NC State at Duke

NC State (18-7, 7-3) at Duke (21-4, 8-2), 9:00 PM, ACC Network split/ESPN3

NC State point guard Lorenzo Brown (left) played well in his first game at Duke last year.

Duke is now tied for the lead in the ACC with six games to go, and two of those six games are against teams it is tied with, including a chance to avenge a loss to Florida State and nullify FSU’s head-to-head advantage. They’ll also get a home rematch with North Carolina. But of the other four remaining games, tonight is the toughest by far. NC State has just one “bad” loss (Georgia Tech) and no “big” win. And while the Wolfpack is still listed as in the NCAA tournament as of this moment, that could change if they can’t get a big win or two, or if they lose a few they shouldn’t. They will want this game badly, and Duke has certainly shown it is vulnerable in Cameron. The Blue Devils will have to be very focused.

Stat to watch: The offensive glass. Both teams have had some success on the offensive boards this year, but both have also struggled to keep their opponents off of the boards. NC State started off well in this category, posting a defensive rebounding percentage of 72.7% and an offensive rebounding percentage of 34.5% in its first four ACC games. But in the last six, the Wolfpack has rebounded just 30.7% of available offensive boards and 64.7% of defensive boards. The only dominant rebounding game they’ve had in that stretch was against Virginia, when they rebounded 47.4% of their misses and 82.8% of Virginia’s (but still lost).

Duke had posted just one defensive rebounding percentage above 70% prior to pulling down 74.4% of available defensive boards against Maryland. And Duke’s 44.7% on the offensive glass was also a season-high in league play. But it’s still less than two weeks removed from Miami coming into Cameron on Super Bowl Sunday and pulling down 43.5% of available offensive rebounds on their way to an overtime win. NC State has shown it’s capable of rebounding that well, but it won’t be easy and Duke is certainly a much more confident rebounding team than they were a week ago.

Most important players: Lorenzo Brown, N.C. State and Miles Plumlee, Duke. Miles Plumlee’s 22 rebounds against Maryland on Saturday were the most by a player under Mike Krzyzewski, breaking a record previously held by NBA star Elton Brand. His performance was reminiscent of former Duke center Brian Zoubek’s breakout game against Maryland in 2010 when the 7-footer had 17 points and 17 rebounds. Zoubek, like Plumlee, was a senior and had been only contributing sporadically before that outburst sparked his confidence and made him into a force that helped lead Duke to a national championship. Duke Hoop Blog took a look at the parallels between each players’ senior seasons, and whether or not Plumlee can keep it up.
The senior forward was said to be one of the most improved players coming into the season, but it hasn’t materialized yet. He’s had some nice games against N.C. State in the past: last year, he averaged 7.0 points and 7.0 rebounds in two games against N.C. State in just 19.5 minutes per game. If Plumlee is indeed going to turn into a Zoubek-like force for the Blue Devils, it will start tonight.

NC State point guard Lorenzo Brown has had his struggles this season in league play, including a three-game stretch where he shot just 8-of-23 from the floor (3-of-10 from three) and averaged 7.3 points, 5.7 assists and 4.7 turnovers. But in the last two games, he’s averaging six assists and three turnovers to go with 12.5 points on 8-of-18 shooting. He also got to the foul line six times at Georgia Tech in a tough road win and those six attempts were his most in ACC play. He had been attempting a ton of free throws before ACC play began, but a combination of tougher opponents and looser officiating led to that number going way down. But Brown has a nice history (albeit limited) against Duke: the sophomore struggled in his first meeting with Duke last season, shooting 0-of-6 and notching just one assist in 20 minutes. But at Cameron, he had 15 points, nine rebounds, six assists and no turnovers in 34 minutes and shot 6-of-13 from the floor and 3-of-6 from the foul line.

Random stat: It’s been so long since NC State has beaten a Mike Krzyzewski-coached Duke team in Cameron Indoor Stadium that it became a topic on Twitter
(#TweetsFromStatesLastRoadWinAgainstK). The last time they did it was 1988. The Wolfpack knocked off a Pete Gaudet-coached Duke team in Cameron in 1996 when Krzyzewski was out with a back injury.

Prediction: Duke 77, N.C. State 64


Last week: 7-4

Season: 108-39 (44-20 ACC)


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