Preview: Duke (23-5) vs. NC State

After the ACC schedule makers threw tradition to the wind and paired Duke and NC State together just once in the regular season, the Blue Devils and Wolfpack righted that wrong on Friday by advancing to face each other in Saturday's ACC Semifinals.

After being left for dead by most analysts midway through their season, head coach Herb Sendek and the Wolfpack have begun to play some of their best basketball down the stretch, culminating with a rout of Wake Forest on Friday evening in the ACC quarterfinals.

Led by Julius Hodge's 22 points, the Wolfpack blew open a 38-38 game at the half with tough defense and relentless rebounding. While still close to the NCAA Tournament bubble, the ‘Pack could take a big step towards locking up another bid by eliminating the Blue Devils on Saturday afternoon.

Meanwhile Duke enters Saturday coming off a solid, but wholly unspectacular victory over Virginia. Against the Cavaliers Duke shot a dismal 37% from the field and just 36% from the perimeter. Most notable was J.J. Redick's 4-of-17 performance from the field for just 15 points. What kept Duke alive was the rebounding prowess, which yielded a 54-30 advantage on the glass.

To beat the Wolfpack, Duke will need for its shooters to find their range, while continuing to crash the boards and limit second chance opportunities. Since the last game, head coach Herb Sendek has gone to a different lineup, moving towards a smaller group. This set up gave the Blue Devils trouble last season in Raleigh with its quickness.

Meet the Wolfpack:

C- 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.

This season Etimov has played on the wing, but with the new look NC State lineup has moved back to the post. While he's not going to be able to handle bigger players on the inside, Etimov is able to bring his opponents to the perimeter where he can knock down open looks. He can also go off the dribble. Defensively NC State will try and deny the entry pass to bigger players as they have no defense if a big man gets on the blocks.

Last time: 4 points, 3 rebounds, 4 fouls in 20 minutes.

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.

Against Wake Forest Brackman was opportunistic on both ends of the floor, tallying 16 points and four rebounds. Though he slumped midway through the season, Brackman is a player who can round into form very quickly once a few breaks go his way.

Last Time: 9 points, 4 rebounds, 4 fouls in 25 minutes.

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 26% 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 17.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 1.4 steals per game while logging an average of 34 minutes per night.

After Chris Paul "checked his equipment" in the season finale, Hodge was on a mission in yesterday's rematch. The senior made a statement against Wake Forest, scoring 22 points to go along with eight rebounds as State pulled away in the second half.

Last Time: 13 points, 6 rebounds, 5 turnovers in 38 minutes.

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 an impressive 38% from the perimeter. He's also NC State's best high flying show, able to rise up and finish strong against most any opponent.

At just 6'4 he plays taller when he's crashing the glass, and continues to be a tough on the ball defender.

Last time: 20 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals in 34 minutes.

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 31 games in which he's appeared, Astur has attempted 154 three point attempts, making 59 of them (38%). 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 (1.6 steals per game) in the various passing lanes.

Last Time: 7 points, 3 assists, 1 rebound in 37 minutes

The Reserves

At the beginning of the year Jordan Collins (6-10, 240lbs, SR) was starting. However he proved to be less effective than the small lineup, so he's now been relegated to the bench and spot post duty. A good frame and long arms, Collins can hurt you on the inside if fed the ball, though it's rare that he's actually been able to convert. Next 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 3.8 points per game in 10 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.


Game Notes:
courtesy of Duke Sports Information

*- Third-seeded Duke improved to 23-5 overall with its 76-64 victory over 11th-seeded Virginia on Friday night. It will face seventh-seeded N.C. State at approximately 4:00 PM on Saturday. The game will be televised nationally by ESPN and regionally by RJ Sports.

*- With its victory over Virginia on Friday, Duke has now advanced in eight consecutive ACC Tournaments. The last time Duke was defeated in the ACC Tournament semifinals was in 1995 by Wake Forest.

*- Duke and N.C. State (19-12) will meet in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament for the ninth time on Saturday. Duke is 5-3 in the previous eight games. Overall, Duke is 13-8 vs. the Wolfpack in the ACC Tournament, including victories in each of the last four meetings.

*- Duke and N.C. State met just once during the regular season, with the Blue Devils coming away with an 86-74 triumph in Raleigh on Jan. 13. Shelden Williams had a game-high 22 points for the Blue Devils and Daniel Ewing added 17. It was the only game of the season that J.J. Redick was held under 10 points (he shot a season-low five shots). Redick did register a career-best seven rebounds in that game. Duke leads the all-time series vs. the Wolfpack, 129-95, including a 38-18 record under Mike Krzyzewski.

*- With his dunk in the last minutes of the game, junior Shelden Williams recorded his 10th point and along with his 12 rebounds. He now has an ACC leading 17 double-doubles in 2004-05 and 35 in his career. His 10-plus point performance marks his 26th of 2004-05 and 63rd of his career while his 10-plus rebound mark is the 19th of 2004-05 and 40th of his career.

*- Under head coach Mike Krzyzewski, Duke is 37-15 (.712) in the ACC Tournament. Coach K's Blue Devils have won eight ACC Tournament titles (1986, 1988, 1992, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003). Entering the 2005 ACC Tournament, Coach K is the only one of the 11 ACC head coaches to have earned two or more league championships.

Betting Line:

Duke is a 6.5 to 7 point favorite depending on the source.

Prediction:

Duke-76
NC State -70


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