Abridged Game Preview by @RandyDunson: Duke Blue Devils vs. NC State Wolfpack – January 23, 2016

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Abridged Game Preview

Duke Blue Devils (14-5, 3-3] vs. NC State Wolfpack (11-8, 1-5]

 Saturday, January 23, 2016 • 2:00 PM • CBS • Raleigh, NC • PNC Arena

 By Randy Dunson [Note: Please direct comments, suggestions, etc. to @RandyDunson.]

 

Amile Jefferson (Retained from last Preview)

DUKEThere is a phrase that Mike Krzyzewski seems to be repeating a lot over the past few weeks. Notwithstanding Amile’s injury, I must admit that I have heard the same thing, but in different context, over the years. As an aside, the Hall of Fame coach might hedge on a fact or two, but when it comes to injuries, Coach K tells it like it is.

First, the phrase that has been repeated in one form or another. “We’re not a great team. We’re a good team,” Krzyzewski said after Duke’s loss to Clemson on Wednesday. “We don’t have subs. I’ve been saying that from the beginning.” Well, I am not so sure about the latter, but we will just move along!

Krzyzewski had essentially the exact same quote after Duke won at Wake Forest last week. There, he acknowledged the disconnect between the team on the floor and the title contender that so many expected it to be this season. “We’re not a really good team, we’re a good team,” Krzyzewski said. “We don’t have many guys, man. Those five national championship banners, none of those guys are coming out of the woodworks.”

I would expect the “good team” references would continue to be repeated until one of two things happen

  • this core freshmen gel together into a much better, but not a great team, or
  • the expectations are adjusted for this year’s Blue Devils team

There are a few factors contributing to Duke’s depth issues, but none more than the loss of Amile Jefferson to a foot injury that has him out indefinitely. Jefferson was the team’s most experienced big guy, a player who Krzyzewski says has “been through the wars.”

The Blue Devils were playing their eighth straight game without Amile Jefferson, a 6’9″ senior who played an integral role in giving the team size and leadership. They’re 6-2 in those contests but have had real trouble on the boards. In Utah’s upset win in NYC, the Utes grabbed 56 boards to Duke’s 38.

“Losing (Jefferson) [caused] us to do more different things than probably any other guy we would’ve lost,” Krzyzewski said, per ESPN.com. “On the perimeter we have a little bit of depth, but Amile is a very unique player.”

“He’s been in huge games,” Krzyzewski pointed out on the ACC coaches teleconference this week. “And just leadership wise and how he plays, his poise, his toughness, his voice. All those things, you can’t ask one person to make up for that. You just try to develop everybody to help in that regard.”

If there is any advantage to the hand Duke has been dealt, it could be that the very thin rotation is very young, talented and eager to please. Grayson Allen may be a sophomore in name but he logged just 51 minutes of game time on the road in ACC play last season. That said, he was playing alongside three top NBA draft picks, Senior Quinn Cook, and then-junior Amile.

Allen, along with the freshman trio of Brandon Ingram, Derryck Thornton and Luke Kennard are talented enough to hang with any team in the country, but not yet consistent enough to avoid losses like the one on Wednesday to an experienced and well-coached Clemson team.

However, since most of the Blue Devils’ six-man rotation is new to this whole ACC regular season thing, they’re actually more flexible from game-to-game. Duke can change what it does, adjust on the fly and play with a little more freedom. That can make this Duke team very dangerous, but it can also make them vulnerable in some of the difficult spots every team finds in conference play.

Even with the depth issues, Duke’s still a threat in the ACC and a pick to make the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. Grayson Allen has been an offensive force, shooting 49.5 percent, averaging 20 points per game and playing nearly every minute he can stand on the floor. Brandon Ingram has played 150 of the 160 possible minutes in Duke’s four ACC games, highlighting his comfort and ability at the rim (27 rebound and 10 blocks in ACC play) and behind the arc (12 3-point field goals in the same stretch).

Jefferson, meanwhile, watches on from the sideline with no determined timetable. His absence has highlighted his importance to the fabric of this team, which is probably more than anyone expected coming into the season. His fellow veterans, Marshall Plumlee and Matt Jones, have helping carry out that leadership role as voices on the floor.

Duke’s good without Jefferson, but not great. On Saturday, the Blue Devils host a Syracuse team that’s really good, but not great. Mike Brey is the only former Coach K assistant to beat Duke and he’s done it three times in the last three years. There’s a lot of pride on the line this weekend but even more to learn as these two “good, not great” teams with ACC title aspirations clash in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Looking Forward

Many Duke fans feel like the sky is falling and are wondering if we will even we get an NIT bid. Hold on! The fact is that with 12 regular-season conference games still ahead, it’s obviously too early for fans to start reacting as if there is an anxiety attack.

Even taking into account the ‘iffy’ six-man rotation, Marshall Plumlee having to work far too many minutes in the low post and the fact that freshman playmaker Derryck Thornton is getting an on-the-job indoctrination to the ACC, the Blue Devils still have enough offensive potential to turn their 3-3 league record into a 12- or 13-win finish.

Mike Krzyzewski has coached his way through trials of this nature a lot of times before, and he’s accomplished it a lot of times when forced to use patchwork personnel rotations. Even last season’s NCAA title team that finished 35-4 went through a 3-3 January stretch that included successive double-digit losses to N.C. State (87-75) and Miami (90-74).

Thus far, all three ACC losses have been close, by five points to Clemson, four to Notre Dame and two to Syracuse on Monday.

Last season’s team had Tyus Jones at the point, a reasonably deep bench and Amile Jefferson available to take some of the interior burden off Jahlil Okafor.

This team is less talented overall and lost its Quinn Cook leadership model, plus a lot of its workable depth, when Jefferson suffered a broken right foot in mid-December.

What hasn’t changed is the difficult conference schedule and the reality that if there’s going to be a quick turnaround, it’s going to have to be done outside Cameron Indoor Stadium.

With a game at State on Saturday, a Monday trip to Miami, and a February 2 game at Georgia Tech, the Blue Devils are embarking on their longest road stretch of the year. It’s fairly rare that ACC teams get three straight games at home or on the road, but Duke is an exception this season on both fronts. Following the February 2 game in Atlanta, the Devils return to Durham for successive home games against State, Louisville and Virginia.

The unbalanced schedule is due in part to the fact that the first Duke-UNC game this season falls very late again (February 17 in Chapel Hill). It’s part of the price the two programs pay for being the league’s two primary meal tickets in basketball, and that isn’t going to change unless and until another ACC team can attract television audiences to rival those of the Tar Heels and Blue Devils.

But another part of that same ratings equation is something Krzyzewski and Roy Williams don’t like but can’t change, top-heavy league schedules. Just the simple fact that Duke and UNC have to play each other twice each season, makes it unavoidable that their league schedules will be among the toughest.

 

7kngc4ov3f9f5pi0y7amState is thrown into that mix this season by virtue of the fact that the Wolfpack has to play both neighborhood rivals twice. The Wolfpack also have two games against Florida State, which looked a lot tougher on paper in preseason than is the case now.

Duke’s league draw is just the opposite, tougher now than it looked a few months ago, given the road trips to Clemson, Miami and Pitt in addition to the home-away series against State, Louisville and Carolina.

So pulling out of the current tailspin is not going to be simple for the Devils. They could have above-average performances Saturday and Monday and still be 3-5 in the league going to Georgia Tech.

And it’s important to remember that the biggest reasons for the current jam were the back-to-back losses to Notre Dame and Syracuse in Durham. One of the most important keys to Duke’s incredible success over the years has been the ability to take conference games in Cameron almost for granted.

After those two losses to State and Miami last season, Duke went to Louisville, ranked 6th nationally at the time, and turned the season around with an emotional win.

This Duke team faces the same road challenge or else the three-game skid soon will be five. If that happens, it really might be panic time for Blue Devil fans.

Endgame

The 20th ranked Duke Blue Devils will travel to PNC Arena to take on the NC State Wolfpack this Saturday afternoon.

The 20th ranked Duke Blue Devils lost their 3rd straight game and dropped to 14-5 (3-3 ACC) on the season after being defeated by the Syracuse Orange, 64-62, this past Monday. The absence of Amile Jefferson once again hurt Duke in the post and the Blue Devils could not get the comeback win after being down 61-53 with just over four minutes to play. Duke shot 37.1% from the field and just 27.0% (10-37) from beyond the arc in the loss. The Blue Devils allowed the Orange to shoot 47.8% (11-23) from beyond the arc and was outrebounded by Syracuse by a 49-42 margin including letting Tyler Roberson of the Orange to grab 20 rebounds. Leading the way for Duke was Marshall Plumlee who had a double-double with 19 points, 17 rebounds, 4 blocks, and a steal. On the season, the Blue Devils have been led by Grayson Allen (20.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 3.6 APG), Brandon Ingram (16.6 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.6 BPG), and Amile Jefferson (10.3 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.1 BPG). Offensively, Duke is averaging 85.6 PPG on 47.7% shooting from the field and 38.4% shooting from beyond the arc. The Blue Devils average 8.8 three-pointers per game and have an assist/turnover ratio of 1.37. Defensively, Duke is allowing their opponents to average 70.4 PPG on 42.9% shooting from the field. The Blue Devils average 5.5 blocks per game and have a turnover margin of 2.8.

The NC State Wolfpack snapped their five game losing streak and improved to 11-8 (1-5 ACC) on the season after defeating the Pittsburgh Panthers, 78-61, on the road this past Tuesday. In what was NC State’s most impressive victory of the season, the Wolfpack had little trouble hanging onto the win after getting a 44-19 lead at halftime. NC State shot 48.3% from the field and 50.0% (6-12) from beyond the arc in the victory. The Wolfpack held the Panthers to 36.7% shooting from the field and outrebounded Pittsburgh by a 46-30 margin. Leading the way for NC State was Anthony Barber who had 31 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists, and a steal. On the season, the Wolfpack have been led by Anthony Barber (22.3 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 4.8 APG), Maverick Rowan (13.3 PPG, 3.4 RPG), and Abdul-Malik Abu (11.9 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.3 APG). Offensively, NC State is averaging 74.1 PPG on 41.5% shooting from the field and 32.3% shooting from beyond the arc. The Wolfpack average 5.7 three-pointers per game and have an assist/turnover ratio of 1.02. Defensively, NC State is allowing their opponents to average 69.9 PPG on 41.2% shooting. The Wolfpack have a rebound margin of 6.2 and a turnover margin of -0.2.

It’s not many times you’ll see Duke lose three straight games, but the loss of Amile Jefferson due to injury plus a lack of depth has caused some major problems for Duke. NC State got off to an awful start in conference play but should have some confidence after dominating a decent Pittsburgh team in their recent victory. NC State was able to knock of the Blue Devils last year at PNC Arena however, I think the Blue Devils will have no problems putting points up on the board in this one. I think that due to Duke’s recent struggles, this spread is a bit too low and as long as the Blue Devils can make sure Anthony Barber does not get into too much of a rhythm, Duke and Coach K can get back on track with a solid win. Therefore, I am leaving to the oddsmakers again and having Duke escape with a win.