Duke (22-9, 8-8) vs NC State (15-14, 5-11)
Tampa, Fla. - ACC First Round
7:00 p.m., ESPN2
Program Vitals Conference: Atlantic Coast Conference Nickname: Wolfpack Colors: Red & White Head Coach: Sydney Lowe (1st year) Career Record at NC State: 15-14
Projected Starters: 33 Brandon Costner (6-9, 237, Fr.) - 16.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg 11 Gavin Grant (6-8, 203, Jr.) – 15.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.0 apg 34 Ben McCauley (6-10, 235, So.) – 14.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 3.4 apg 14 Engin Astur (6-4, 201, Sr.) - 11.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 4.6 apg 4 Courtney Fells (6-5, 209, So.) – 11.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg Key Reserves: 31 Dennis Horner (6-9, 208, Fr.) – 4.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg 15 Trevor Ferguson (6-5, 179, Fr.) – 1.7 ppg 20 Bryan Nieman (6-6, 219, Sr.) – 2.0 ppg, 1.7 rpg
How They Got Here:
Though they were picked as the number two team in the conference in the preseason poll, the Blue Devils could not overcome a bevy of youth, a slew of injuries, and an anemic offensive attack to live up to that preseason pick. Instead the Blue Devils put together a roller coaster of a conference season that saw a five game win streak countered with an infamous four game losing streak. After rebounding from that slide, Duke appeared to be on a high note before dropping a pair of double figure decisions to Maryland and North Carolina last week.
On the other hand, NC State is close to where the media picked them to end up. With just five players able to play in every game this season, the Wolfpack's already thin rotation got thinner. The Wolfpack managed to earn some big conference victories throught the season, notably a four point home court victory over then #3 North Carolina and a season sweep of Virginia Tech (by an average of 18.0 ppg), but in the end the depth problems and lack of a point guard yielded just a 5-11 overall record.
Thursday night will mark the 228th time the two teams have met, with Duke holding a 132-95 advantage in the series. The Blue Devils have won four straight since losing 78-74 at the RBC Center on February 15th, 2005. Under the guidance of Mike Krzyzewski, the Blue Devils have won 41 of 59 games against NC State.
The two programs have met 22 times in the ACC Tournament with Duke holding a 14-8 overall advantage in that setting. The Blue Devils have won the five of those post season match ups by an average of 14.8 points per game - including the 76-69 victory in the 2005 ACC Tournament. NC State's last post season victory over Duke came on March 7, 1997 when the Wolfpack won 66-60.
Both teams enter the Tournament healthy, though the Blue Devils are certainly not whole. Freshman Gerald Henderson, arguably the team's my dynamic scoring threat recently, will be ineligible to play on Thursday. The 6'4 wing will be serving a mandatory one game suspension after he was ruled to have committed a "combative" foul and was ejected against North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough in the regular season finale.
The Hardest Road In a While:
For the last nine seasons the ACC Tournament has been nothing more than "The Blue Devil Invitational" as Duke has appeared in every championship game since the 1997-1998 season, winning seven times - a historic run that will likely never be matched. In order to continue that streak Duke will have to win three games just to make the finals - something they have never done. Should Duke earn a victory against the Wolfpack on Thursday, they will face Virginia on Friday in the quarterfinals.
This is just the third time in the program's history Duke has finished seventh in the conference standings, and the first time since the 1995-1996 season that Duke is seeded lower than third in the annual tournament. Each of the previous three times a seventh seed was earned, Duke was eliminated in the quarterfinal round. The Blue Devils have never failed to make the quarterfinals.
Astur Back In the Lineup:
During the first and only regular season match up between the teams the Wolfpack was without starting guard Engin Astur due to injury. Without a ball handler on the court, the Blue Devils forced 20 turnovers while jumping out to a sizable first half lead from which State could never recover. He returned for NC State's next game and since that time the 6'4 senior has averaged 10.9 points and 4.3 assists while shooting 41.1% from the floor. Strangely, however, in those 11 games NC State is scoring just 67.3 points per game, a full four points fewer than their season average.
Iron Man Basketball For Lowe's Bunch:
With very little depth available, NC State has relied on an intensive preseason fitness regiment that prepared several players to play big minutes this year. Entering Saturday's game, five players average 33.3 or more minutes for the Pack led by junior forward Gavin Grant at 36.4 minutes per night.
Costner An All-Rookie Selection:
Though he didn't get the fanfare of a Javaris Crittenton (Georgia Tech) or Brandan Wright (North Carolina), NC State's Brandon Costner had a very impressive rookie campaign. Technically it wasn't a true rookie performance, as Costner has been in the ACC for two seasons now. Last year he was granted a medical redshirt following a stress fracture in his leg last year after just five games.
Still, the 6'9, 240 pound big man finished the regular season as the team's leading scorer and rebounder, while playing nearly 35 minutes per game and starting all 29 contests.
Extra Motivation For Both Teams:
With just a 15-14 overall record, this may very well be the last game of the season for NC State should they lose. The NIT is unlikely to accept a team with a .500 record, which means the only way to extend their season is to win. If the Wolfpack could make the ACC semifinal round, they would be nearly a lock to make the annual junior post season event.
On the other hand Duke will need to earn at least a victory or two to assure themselves of a desirable seed when the brackets for the NCAA Tournament are announced on Sunday afternoon.
NC State 63