured and required another surgery this summer, though he's showing no ill-effects of that stint in the hospital.

Though he was undersized in the middle last year, Etimov presented match up problems for bigger players thanks to his ability to take bigger players off the dribble, and step out side and knock down the open shots. He's also a terrific passer and an adequate defender. This year he's had trouble with his three point accuracy (14-of-44 31%), but has still managed to post just over eight points and three rebounds in 25 minutes of action.

G/F- Julius Hodge (6'6, 192lbs, SR) – the reigning ACC Player of the Year, Hodge has seen the load on his shoulders increase this year with starting point guard Tony Bethel being diagnosed with colitis, and the rebounding production lacking. Factor that in with an ankle injury and you've got a player who's certainly hungry, but facing an uphill climb.

After spending the off season in the weight room, Hodge actually added over 10 pounds of muscle, allowing him to compete inside more confidently, which adds yet another facet to an already versatile game. He runs the Wolfpack offense as a point guard, but is also the team's best scorer and rebounder. Though his outside shot has been non existent at times, including this year's 13% perimeter shooting clip, he's unafraid to pull the trigger whenever possible, though he's moved into the midrange game more this year.

When he's healthy he's one of the toughest match ups in the ACC, as he's too long and wirery for smaller players to shoot over, but easily quicker than bigger opponents who try and stay with him on the perimeter. That has proved true this year as he's hitting for 18.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.5 steals per game while logging an average of 32 minutes per night.

G- Engin Astur (6'3, 185, SO) – A good player who makes his living as a dead eye three point shooter, and capable secondary ball handler for the Wolfpack. Heading into the season he was expected to compete for a starting role or as the 6th man behind Bethel at the point as a three point specialist and tough on the ball defender. However with Bethel's illness, Astur has continued to blossom into a capable scorer and nice addition to the Wolfpack roster.

In the 14 games in which he's appeared, Astur has already attempted 67 three point attempts, making 25 of them (37%). Not known as a threat to take his man to the basket, Astur is your prototypical European guard – he handles the ball well, makes the correct pass, and doesn't hoist bad shots, which keeps his team moving efficiently. Defensively he's improved and has a nose for the ball (1.5 steals per game) in the various passing lanes.

Key Reserves

Off the bench comes versatile guard Cameron Bennerman (6'4, 200lbs, JR) who made his early reputation on the defensive end before taking full advantage of late season starts last year. This year he's moved more into the scoring role and has averaged just less than 10 points per game while shooting a very impressive 43% from the perimeter. After Bennerman is big new comer Cedric Simmons (6'10, 205, FR), who has been a disappointment to date. Many considered him a real threat to crack the starting lineup thanks to his highly rated high school career. Instead he's managed just three points per game in seven minutes. Forward Levi Watkins (6'8, 225, SR) adds help on the glass and some interior scoring, while Gavin Grant (6'7, 191, FR) provides a poor man's version of Hodge.

Key Stats

*- Duke has won 29 of the past 34 match ups with the Wolfpack.
*- Duke will look to snap a two-game losing skid vs. N.C. State at the RBC Center. N.C. State defeated No. 3 Duke, 80-71, on Jan. 22, 2003, and No. 1 Duke, 78-74, on Feb. 15, 2004, in the past two meetings in the building
*- State has averaged 76.4 points per game this year while Duke has limited six of its first 11 opponents to less than 60 points and an overall average of 57.8 points per outing.

Notable:

Despite returning to practice this week, Shavlik Randolph is not expected to play against the Wolfpack. Diagnosed with mononucleosis, Randolph was averaging 6.4 points and 5.1 rebounds per game while ranking among the team leaders in blocked shots (second-19), steals (third-11) and assists (fourth-12).


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